Transform a mallard to a functioning can spinner
When it comes to duck hunting, most of my time is spend in flooded fields, shallow sloughs, or the timber chasing puddle ducks. However, I hunt the big lakes around the Tennessee River for divers when the canvasbacks show up in good numbers or when the backwater hunting is slow, like it is now.
Today, the high was 72 (that's not a typo) and no self-respecting mallard is heading this way anytime soon, so I've been chasing divers on the big water waiting on a cold front. A good push of redheads and cans showed up the other day and they have been as cooperative as conditions allow, which means intermittent shooting and a lot of long-distance fly-bys before they settle onto grass mats floating in the middle of the lake. I'm not brave enough to chase after them or hunt from a layout boat because down here, the average angler running a bass boat at 70 miles per hour isn't watching out for some dude floating around in the middle of the lake chasing ducks, and dying would severely cut into my time afield. So, I hunt from the shoreline, watch most of the birds fly well out of range, and shoot the occasional ones that kamikaze my spread.
So, when some buddies called from up north to plan a trip with me to the Delta in a few weeks, I just had to pick their brain about hunting divers. These fellas have hunted big-water divers for decades and, while I have the edge on calling ducks when they visit, their knowledge on decoying and hunting diving ducks supersedes my amateur attempts. We discussed decoy strategies, spread patterns, and tricks to get passing ducks to give my spread some love. Aside from adding a few dozen more decoys to the spread, the use of a couple of spinning wing decoys was brought up. I have mixed feelings about using spinners when hunting puddle ducks. In my experience, more often than not, wary ducks will flare off spinners, with some exception to the timber, but I prefer to rely more on location and calling to bring ducks through the trees or into a backwater slough. That said, I have used them and they have worked, so the prospect of using them for decoying divers was appealing, given my recent struggles.
I decided to get a couple of diver spinning wing decoys to add to my spread, but alas, the company I found who manufactured specialty canvasback spinners was backordered for something like two months and the big name companies like Lucky Duck and Mojo do not offer a canvasback spinner to my knowledge. That led me to make my own from what was available.
I started out by purchasing two wind-powered Mojo for about $25 each. I chose the wind-powered versions because I never hunt divers around here unless the wind is blowing at least 10 mph, and if I screwed up the paint job, i wouldn't lose a ton of money. The next stop was Walmart where $5 bought me flat white, black, and Tuscan red acrylic paint. One thing I should go ahead and point out is I am not an artist. When I say I am not an artist, I mean that I have less artistic ability than a three year old with a broken crayon. Lucky for me, canvasback decoys are pretty straight forward with regards to color schemes and patterns, so it wasn't too big of a stretch. Basically, if I can do it, anyone can.
The Tuscan red was a little too bright, so I added some black to achieve the dirty red found on a canvasback's head. The bill, lower neck, shoulders, and tail are all black so that was easy enough, and the all-white body was a breeze. I mean, it's just painting over the existing color of a mallard decoy with flat white, not that difficult. I even got fancy and dry brushed in some flat gray paint I had lying around to add a bit of detail to the feathers. The head didn't look quite dark enough once the paint dried, so I dry brushed it with flat black, adding a big of contrast and darkening it up just enough to satisfy my inner art critic. Heck, I even painted the feet black for good measure. When it was all said and done, I had two pretty good-looking canvasback spinners as well as the satisfaction of painting up my own decoys, even if they were plastic and came from China.
You are probably wondering if they worked. Well, actually they did. They weren't exactly the duck magnet I had hoped for, but I will say the flashing of the spiraling wings did seem to get several cans to commit to the spread, or at least that is what I believe. I did not notice any divers flaring off the spinners and actually had a few ringnecks and a half dozen redheads try to land either on the spinner or just next to it. Now, my disclaimer is that several hundred ducks flew right on by without ever giving me a second glance, but a duck will be a duck and that's just the way it is.
If you'd like to try your hand at painting up your own diver decoys, all you'll need are a couple of detail art brushes, a medium foam brush for the body (it speeds up the process of covering the entire body in white), and the correct colors. I used black, white, gray, and Tuscan red, all flat colors. Stay away from the semi-gloss and anything that will reflect light or give the paint a shiny appearance. The dry brush technique is simple. You just dip the brush in paint, wipe the brush nearly dry with a paper towel, and gently brush against the feather grain. This technique gives the feather depth and detail for added realism. The whole project took a couple of hours because two coats of paint are required to make sure everything looks even. I took the extra measure of spraying the entire finished decoy with flat hard acrylic to keep the paint from chipping easily.
There ya have it, a quick and easy do-it-yourself spinning wing decoy for divers. If you're wanting to add some realism to an existing spread or maybe just find yourself bored on a rainy day, give it a try. While they might not work every time, it is another tool to add to your bag of tricks that could make the difference between pulling the trigger or just being a bird watcher.