Animation is a good thing in a decoy spread, but the growing stampede of motion decoys used to attract ducks has backfired. Ironically, the birds themselves are leveling the playing field by systematically avoiding decoy spreads with too much motion. Apparently you can have too much of a good thing, even in duck hunting!
UNDERSTANDING THE MIRACLE OF MOTION
A little motion in a decoy spread is a beautiful thing. Spend some time watching wild birds on the water and your eye is quickly drawn to the subtle forms of movement among a flock. The “V” wakes birds put up while swimming literally jump out to the eye as do birds standing and flapping their wings. Still other birds catch your eye as they dabble and splash at the surface. All of these natural behaviors create unique motions that routinely come into play when a group of birds in the air approaches others on the water.
It’s these subtle but important forms of motion that telegraph to approaching birds a sense that all is normal and well. Interestingly enough these basic forms of motion can and are being duplicated by commercially produced motion decoys. This is a good thing, it’s only when these amazing products are misused that trouble sets in.
MECHANICAL OR NATURAL MOTION?
There is a fine line between natural motion and mechanical motion. The typical spinning-wing decoy is a good example of mechanical motion. From a distance the spinning wings create a flash pattern that looks very much like waterfowl fluttering down to the ground or water. Up close, the spinning wing decoy is mechanical in appearance and can actually spook birds that have made the mistake of straying too close to one of these hunting aids and survived.
This is precisely why as the season progresses more and more ducks start avoiding the traditional spinning-wing decoys that worked so flawlessly earlier in the season.
One way to deal with this problem is to use a traditional spinning-wing early in the season and switch to a more natural wing-flapping decoy later in the year. The new Rapid Flyer Lucky Duck produced by Expedite uses a more natural flapping motion that closely duplicates a duck landing.
The spinning-wing decoy does a better job of attracting distant birds, while the flapping-wing decoy is superior for finishing birds into the decoy spread. Combining both types of motion decoys into the spread can make sense, especially if some additional technology is used to control the final outcome.
| Right now, you can use spinning-wing and motion decoys just about everywhere in the Mississippi Flyway.
The exceptions are an early-season ban in Minnesota, and one state park in Michigan.
Back in 2005, Arkansas shocked the waterfowling world by prohibiting the use of popular motion decoys. At the time, a number of guides and serious hunters were blaming motion decoys for the declining harvest numbers in Arkansas and neighboring states.
This ban was overturned in 2008. It became apparent that motion decoys do tend to focus harvest on young-of-the-year birds, but overall harvest numbers do not dramatically increase.
Other states may consider statewide or local bans. Stay informed of state and federal legislation, if nothing else than to make sure your opinion is heard when lawmakers decide to get involved in our sport.
Incorporating Intermittent Motion
A growing number of motion decoys are remote-controlled and many also feature an intermittent function that automatically turns the decoy on and off at specific time intervals. Using intermittent motion helps to reduce the “mechanical” feel of a decoy spread by making it much harder for approaching birds to scrutinize specific motion aspects of the spread.
Ultra Natural Decoys
Swimming decoys and dabblers that spit water and or tip up are among the most natural and non-mechanical of all motion decoys. Some of these products run continuously and must be attached to a decoy anchor and cord. Others are remote radio controlled and still others feature intermittent motion.
All the decoys in this category function well at adding subtle motion to the decoy spread and further animate other decoys by displacing water.
Wind Activated Decoys
A number of motion decoys require the power of the wind to bring them to life. Ironically, the stronger the wind becomes, the less necessary motion decoys become in the first place.
Wind makes it more difficult for approaching birds to carefully scrutinize a decoy spread. This occurs because the birds have to spend more time attending to the details of flight and navigation and have less time available to carefully scan the ground or water below.
Most wind-activated decoys function best in low to moderate wind conditions. Wind-activated spinning-wing decoys are somewhat mechanical. Other products, like kites, rags, silhouettes, bobble heads and rocking full-body decoys, have little mechanical movement that can spook birds.
MORE MOTION TRICKS
When it comes to adding motion to a decoy spread, it’s becoming obvious that the more subtle the motion, the more effective it attracts waterfowl. Subtle motion is natural and tends to be non-mechanical, making it difficult for even the most wary of waterfowl to spot a fake.
Charles Snapp, a lifetime waterfowl hunter and retired Arkansas guide, once shared an easy and effective way to make a small-water decoy spread more animated.
“The keel on most floating decoys limits their movement,” said Snapp. “Remove the keel using a saber saw and then re-attach the decoy cord using a screw eye in the bottom of the decoy.”
Some decoys have keels that are easily r
emoved. Rigged this way, the smooth-bottomed decoys will slip and slide over the water surface even on those calm days when they would otherwise look lifeless and fake.