Over the last 20 years, technology has changed dramatically in producing wildfowl decoys. According to local sportsman, Jamie Latham, owner of Shore Sportsman in Easton, “These fully flocked decoys have textured flocking that make the birds’ feathers look lifelike. You can’t even tell the difference in a real bird among the decoy rigs today.”
David Rearick writes in Grandview Outdoors (December 2015) about duck decoys, “In the beginning, these decoys were simplistic, hand-woven floating imitations that to the modern eye resemble something seen at a craft bazaar rather than in the duck blind. Since then, decoys have transitioned from woven reeds to hand-rasped wood, then to lathe-turned wood, and now into injection-molded replicas that can fool even the keenest eye. While this transition has taken more than a hundred years, decoys are certainly the singular key component to the revolutionizing of modern waterfowl hunting.”
While Native Americans may have made decoys for thousands of years out of grasses and natural materials, it was not until after World War II that mass-produced decoys made of inexpensive and durable synthetics, like plastic and rubber, took over the decoy market replacing wooden decoys which had been popular since the 1800s. These decoys could be machine made and were less work to maintain.
Art Ladehoff, decoy maker and founder of Big Foot Decoys (bigfootdecoys.com), who grew up in Iowa on the Mississippi River where duck hunters hunted from scull boats, recalls, ‘’Store bought decoys or even the material to make so many decoys was not cheap. These factors always motivated hunters to make their own decoys. Homemade decoys were fashioned from almost any thing that would float. For large spreads at low cost it was common practice to use sealed up oil cans for decoys, painted black, with a white stripe around them worked extremely well for all species, including the occasional goose that might come along.”
Jamie notes that there are more and more new decoy companies entering the market every year. There are different material types for the two basic forms of decoys: floater and field decoys which can come in either full-body or silhouette styles. Floating decoys lure swimming game birds, including all types of ducks and geese, while silhouettes are mounted on wooden sticks that can be pushed into the ground. There are even motorized decoys which imitate movement in the decoy rig, along with wind-driven products, mainly used for snow geese. Some manufacturers even use hand-carved designs from award-winning waterfowl carvers which are initially carved in wood and then cast in full-body molds to be manufactured in bulk. Some of the most popular decoy manufacturers today are Big Foot Decoys, Avian-X, DOA, Tanglefree, Dakota Decoy Company, and Avery.
Jamie adds, “It’s a high-tech business now.”
Avian-X advertises “ultra-realistic paint schemes, crafted moldings and true-to-life postures.” They also sell foam-filled decoys which have lifelike movement and are virtually indestructible, continuing to float even if they accidentally get shot. They even have innovative weight forward decoys which have natural motion in the water.
Photo-driven silhouettes of wildfowl are another form of decoys. They are often cut out of Masonite and painted to look like a goose or corrugated material mounted with a realistic image of a goose imprinted on both sides. Manufacturers of silhouettes include Real Geese, Outlaw, White Rock Decoy Company, and Dive Bomb Industries. Personal preference seems to drive whether hunters use full-body decoys or silhouettes. Jamie adds, “Hunting conditions often drive which rig I choose to use. If the ground is wet and I can’t drive my truck into a field, I may use a silhouette rig which is easily transported and easily set up and taken down. Some people just use silhouettes, as they are cheaper to purchase.”
He adds, “New types of decoys help to level the playing field. It’s all about motion today. Decoys which have motion can help settle the birds down so they will finish and commit.”
Gary Koehler of Ducks Unlimited writes, “Since live decoys were outlawed in 1935, duck and goose hunters have devised numerous ways of creating lifelike movement in their spreads. Some, like the jerk cord, have worked wonders. Others have not. But modern technology has raised the bar considerably in terms of decoy motion.”
Among today’s motion decoys are flagging decoys which shake a kite-like device, flapping decoys which have wings on them that move, decoys which swim, kick, splash, make wakes, bob and thrash. Motorized and manual rigs range in price from $129 to $400 each.
For further information on decoys, visit shoresportsman.com or call Jamie Latham at 410-820-5599.