The ‘Skinny’ on Silhouette Decoys: A Q&A with waterfowl calling champion Forrest Carpenter
By M.D. Johnson
It seems goose hunting has returned to its traditional roots via a recent and almost mind-boggling trend toward the use of silhouette decoys.
Today, flats are huge. Maybe bigger than huge. They’re all over the place on YouTube, which might make you think full-bodies have gone the way of T-Rex. They haven’t, of course — they’re still out there, and by the trailer load. But skinnies? They seem to be the ticket now. Ten dozen. Thirty dozen. Fifty dozen.
Coast to coast, north to south, ’fowlers are discovering — nah, maybe rediscovering — the role silhouette decoys can and do play in the goose hunting grand scheme of things.
Forrest Carpenter knows well about this grand scheme of things, as it relates to silhouettes. A new dad, Carpenter was born and raised on Colorado’s Front Range.
He’s a man who wears many hats, working with Dive Bomb Industries as a photographer, media relations/public relations representative and lead pilot, flying the company’s small single-engine airplane.
Carpenter has been an active participant on the competitive goose calling circuit for several years now, winning the Junior World Goose Calling Championship in ’05. The young man has stood on the stage and blown in the World Live Goose Calling contest and has placed among the top 10 in the World Duck Calling championships. Bottom line — he knows his stuff.
As of this writing, it’s now December — one of the waterfowler’s busiest times of the year. That’s especially the case if you’re in the business of making, promoting, filming, and let’s not forget overflying a full line of waterfowl decoys — the least of which (or rather, the most popular of which) are silhouettes. Fortunately Carpenter had a few minutes one early morning to answer some questions about this latest “old is new again” decoy craze.
Silhouettes are HUGE right now. Why?
I think the reason why silhouettes have grown so much in popularity is because they’re affordable. If you’re a high schooler, you’re able to go hunt now and afford more than just four or six decoys. You can actually afford a spread that you can go out and have success with. They’re easy to transport. And once you’ve hunted silhouettes a time or two, they’re easy to figure out. You start to realize just how effective they can be, either mixed with full-bodies or by themselves. Silhouette decoys give you an additional dimension that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
Is this a YouTube phenomenon that’s destined to go away?
I don’t think so. Silhouettes were one of the earliest types of decoys to be used. They may fade a little bit [in popularity], but they’ll come right back. Silhouettes always have been and always will be a staple to North American waterfowlers.
What is the biggest psychological hurdle to overcome with silhouettes?
Trusting a two-dimensional decoy is probably the most difficult part of hunting over silhouettes. It’s not whether or not the birds believe in it; it’s whether or not you can trust a two-dimensional to be seen from something flying overhead.
How can two-dimensions compete with three? Is this a numbers thing?
It’s two things: Yes, you can put out [greater] numbers. And I’m of the thought that the earlier you can convince a goose your spread is real, the less you have to do when they get close. So I like to set a big spread — not necessarily numbers, but a spread that covers enough ground to look natural and looks different from the hunter who sets five dozen decoys in 50 yards. The other part deals with the birds’ monocular vision. They rely on peripheral vision. And they’re not able to focus on those decoys and tell that they’re only two-dimensional.
It’s said geese won’t finish to a spread of silhouettes. Myth, or reality?
I would say that’s false. I’ve landed so many geese in these decoys since I really began hunting over them. And not only landed them, but had them sit in the spread — maybe not for an extended period of time, but until we tired of looking at them. So I’ve had extremely good success finishing geese over silhouette decoys.
Are silhouettes changing the game numerically? Is 20 dozen the new two dozen?
I would say so. I think every trend in waterfowl hunting changes the game, whether it’s extremely realistic full-bodies, layout blinds, A-frames or what have you. It all changes the game to some degree. On average, I do think people are hunting over a greater and greater number of [goose] decoys, myself included. When you can stick 120 dozen decoys in the back of your truck with a topper, it’s going to change what you can do. With full-bodies, if you wanted to hunt over 120 dozen decoys, you and your 15 closest friends would need three trailers to set that sort of spread.
What about using silhouettes alongside full-bodies?
Mixing silhouettes with full-bodies is wonderful. That’s one of our biggest selling points — these are photographs of real geese. The colors (on the silhouettes) are very accurate. So they actually complement those full-body spreads.
You’ve mentioned an “illusion of movement.” How does a two-dimensional static decoy create the illusion of movement?
I can tell you from a pilot’s perspective. While I have binocular vision, geese have monocular vision. When I’m flying over a silhouette spread, these decoys smoothly appear and disappear, to the point where it really does look like the whole spread is moving.
Any final words, Forrest?
No one is ever going to argue that one silhouette has the same pulling power as one full-body decoy. That’s NOT the argument in hunting silhouettes by themselves. We get a lot of people who email, and while they’re not necessarily critical, they are skeptical about silhouettes. But whether you use them alone or in conjunction with socks or full-bodies or shells, they definitely do have a place in spreads all across the country. Silhouettes are a valuable tool that anyone could have — and should have — in their arsenal.
Meet M.D. Johnson
Originally from Ohio, M.D. Johnson, and his wife/business partner, Julia, spent 18 years in Iowa before relocating to her native Washington state in 2015. A full-time freelance outdoor writer since 1992, Johnson, with the photographic assistance of his wife, has authored and illustrated six full-length books, including three on waterfowl hunting. Today, The Johnsons reside in Wahkiakum County, where they both enjoy a 107-day duck season, salmon fishing, and everything the wonderful Pacific Northwest has to offer. Oh, and if you ask, M.D. will tell you he prefers 16 gauge doubles to anything else.
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