Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I looked over a flock of what I would consider perfectly normal ducks, and noticed that a vast majority of them were covered in mud and dirt, feathers askew with many missing. Drake mallards with Holstein-esque heads mottled lime-green and white. Oh, and moss-draped widgeon. I’ve seen few of them in the wild. What I do see throughout the course of the waterfowling year are decoy spreads where the individual blocks are something out of a Salvador Dali painting.
The effectiveness of a decoy spread depends upon the effectiveness of each decoy as an individual unit. Thus, if those individuals aren’t, well, attractive, the entire spread suffers. In other words, the aesthetics of each and every decoy affects the overall performance of the spread. Translation? Keep ’em clean and well-maintained.
It’s true that waterfowlers are often sticklers when it comes to maintaining decoy cords and anchors. After all, who wants $80 worth of plastic ducks floating downriver? That’s a bad thing. And while it’s certainly a good idea to annually inspect all of the cords and anchors within a spread, replacing or retying those where necessary, it’s also important, though vastly overlooked, to maintain the overall appearance of the individual blocks throughout the course of the season. But while we’re on the subject…
There are 101 different types of decoy anchoring systems on the market today — Texas Rigs, ACE anchors, Keel-Grabbers, strap weights, bungees, and the list goes on and on; however, the common denominators, regardless of the style of anchor, are but two. One, it’s elemental but nonetheless very important to make certain when the anchor is attached to the decoy initially, it is attached securely. Yes, it seems obvious, but each year, hundreds of decoys are lost to the elements simply because their owner hasn’t taken the time to make sure knots are tight or the crimps are crimped. If Texas Rigs, i.e. sliding egg-style sinkers, heavy monofilament and snap swivels are being used, it’s wise to periodically inspect the connections — that is, the swivels themselves — to be sure they haven’t popped open or aren’t locking completely in the first place. Secondly, inspections. Pre-season, post-season and during the season are all times to visually inspect anchors, cords and cord connections. Knots, crimps and swivels — connections — are invariably the weakest links in the anchoring system; even a quick glance before you get started, once you’re finished, and every few days while you’re afield can prevent decoys from venturing off on their own.
Decoy maintenance actually begins with the close of the regular season. “What you do when the season ends,” says Rusty Burnam, media relations frontman for Avery Outdoors, “will ultimately save you time and money over the long haul. Post-season efforts are just going to make it easier once season rolls around again.”
When it’s all unfortunately said and done, Burnam recommends giving each plastic — NOTE: Plastic, not flocked — decoy the once-over. “I’ll inspect each decoy,” he says, “and pick off any dried vegetation or gunk. Then, I’ll either lay them out in the driveway and hit ’em with the hose, or I’ll take them to the carwash and use the high-pressure hose on the rinse (water only) setting. Once they’re wet and if they need it, I’ll take a stiff bristle brush to each to remove any mud or dirt.”
Then, Burnam continues, it’s just a matter of letting them dry completely and storing them for the off-season. “I like the slotted bags for storage,” says Burnam. “They really help in terms of protection and cleanliness; however, you can always hang decoys or shelve them, too. But try to keep them out of the sun and the heat.”
Flocked decoys, be they just heads and necks or entire bodies, receive a bit more specialized treatment. “I don’t use any type of liquid cleaner on my flocked decoys,” says Burnam. “To remove mud and dirt, I’ll use that same stiff bristle brush. Or, if they’re not too dirty, I’ll crank up my air compressor and blow ’em clean. The flocking’s tough, but nonetheless, you want to take care with these types of decoys when you’re cleaning them.”
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“Pre-season,” says Burnam, “is all about inspecting each decoy individually. True, you should have done this to an extent when you stored them for the off-season, but still, you want to make sure all your anchors and cords are in perfect condition.”
Crimps and knots, Burnam warns, are, as mentioned earlier, the weakest links in the system, and it behooves each ’fowler to check and even double check these connections. “Don’t be shy about cutting cords and redoing anchors, knots and crimps,” says Burnam. “Yes, it takes time, but it’s much better to do it before the season than to sit in the blind and watch your decoys float away.”
Pre-season is the time to touch up any decoys that might need a little paint. Fortunately, several paint kits are available, two of the best of which are manufactured by Flambeau (flambeauoutdoors.com) and Parker (parkercoatings.com) — and both of which will do roughly a dozen decoys each. Flocking can likewise be repaired. “Avery makes an excellent flocking kit,” says Burnam of his company’s product. “Decoys are a big investment; fully flocked full-body Canada goose decoys, even moreso. For $30, the Avery kit can refurbish 30 Canada goose heads, make them look like new, and make these decoys last for years.” It’s good advice.
“Decoys that sit out all season long, as in the case of a permanent blind,” says Burnam, “are simply going to need more maintenance during the season than will the smaller pothole spread that’s picked up each and every day.” Sunlight and weather will fade decoys over the course of a season. Mold growth, too, along the edges or the waterline is also a concern. “Real decoys need to stay real,” Burnam says. “They need to stay natural in appearance. Moldy ducks aren’t natural. Faded ducks aren’t natural. Listing decoys or decoys that are half-sunk in front of the blind? Not natural. Companies like Avery Outdoors,” he continued, “can provide the very best, the most realistic, and the most natural-looking decoys available; however, it’s up to the individual to keep them clean and looking as they should.”
What the young man is saying is this — take responsibility for your plastics. Reacquaint yourself with the concept of elbow grease. Buy a new bristle brush. Learn a new knot; a stronger knot. Store ’em right. The payoff, says Burnam, will be more birds on that duck strap — day in, and day out.