As I sat in the comfy confines of one of my big water blinds with longtime client, Reagan Kling, waiting on a canvasback that would complete a nice mix bag limit of divers, he breaks the silence with, “Hey, T, what’s more important, decoys or good calling?” Now Ol’ Reggie is what we call a Trickster, so I immediately told him I wasn’t taking the bait. His reply was, “No, I’m serious. What’s more important?” That’s easy, decoys, I replied. He then smiled, and I knew I was in the jaws of the Trickster. “Then explain to me why last week, when I was hunting with your boy Justin, we killed two longnecks after we had picked up the decoys, with him just blowing that little goose call of his.”
Now for you guys that don’t hunt with us, this was a direct knock that, since Justin was 10 years old, he could outdo his pops with a goose call. However, be careful when trying to trick a Trickster; I immediately shot back, “Well if you guys would have set your rig (decoys) right, you would have gotten your limit, and wouldn’t have been there scrapping at two stragglers.
Even though I’m co-owner of a duck and goose call company with my two boys, Jon and Justin (GP Calls), I still believe decoys make or break your hunt. Outside of brain sifting my scouting Intel and weather conditions, my decoy set occupies the most space in my head before a hunt. The following are some of my time tested set-ups.
Diver Decoy Spreads
It is no secret my favorite duck is a canvasback, so I’ll start with my diver rig. I’ve watched divers for years and the one thing that is a certain 95% of the time, is that divers sit in strings or lines, rather than pods or groups, and when other ducks pitch into the string, they do so where there are gaps in the string.
Most hunters string out their decoys straight out from the blind, form a pod of sorts, or a head as it’s called at the end of the string nearest the blind. They form a V of sorts with the string that leads out away from the blind, creating what is often called the runway. Now, no doubt this set up works, and is the most widely used set for divers. I prefer to run my string horizontal to the blind, not straight out. I leave a 20 to 30 ft. gap in the center of the string, directly in front of the blind. We call this gap “The Gap of Death.” The birds are so committed on their approach. If they do flare and don’t finish, odds are the gap is too tight.
You also will get birds that like to ride down the string, then turn in sharp. These are usually singles or pairs. You will also get birds to decoy on the very ends, so I try to keep that distance around 30 to 35-yards to the blind. So what you’re looking at is a string that is somewhere around 70-yards long with a 20 to 30 foot gap in the center.
The minimum amount of diver decoys I use in a large open water hunt is right around a 100. Always set your canvasback decoys at the upwind end of the string. They are aggressive birds, and if you set them too close to the gap, you will flare a lot of the other divers. The biggest advantage of this rig is that large groups will pour into the gap, making for good carnage.
Teddy Carr is owner of Outdoor Action Guide Service (outdoor-action.biz), and Grit Pack Waterfowl Calls (gpcalls.com). Check out our other tips for duck hunting Virginia.