Most modern decoys look great and won’t break the bank, but not every fake offers superior performance. Learn how to pick models that work best long-term and in various situations
Some decoys shine in specific situations, but other models perform better in different scenarios. That’s why it’s tricky to define the best decoy. Photo by Forrest Carpenter
Duck decoys have evolved tremendously from the wooden blocks and awkwardly shaped plastic fakes of yesteryear to the ultra-realistic dekes we enjoy today. In fact, a quick Google search or stroll down a retail aisle can reveal a mind-boggling array of decoys that look like real ducks.
And that’s where trouble comes in. With so many seemingly great choices, folks often wonder which decoys top the list and deserve a spot in the boat. The answer? It depends. But several criteria offer clarity.
Well, duh. Decoys that look like real ducks fool more birds than cheap or shoddy looking fakes. That begins with a realistic body shape. Many modern commercial decoys are based off carvings by master artists, and their body shapes and lines precisely mimic the form and posture of real ducks. For example, a good drake wood duck decoy should show the soft curve of the bird’s back and the slightly uplifted tail. That looks far better on the water than football-like body mold that approximates a duck’s shape.
The paint job is also critical. Good decoys precisely match the colors and sometimes subtle feather patterns of a real bird. Inferior blocks might be off somewhat in color or overall presentation, like hen mallards with glow-in-the-dark orange bills or drake gadwalls that look like they swam in wet cement. Know what real ducks look like, and demand that from your decoys.
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Many otherwise-great decoys fall short here. The fake looks stunning during year No. 1, but then fades, chips, or breaks soon after, requiring a new paint job or replacement. Often, you can guess that a cheap decoy likely won’t last, but it’s not always clear-cut. Get opinions from veteran hunters about dekes that hold up for several seasons of heavy use.
Also, remember that you typically get what you pay for with most decoys, so well-constructed blocks using heavier-duty materials are usually worth the higher price tag. After all, would you rather buy cheap decoys every two or three years or invest in more durable models that will last 10-plus seasons?
Some hunters fail to consider the way a decoy rides and moves in the water or sits on a dry field. For example, lighter plastic models often hop up and down like a pogo stick in rough water. Real ducks ride waves with softer, more subtle motion, and heavier decoys — such as foam-filled models — mimic this better. Conversely, those bulky super-magnums might not sway or dart as much in a small pothole, but a lighter hollow or water-keeled fake will provide realistic motion in a soft breeze.
Before buying decoys, consider the situations for which you’ll use them. This usually means you’ll have to acquire several sets of dekes for various situations.
CONVENIENCE OF USE
Even a great decoy loses practical value if you can’t use it in a specific situation. That’s when the concept of best becomes relative. Those heavy full-body honker fakes might look fantastic, but if you cannot drive to your setup spot in a muddy field, they’ll become a tremendous burden. In that situation, several dozen shells, windsocks, and silhouettes will be much easier to lug and set, so they’re “better” than the heavier — albeit more realistic — full-bodies.
How you rig decoys also plays a big role. You’d never hoof six-dozen gang-rigged bluebill blocks a mile to a remote prairie slough. Individually rigged fakes with relatively light weights work better for such hunts. However, setting out and picking up 70-plus single-rigged blocks on Lake Michigan will take three times as long as yanking in a half-dozen lines, so again, the idea of “best” becomes relative.
Again, that predicament might force you to keep several specialized setups with various types of decoys and rigs. But that’s a First World dilemma. And when those situation-specific spreads produce effective, efficient hunts, it seems well worth the cost and hassle.
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