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field notes: on early season decoy spreads

Emily Degan

Despite having brains roughly the size of ping pong balls, ducks are not stupid animals. They notice changes in colors, patterns, and calls, and they react accordingly. This is why when it comes to decoy spreads, many hunters fancy themselves artists. Spreads should reflect the natural behavior of ducks in specific waterways, temperatures, and times of the season. Ducks are dynamic, and decoy spreads should be too. So at the beginning of the season, how should you set up your decoy spread?

We recommend a J-shaped formation, like this one.

We recommend a J-shaped formation, like this one.

  1. Understand the biology – Early in the season, ducks are likely to feed near shorelines. This is because they need protein to grow their flight feathers for migration, found in nutrient rich food sources near the water’s edge. Later in the season, they’ll look for more carbohydrate rich food sources, like grain found in field settings.
  2. Introduce movement – Moving spreads are more lifelike than stationary ones, so many hunters make use of spinning decoys. Spinners are more effective early in the season because, with time, ducks become immune to their rhythmic motion. Don’t set up your spinner right in front of your blind though – doing so calls attention to it, blowing your camouflage. 
  3. Embrace color – Blue and green winged teal migrate earlier than other species, so including some colored decoys in your early season spread makes it look more realistic.
  4. Present a clear landing path – Ducks don’t like to fly over the heads of other ducks, so include a clear path for landing. And always have decoys face the current. 

Happy hunting!