Pre-season decoy prep: 6 dos and don’ts to keep your rigs fresh
By M.D. Johnson
Every season, I find a dozen “lost” decoys while I’m out and about doing what I do from mid-October through the end of January (i.e., hunt ducks).
The reason behind these milk carton mallards — Get it? Lost decoys. Milk Carton. Ha! — might be any number of things, but most can be summed up in two simple words: poor maintenance. Sure, the tides or a radical change in weather could have something to do with decoys floating away unnoticed or not being retrieved at the end of the hunt. However, more often it’s a matter of operator error:
- Anchor cords aren’t checked pre-season and break
- Knots come untied
- Hardware (e.g., snaps and swivels) fails
- Keel-based anchor points allow lines to slip
But it’s not only these lost plastic souls I come across each season. I also see plenty of what I call “ratty rigs”: mud-covered mallards; pintails and widgeon in desperate need of touch-up paint; Canadas with little flocking remaining. I’m not trying to be judgmental here, but if these blocks look bad to me, I’m betting they’re not very realistic to any ducks unfortunate enough to see them either.
What I’m trying to say here is don’t be THAT ’fowler. Solutions? Certainly. Here’s a list of pre-season decoy prep tips to help you get your rig ready for opening day.
6 Dos and don’ts for pre-season decoy preparation
- DO check each and every clip, swivel, knot and attachment point between the weight and the decoy. While you’re at it, check the whole anchor line. Replace anything that looks even slightly sketchy. There’s nothing worse than spending precious hunting time chasing down decoys; besides losing decoys, of course.
- DON’T scrub your plastics with any type of soap or cleanser. Fred Zink, professional decoy carver, says soaps can enhance the UV characteristics of some plastics, making your decoys glow like a lightning bug’s butt. Cool water and a bristle brush only.
- DO clean your decoys. Real decoys kill ducks, especially late season ducks, and dirty decoys don’t look real. It only takes a few minutes, post-hunt, to give those blocks a good rinse with the outside hose. And while you’re at it, be sure to remove all that ’coontail, eelgrass, and anything else vegetative and/or foreign that might be clinging to the decoy itself. Again, it just takes a couple of minutes and will pay dividends in terms of you throwing a natural-looking rig.
- DON’T skimp on decoy bags. It may sound strange, but a quality decoy bag can be one of the best investments you make as a waterfowler. Ordering online may save a few dollars, but do you really know what you’re buying? Best is to do your pre-season decoy prep and try several out in-store before buying. Is it the right size? Does it stand up and stay open? Does it sink when empty? If I’m packing it on my back, is it comfortable?
- DO inspect each decoy for cracks, shot holes, splits or other damage. Nothing says “Guys hiding in the bushes!” to a flock of mallards better than a dozen half-sunk, listing decoys scattered throughout the spread.
- DON’T assume that because you’ve switched to brand spankin’ new coated cable Texas rigs, complete with shiny crimps and fancy weights and blah … blah … blah 21st century technology, everything is right with the world and you don’t have a thing to worry about regarding compromised hardware. You still have pre-season decoy prep to do. True story: I’ve had never-used, straight-out-of-the-box Texas rigs fail, making it a good idea to inspect each new component as you assemble your rig(s) pre-season.