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Number of Decoys

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Number of Decoys
I have been out the past couple of mornings and had too much time to ponder too many things.

Here's one. How can anyone conduct any credible research into how many ducks to put out in a spread? How would you compare one time to the next? I would think there would be far too many uncontrollable variables to make the data useless. Variables such as wind speed, wind direction, temperature, overcast verses sunny, sunrise/sunset times, humidity, and so on. I typically hunt smaller water. I haven't seen a difference in hunting success if I put out 3 decoys, 12 decoys, 30 decoys. Haven't seen a difference if I put out more hens or drakes. Turn the heads to the left or to the right. Weights on the butt end of head end.

Just curious if there have been any scientific studies with reproducible results on something like this.

Mark
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
No rhyme or reason. Match what you are seeing the ducks doing in the wild so you look natural. For me that means small decoy spreads in October, and big ones in November and December. Except when it doesn't. If the ducks are looking but not committing, change something. That's more likely to be moving decoys or taking some away than adding more.

After that, superstition rules. My rules include that:

(1) You should always have an odd number of decoys.

(2) IF you put out multiple species, it should be an odd number of each species, and a total that is an odd number. This means you need an odd number of species, too.
--Corollary: Because they are so closely related, Rule #2 does not apply with respect to black ducks and mallards, which can be mixed as though they were a single species, or counted as two different species, whichever works better. (This is my get out of jail free card, but when I count the blacks and mallards as two species, it must be odd numbers of each.)

(3) Except for mallards and black ducks, which I see together on the water in the wild, I always separate my species a bit into groups.


More arcane superstitions could certainly be added. Prime numbers? Perfect squares? Only decoy numbers from the Fibbonacci sequence?

Just in case you might be tempted. https://www.mathsisfun.com/...onacci-sequence.html

"At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant."
— Aldo Leopold
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
If there is such a thing as a study regarding your questions, I'm inclined to call quackery. As you said, way too many uncontrolled variables. Match the number and type of decoys to the number and type of birds using the area. The caveat being, always deploy an odd number of decoys, and you'll be good. Smile That, and a good dog in the blind.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
Wow, now I am really going to have to plan this out. I always leave the house with full slotted bags. For years that was always 6, or 12 slot bags, but this yr I added a couple 9 slot bags, but 2 of them. I plan to use 3 12slot bags and 2 9slot bags in the Scaup, but then may add a few swans that are not in bags. I think I will need to create a spreadsheet to ensure I have enough species to maintain the odd numbers in even numbers of slots???!!!! Maybe I will just add a real odd decoy, like a grebe to the boat and always have an out?

Dave Diefenderfer
Manassas, VA

"Once you set out to build a boat, throw away your square. And if you work on her after she's launched, throw away your level." author unknown

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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
I have a different approach altogether, depending upon what kind of hunting I'll be doing:

Layout hunting -- number of decoys that will fit comfortably on 10 mother lines. Somewhere around 100.

Sneak hunting -- number of decoys that will fit into the sneak boat. Usually around 5 1/2 dozen in the 18 footer; 8 dozen in the 21 footer.

Mallard hunting with canoe -- number of decoys that will fit into the mesh decoy bag I've been using for the past few years. Yesterday it was 29.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
I need to get a grant to conduct this research for the next 20 years....


Carl
Mobile, AL
DHBP Member since 1998

"Life is too short to drink bad beer."
Disclaimer: This post and/or report is not a substantiation of or reflection on the true accuracy of the present surveying methods. It is only a report on or comment concerning local observation and/or results. Your results and observation may vary based on your location, local water conditions, food supply, weather conditions and migratory patterns "
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
I used to think that sometimes fewer was better. However, I've adjusted my thinking. I think sometimes 8-10 is as effective as 36. However, if you are willing to put in the effort to deploy say 100, they become much more magnetic, even if you are hunting in an area with few ducks. Also, people say match what you are seeing locally, but those birds weren't local for much of their life. They've seen thousands of live birds at refuges all over the country.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
We have a 90 acre pond with three blinds in a rough line. We put out about 1,000 that snake between the blinds. Works great.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
Kevin Layne wrote:
We put out about 1,000 that snake between the blinds.


Every hunt? Count me out :)

Eric
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
I've adjusted my thinking on this. I used to think more was better but now tend to favor fewer. I primarily hunt small water (small creeks, small ponds) and will put out between 9 and 15. I do tend to favor an odd number and I do group species.

The primary thing is being where the ducks want to be. Nail that part and decoy numbers/placement becomes very secondary.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
As many as you can. For me, that's either 11,13,15 cedar blocks in a sneak in the tidal marsh. 13 is not unlucky in decoys, it's actually a good jinx. I do like to put out the ducks that are most prevalent in the area I hunt and am targeting. But like Kris said, the more the merrier.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
greg setter wrote:
As many as you can. For me, that's either 11,13,15 cedar blocks in a sneak in the tidal marsh. 13 is not unlucky in decoys, it's actually a good jinx. I do like to put out the ducks that are most prevalent in the area I hunt and am targeting. But like Kris said, the more the merrier.


I had forgotten the "it can be any odd number EXCEPT 13" rule. Also, although 2 is not an odd number, it is a prime, and therefore acceptable. For some highly mobile hunts, like sculling over decoys, a pair of black ducks is a the perfect "spread".

"At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant."
— Aldo Leopold
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
This question brings back memories of many flooded timber hunts I had that were limits or near limits where I set out ZERO decoys, which, Jeff, happens to be an even number and not a prime. These were spots I scouted and knew ducks were hitting at first light. Come to think of it, I wonder if there is any other place besides in a timber hole where this can happen. Around here I think not.

Eric
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
Ain't how many.

Where, and what waterfowl being hunted?

Over water I would guess for ducks.

Black painted Bleach bottles work fine at times. A few handmade decoys, different poses work magic at other times.

I have found that Quality Decoys work better than quantity. Proof is in the pudding over a long span of time.


Timber hunting. Few to no decoys, just keep yer boots making lotta WAVES and do not shoot at large flocks. The brighter the day the better.

The birds see decoys from the top, not the side (most times). Decoy judges do that....


my 2 cents











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
  

I had forgotten the "it can be any odd number EXCEPT 13" rule. Also, although 2 is not an odd number, it is a prime, and therefore acceptable. For some highly mobile hunts, like sculling over decoys, a pair of black ducks is a the perfect "spread"

2 black ducks is a good rig in the right place. I had not considered the significance in being a prime number, but agree that 2 decoys can be good, particularly for wary black ducks. That is the only case in which one should use an even number, because no other even number is prime. Just more proof of the even/odd question.

Last edited by:

greg setter: Oct 27, 2022, 5:55 AM
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
Good post, Mark. We had a stretch of time down here when there was an abundance of smart weed. It lasted almost 5 years. In that time I would find a nice honey hole with smart weed and some grassy patches. Over those years I would normally use anywhere from 11 to 33 decoys and Greg, the only even number I would put out was 2. I did enjoy what you had to say, by the way. Now at the age of 81, I normally use 5 to 7 decoys. Most of the time I will use 3 teal along with 2 or 4 big ducks. My decoys are always placed up to 15 feet from shore but no farther. That is what my retrieving stick can get without me having to step in the mud.

Anyway, since puddle ducks are gregarious, sometimes those numbers are enticing to incoming birds. If I am hunting the Rio Grande I normally always tried to set up close to a sandy island or a very shallow area and then I always incorporated the use of the full body decoys like you use in a corn field. When placed on a stake a small breeze would keep them moving all the time. I made darn sure that they were always placed in the shallow water because that is what I observed the ducks doing. They seemed right at ease standing in 2 or 3" of water but I never saw many of them sitting or standing on the sand.

On the pond that I used to hunt that was not too far from the Rio Grande, I once found about a 10' branch that was about 8" in diameter.
That year the rancher brought in his dozer and cleaned all the weeds out and at the same time instead of some dandy shallow water he dozed out some more material that ended up with the pond being about two to three feet deep. That time I took my battery operated drill using a 9/16th bit. I drilled about a dozen or so holes with some closer together than others and once again used those life sized decoys with short pieces of 1/2" wood dowels holding up the decoys. Some of the log was slightly submerged and I used full body feeding decoys there. It worked well because it gave the look that the pond was shallow and inviting to the ducks. With a few of the old style Herter model 72 decoys that do such a great job with hardly any breeze at all, it all worked just fine. Just so you know I used two 48" wood dowels to hold the log in place.

Finally the biggest change I have made in the past decade was to begin using more and more black ducks. If there ever was a black duck in New Mexico it was because the poor bird got totally lost. When I had decoys needing paint I just went to the hardware store and bought cans of flat black spray paint. Yup, even the beaks got painted. They worked just fine. Back around 09 I bought a half dozen black duck decoys from Cabelas and along with my Mexican duck from Steve, things seem to work just fine. Now I need to say just one thing. I live in an area that has very few clouds. Normally my best days are those that we call "severe clear". You can get away with beaks painted black etc. But if the area where you live has lots of clouds, that is when ducks seem to be darn particular where they go. Some of the folks have talked about good looking decoys. Yes, I am sure it works. I just don't hunt on cloudy, rainy or snowy days.
Al
Mark, your environment normally will dictate the number of decoys that you use.

Have you ever tried leaving your decoy bag on the shore line next to the water. I did. I even left my decoy bag in the decoy sled/boat on a sandy island just a few feet from my decoys. Never ever had birds flare because of it. You should also try sitting in the wide open with maybe your back up against the stalk of a wild sunflower plant. Just don't move. It is amazing what happens. Fun, too! Ducks don't pay much attention to inanimate objects. If you can be one its called being up close and personal. I had three different dogs that could do that and they were Chili, Habanero aka Habi and Chipotle aka Chip. When out in the open I would always have them wear camo so that their bodies would covered. After saying that I will be using a picture of Chip with no camo jacket. We were hunting teal. Almost anything goes when you are hunting just teal. The second picture is of the area where we sat. Chip could run straight ahead from where he was. We sat maybe just 6 to 8' from the water's edge.




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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
My hunting has had to change the past 3-4 years or so. My favorite spot had an upstream dam removed which allowed tons and tons of silt to flow downstream into the area I hunted. Instead of wide, 3' creeks near the mouth, it is now either fast moving narrow creeks or slow moving, really shallow areas (6-8"' deep).

I used to be able to hunt out of my boat with a blind but the boat can't get back to the good spots to hunt so I bring a chair and haul that to where I hunt. Tried putting the chair behind a blind but just couldn't see the ducks in that location so I sit the chair in front of the blind and remain motionless as Al mentions. After the sun comes up, I may move to a more covered location.

As far as decoys. Used to bring along 15 or so and just throw them where I didn't want the ducks to land. Now that I have to carry everything, large numbers of decoys is too much. At the end of last season, a pair of mallards did the trick as when most of the other water freezes, this spot remains open and the ducks want to be there. So far this year I've benn putting out 7-8 dekes. Not much action yet as it is just too nice up here. We need weather.

Anyway, as always, use the number of decoys that seems right for the spot. I hunt with a guy who is a firm believer that the decoys have to be set out in a certain pattern. I don't agree as I don't think I have seen puddlers float in a "J" formation. Don't think I have seen any divers do it either.

Anyway, gets lonely waiting for the sun to rise and the mind wanders. Stay tuned for next hunts wandering mind question.

Mark
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
Eric Patterson wrote:
Kevin Layne wrote:
We put out about 1,000 that snake between the blinds.



Every hunt? Count me out :)

Eric


No way, that would be uncivilized! We put them out just before floodup and leave them out all season. Just walk out the gravel path and jump into the pit and start hunting.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
My thoughts are 7 or 70. There are to many spreads with 12 to 30 decoys in them. Birds see these spreads all the way down the flyway and I feel that they just avoid spreads of this size after being shot at enough. I typically will use 2 or 3 mallards and a handful of widgeon. Plus the smaller amount of decoys allows you to move easily if the birds want to be somewhere else. I hunt mostly on the Columbia river and sometimes moving 100yards to another spot can make a bad hunt a great hunt. In my opinion, Being were they want to be is most important. When that can't happen then decoy placement and decoy movement become much more important. I flare more birds because I am all antsy in the pantsy looking around, standing up, sitting down, adjusting my 5 decoys for no reason, going for a walk. Not because of my decoys....
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
Neal Haarberg wrote:
My thoughts are 7 or 70. There are to many spreads with 12 to 30 decoys in them. Birds see these spreads all the way down the flyway and I feel that they just avoid spreads of this size after being shot at enough. I typically will use 2 or 3 mallards and a handful of widgeon. Plus the smaller amount of decoys allows you to move easily if the birds want to be somewhere else. I hunt mostly on the Columbia river and sometimes moving 100yards to another spot can make a bad hunt a great hunt. In my opinion, Being were they want to be is most important. When that can't happen then decoy placement and decoy movement become much more important. I flare more birds because I am all antsy in the pantsy looking around, standing up, sitting down, adjusting my 5 decoys for no reason, going for a walk. Not because of my decoys....


I like the 7 or 70 approach. Some days 7 is too many, sometimes 70 is too few, but I like it. Really in most cases if you are on the "X" just a few is enough.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
Mark Twain - There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.



All I'm sayin is, you gotta do the eyeball test. I.e. you deploy the appropriate number of decoys based on your experience or gut feeling. All, none, or anything in between. Very situational.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
Great question. I see this question asked frequently on forums. You gauge the decoy spread according to the location, type of hunting scenario, feed, size of the water or field your hunting, capacity to get decoys to X spot, etc. Some smaller pocket water I will run as small of a group as 6 and most are attached to jerk setups, so they are all moving. Big open water setups for divers I will run 12-18 dozen decoys. Sea ducks I typically will run up to 12 dozen decoys. Field hunting for ducks, I run a dozen full bodies up to 30 dozen silhouettes. I used to run up to 15 dozen full bodies with 5-10 dozen shells mixed in. For dark geese we will run 2 dozen to 15 dozen full bodies. This coming weekend we will be targeting cacklers and will more than likely run close to 40 dozen full bodies. For snow geese we have been running 2,500 to 5K rags. Will be cutting that back to about 500 full body snow goose decoys as the birds become more educated. Largest duck spreads I have hunted over were down in the rice field in California where they would leave about 5k floating duck decoys out all season and open holes depending on the blinds we hunted out of. Lots of variables and also dependent on how much work you want to do. I also spend about 85 days a season chasing waterfowl.
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Re: Number of Decoys In reply to
I'm finding that the surge in Canada Goose populations in the areas I hunt makes a small spread of Canada floaters (5 or so) along with a few small groups of duck decoys a set that must look natural to both ducks and geese alike.
I keep seeing them sitting together or in close proximity, and in the past few seasons have had success with this type of setup. Large numbers for water spreads doesn't seem to be the ticket around here. Hold true for the sloughs as well as the main stem of the river.

Of course, I also like to play with different groupings of species throughout the year as well as setting out pickleweeds on the bank, but that's the decoy maker in me. There's a lot of satisfaction in what Dave Hagerbaumer used to term the importance of "hunting well."


MLBob

"Art is like an ill-trained Labrador retriever that drags you out into traffic." (Annie Dillard)

....Here's to Joe Wooster, who made me realize that the useful could and should be beautiful; and who firmly believed that decoy carvers were the last free men in America.

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