Knight & Hale Pro Staffer Shares His Decoy Pattern Tips
Knight & Hale pro staffer Nick Smith, author of the book The Complete Hunter -- Waterfowl Hunting edition, provides some useful information on duck decoy and goose decoy patterns for maximum success on your next duck hunting and goose hunting trips.
There are four major decoy patterns for puddle ducks and diving ducks: fishhook, half-moon, half-circle and strung out.
For geese, those same four can be employed, plus two for specifically targeting geese: family grouping and rafting (seen occasionally for ducks but mostly used with goose hunting).
Here is a brief description of each pattern:
Fishhook Decoy Pattern: This pattern is comprised of duck or geese decoys beginning in the form of a long line and swinging into a hooked shape, either right or left.
Half Moon Decoy Pattern: This pattern is comprised of duck or geese decoys that are set in the shape of a half moon. Usually the blind is positioned in the middle of the decoys, though this can fluctuate with surrounding cover.
Half Circle Decoy Pattern: Similar to the half-moon patterning, but with a more circular design.
Strung Out Decoy Pattern: This is used almost exclusively by diver ducks. It is comprised of several dozen duck decoys placed on a long line and set in place to represent natural diver postures.
Family Group Decoy Pattern: Used exclusively by goose hunters, it mimics geese flocked and feeding in small family groups. Here, goose decoys are placed in alternating positions (still into the wind) in small, tight clusters.
Rafting: It's most often used to represent geese that are resting or feeding later in the season. Also seen during later months when ducks are escaping tight hunting pressure in the middle of a large lake. These decoys should be attached with the same long lines as in strung-out patterning, but with birds much tighter to each other. Very little water should be seen between each bird. While this pattern can be hunted over during the later periods of the season, especially when hunting from a boat, it's used mainly to create "confidence rafts," which are small groups of confidence species such as Canada geese or gadwalls within a mallard spread.
Follow-up with Smith provided the following information on each of these patterns.
Q: The Fishhook is a classic pattern. Do you think the fishhook decoy pattern works well throughout the season or do ducks get smart from seeing it a lot?
A: Yes, it's a really good early season pattern. Later in the season I go to a more natural pattern rather than trying to guide or steer the ducks.
Q: The Half Moon and the Half Circle seem like the same thing. Can you describe the difference?
A: Half circle is an early season technique because you can use fewer decoys for the same effect. The birds haven't been blasted at much. Later with the half moon shape you fill in with a lot more decoys and get that rafting effect.
Q: Discuss blind position as it applies to the Strung Out Decoy Pattern.
A: When I do any diving set up, I'm normally in a low-profile boat in the middle of the decoys. I put rafting strings in back of the blind and straighter lines in front of the boat pointing to where I think the ducks will come from.
Q: Family Groups for geese – do you find this more effective early in the season?
A: Are we talking water or field sets? During the early season, water sets in family groups are great because we're usually hunting resident flocks. As we move on in the season, when hunting water I rarely rely on family groups because we're hunting big flocks of migrating geese. Now with field sets, early season and late season you'll always have family groups because they may arrive in a big flock but as they disperse and feed they move around in family groups.
Q: Tell me how you most often use the Rafting Decoy Pattern.
A: Late season, birds have been hammered to death and we're hunting migrating geese that have been educated. These geese are trying to blend in and flock together. It's a safety in numbers thing. Put yourself among the decoys in a low profile boat or on a point in a shallow lake. A good raft will have four- or five-dozen decoys.
For more information or to purchase an autographed copy of Smith’s The Complete Hunter, Waterfowl Hunting edition, contact him at Itieflies@aol.com.