Have you ever wanted to triple your floating decoy spread by spending less and with less effort? If you are like me, you need and want decoys that take up less room in the boat? Y-boards are the answers to your prayers and your wallet. They are a standby used by waterfowl hunters on the Delmarva Peninsula for over 100 years, and other styles have evolved up and down the Atlantic Flyway. They work because waterfowl see in two dimensionally and not three dimensions like we do.
I first encountered Y-boards when I was in college and was on a guided hunt on Delaware’s salt marsh. I grew up hunting waterfowl in Pennsylvania, but it never became an obsession until my college lacrosse coach and eastern shore waterfowl guide, Kevin Colebeck grew the fire within me. Money was tight, and I needed large spreads in Delaware, that I could easily store in my truck, the answer was Y-boards. We used them exclusively on water, but there’s no reason they can’t be used on dry land. In fact I know plenty of guides and outfitters that use them everyday. They’re actually shaped like a big letter Y when deployed, but historically they have been called them V-boards since their inception. The names is interchangeable and I refer to them as Y-boards, because that is they way they were originally described to me. They carry three goose or duck decoys on the extended arms, yet fold into a compact bundle for transportation.
The bottom arm of the Y carries one decoy and the anchor attachment, and the trailing arms carry the two additional silhouette decoys. I have seen plenty of guys attach the anchor line to the gearbox, but the decoys always seem to work better when it is attached to the leadin
g arms. The Gearbox? The trailing arms are hinged in what Delmarva watermen call the “gearbox.” The gear box is made out of plywood normally 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch in thickness and will be anywhere from six to twelve inches wide.
It takes little time to build, and it works extremely well.
Made of 2-inch-by-2-inch lumber, the arms are cut to pretty much the same length. I use arms that are 36 inches. I often used precut 2X2X36 pressure treated square end balusters from Home Depot. Building the gearbox requires a spacer of 2-by-2s, 6 to 8 inches long, with the ends cut at a slight angle, although to speed construction they can be left square.
The spacer separates the two trailing legs secured to the gearbox with galvanized or stainless-steel quarter-inch bolts. The top and bottom of the gearbox are plywood and tapered toward the front leg to give the whole rig a finished appearance. Nail or screw the spacer to the bottom plate with marine nails or screws, and then sandwich the lower arms between the top and bottom plates.
Use care to ensure the lower a
rms will easily swivel, yet come to rest against the spacer. When the spacer is installed, the front arm is also nailed or screwed in place. Prior to installing the top plate and bolting the lower arms in place, paint the insides with two coats of dark gray, dark green or whatever color best matches the water you hunt. Once dry, install the top plate using a thin spacer. Marine washers work well, allowing rotation of the lower arms to swivel on quarter-inch marine bolts.
The arms and mounting posts of Y-boards fold up easy and compact into the smallest of boats.
If you hunt saltwater or brackish water, marine brass or stainless-steel hardware is essential. Freshwater is more forgiving, but brass or stainless steel is often worth the added expense for longevity. If you do used galvanized hardware as a cost savings, rise the decoys after each hunt with freshwater. No matter what hardware you choose, using lock nuts will help ensure that you won’t loose any nuts or bolts in travel.
I can not stress enough the importance of sealing your wood. Take the time to apply multiple coats of paint and sealer. Doing so will give you decoys that will last forever, or at least until one of your buddies shoots one the decoys. We all have that guy or gal in our group that seems to shoot more decoys than actually birds.
Often, it is easier to attach the silhouette decoys after painting the arms and before assembling the gearbox. This is the approach that I highly recommend, otherwise the arms will rot over time where the silhouette is attached to the arm.
Rig a length of quarter inch sinking cord and relatively heavy anchor (I prefer to use window weights as you can get them cheaply and they already have a hole in them for rope), depending on the conditions in which you hunt, and attach it by a screw eye on the bottom of the leading arm or gear box. I recommend a using a two or three pound weight. Another great trick for making anchor weights to use four inch diameter PVC pipe, filling it with concrete and placing a stainless steel eyebolt with a nut and washer into the concrete. I have several of these weights and they are almost 20 years old and look the same as they did the day we made them. Making Y-boards is work, but once you have a pattern, it’s relatively easy to production-line manufacture. It is a great product for a couple of friends to do on the weekend. It really satisfying to shoot bird over decoys that you made with your own hands.
If you do not want to go to the trouble of making them yourself? Sitting Ducks Ltd. offers ready-made Y-boards. Formed from tough plastic, they come four to a package. Other than attaching three silhouette decoys plus an anchor and line, they are ready to go. (they are pictured to the left ) The arms lock into the closed or open position by a locking pin thoughtfully attached to the V-board with a short length of cord. Once opened and pinned in the open position, the decoy mounting posts are rotated up and the decoys attached.
If you use commercially available silhouettes such as Real Geese,(we make our own from 1/4 inch plywood) their stake punch-outs will match the supports molded into the plastic mounting posts. Even if the decoys seem securely held, it will save you trouble if you stabilize them with at least one of the supplied screws. With decoys in place, secure the anchor and line to the front attachment point — it is the arm with the manufacturer’s name. The trailing arms also have
anchoring points used for pegs when the V-boards are employed for field hunting. To transport, pull the locking pin, fold the arms, replace the pin, wrap the anchor line around the three arms and put them in the boat.
The real beauty of Y-boards is four of them hold a full-dozen silhouette decoys. In use on water, I like to set my Y-boards first, outlining my rig and scattering them well throughout, and then fill in with floaters.
In a field situation, you can put them out just as you would regular silhouettes, only faster, as you’re placing three decoys at a pop. Y-boards are light, so if it’s windy, secure them with a hook or U-shaped staple, or a hefty spike driven into the ground. For ease in transporting and use in the field, cut the feet off commercially made silhouettes evenly with the bottom of the Y members.
On the water, face all the silhouettes in the same direction. For field use, I face the occasional decoy backward to give the rig the variety seen in resting and feeding flocks. If you mix silhouettes in the field with full-bodied decoys, use them as you would on water, spaced throughout your rig to give it volume. You can also change up your silhouettes by cutting the body and neck separately and attaching the neck to the body with a thumb screw will allow you change the position of the neck. It really helps you alter the look of your spread.
Why are silhouettes so good at fooling geese?
Because geese lack binocular vision, silhouette decoys appear just like a full-body to their eyes. “The eyes on geese are far apart, and they don’t have binocular vision as we humans,” explained call maker Sean Mann. “Notice how they crane their necks to look down and around. Because they don’t see in three dimensions as we do, they don’t view a silhouette as being anything other than another goose.” Therefore, using partial or complete spreads of silhouettes can consistently fool geese time after time.
Hunters along the coast use a variation of V-boards that stack and deploy in a string. Much like a longline , these rigs do the trick and will decoy birds in from long distances.
Two wooden silhouettes shaped and painted like eiders are paired and connected by a board at their bottoms. This board is made with the ends at an angle so that when viewed from the top, they are in a shallow-V configuration, with the heads at the apex. So placed, each pair appears from the duck’s eye level as one duck. They are rigged on heavy lines at intervals of about 6 to 8 feet, and when retrieved and stored, they nest in a compact bundle, taking little room in the boat. With a heavy weight at the front, all that is necessary to set them is to drop the weight, and then the decoys. The wind and current will extend them. Pickup involves pulling up the heavy anchor, then pulling in and stacking the pairs. Like V-boards, they take little room in the boat, yet provide good attracting power to passing ducks.
If silhouette decoys are part of your hunting equation, considery-boards. They allow hunters to set larger spreads more quickly, while reducing the overall bulk of the rig during transport and storage. So if you are looking to add more decoys to your spread this year. Consider going old school and craft some decoys that you and your friends can hunt over for the next 30 years.