Decoying birds can be a challenge for any hunter. Whether you have been hunting for decades or just starting out on your first hunt. There are so many pieces to the puzzle to create the perfect setup, so we will go into a few of them so that your next trip may be more successful than the last.
Wind direction and speed can be a huge factor when it comes to decoying birds successfully. Traditionally, waterfowl will land into the wind. This is because the birds use the wind itself to help slow the bird’s speed down, and gives them a bit of a parachute effect so that they land softly rather than a screeching naval jet landing on an aircraft carrier. So we will discuss wind direction before we get into wind speed. But before we get into the meat and potatoes of this article, understand that when I say “birds”, I am referring to ducks and geese specifically. When you set up your decoys, whether it be on land or on water, you want the birds to be landing into your decoy spread from 15-20 yards from you. I say this because you don’t want them landing right on top of you or your shotgun will not have the distance to expand your shot cone. A shot cone is the spreading of the pellets, or shot, coming from the muzzle of your shotgun. The closer the target is to you, the tighter the shot cone is and denser the shot pattern is. A tight pattern is a good thing, but being too tight and to close of distances makes it difficult to hit your target and if you actually do connect, you’re going to destroy the bird rather than keep most of the meat intact. As far as wind direction, I like to be set up with the decoys in front of me but with the wind traveling in a side to side direction. I don’t set my decoys up wind because the birds will be flying over me to get to the decoy spread. I also don’t set up my decoys downwind because it will ultimately be giving you’re a longer shot at the birds. So in saying all of this, if the wind is blowing East to West, I will set up my decoys either Northwest or Southwest of where I will be set up as the hunter. This is so the birds will be landing in the decoys in front of me and it will be a side to side shot rather than a overhead or reaching shot.
In regards to wind speed, the greater the wind, the more pronounced it is for the birds to land into the wind. With a very low wind speed, wind direction is not as important because the wind is having little to no effect on the bird’s flight. With high winds, birds will use this wind in their favor for landing. When the wind is very high, you might want to try and find somewhere that the wind is being blocked by some sort of structure. Just like humans, birds don’t want to be stuck out in terrible weather unless they have to. So sometimes finding a refuge away from foul weather or high speed winds may be your ticket to success.
The size of your decoy spread is also something to consider. There are many schools of thought when it comes to the size of your decoy spread. Some say bigger is better, other say only a dozen is necessary, some say only a couple is sufficient. In my experience, all of them are true. It all depends on where you are hunting and what kind of numbers of birds you may be facing. Those who hunt in Canada and see tens of thousands of birds in one flock, you may consider having the biggest spread you can make, having the most amount of decoys you can afford or get your hands on. Other locations such as small ponds, or lakes, you may want to dial down the number of decoys and make your spread look more natural to your location. Hunting a small acre pond does not require 500 decoys. That is daunting to set up and maximum overload for that type of location. If you are hunting open water, which is primarily where I hunt these days, a few dozen decoys and spinning wing decoys usually suffices. If the water I am hunting is very large such as the Chesapeake Bay or the ocean, I may dial up the number of decoys so that my area looks more like a sanctuary.
The best design of a decoy set up I have found to be in the shape of a U or a J. The reason for this is that the up area of the U or J is where the birds are more inclined to land. You would placed yourself as the hunter below the curl of the U and the J. The wind would be blowing in the direction of the open area of the U or J. This set up work for both land and water applications.
These are more general guidelines to decoying, but in further articles, I will be going in depth on different set ups, different applications for water and land, and better ways to put you on birds. Until next time, good hunting and be safe.