5 Tips for Better Duck Decoy Spreads

There are few things that sound better than a duck call singing the siren song to a group of mallards flying overhead, but sometimes, what ducks are looking at – your duck decoy spread – is more important

By: Lynn Burkhead, TheSportsmanChannel.com


When you set out a duck decoy rig, become the bird think about what the ducks are seeing from the air. (Lynn Burkhead photo)


For Jim Ronquest – Jimbo as his duck hunting pals know him – the music of duck hunting is almost everything.

After all, as the 2006 world duck calling champion and the director of public relations and broadcast production for RNT Calls in Stuttgart, Ark., it stands to reason that blowing a duck call is almost everything to Jimbo.

But Ronquest also is the executive producer of RNT-V, the popular duck and goose hunting show airing on Sportsman Channel.

And because of that, even Jimbo admits sometimes, duck hunting isn’t all about the music.

“Sometimes, what’s visual to a duck is everything,” said Ronquest. “For ducks, sight and sound is the way that they communicate. And sometimes, sight may be more important than sound.”

That’s not to say calling isn’t important. But it is to say it pays for a duck hunter to think long and hard about how to toss out a better decoy spread if a limit of ducks is the goal.

This is where Joel Yeldell comes into play, a pro-staffer for two of RNT-V’s main television sponsors, Tanglefree Decoys and Sitka Gear camouflage wear.

On a SHOT Show visit with Yeldell, our conversation quickly turned to the topic about how a weekend warrior like myself could toss out a better rig. I wasn’t disappointed since Yeldell had plenty of good ideas to pass along.

His first tip for duck hunters is to try and avoid the tin-soldier look with a decoy spread, the standard rig of two to three dozen of the same brand of dekes bobbing on the water.

As a part of that idea, while Yeldell often utilizes the C-shape pattern with its two funneling arms, he isn’t afraid to step out of his comfort zone and strive for a less organized look.

“People are by nature perfectionists, so when they place their decoys, we kind of all get in that OCD (way of doing things), of putting them out with so much space between the birds,” he said.


Try and give your duck decoy spread some curb appeal. This can be accomplished by using different species of decoys, high contrast pintail decoys and even spinning wing decoys. (Lynn Burkhead photo)


The problem is, that isn’t the way groups of ducks typically look on the water.

“I think it’s really just a matter of watching the birds,” said Yeldell. “Take advantage of what you see on your scouting trips, because that’s the kind of decoy spread that you want to put out.

“If you scout the day before and you see a bunch of different ducks piling into an area and you’ve got a bunch of different species – and they’re not rafting out in the middle of the marsh but (instead) they’re just dumping in and feeding off in different directions – then that’s something that you want to mimic.”

Which will often lead to a more haphazard look in a Yeldell decoy spread rather than one all prim and proper. And that can often mean tossing the spread out in loose groups rather than the C-shape pattern, using various species of decoys in addition to mallard blocks and leaving a loose opening or two in front of the blind.

The bottom line here is that a hunter will often want to what they can to avoid the cookie-cutter approach when setting out a spread.

A second tip for better duck decoy spreads is for a hunter to not be afraid to think outside of the box, possibly throwing out confidence decoys that have little to do with the duck species being sought.

“One of the things that we do is to throw some coot decoys out there,” said Yeldell.

Before you laugh, please note Yeldell isn’t necessarily advocating throwing coot decoys out into a Jim Ronquest flooded timber hole shoot for Arkansas greenheads.

What he is suggesting however is doing what a hunter can to make a decoy spread varied and yet realistic for the area being hunted.

“We’ve found in the marshes that we hunt, the ducks are often flying around these coots,” he said.

A third tip from Yeldell is to understand where in the migration cycle a hunter finds himself out in the field, adjusting the spread to the ducks likely to be seen.

“Know when those (various species) are coming down,” he said. “Obviously, in many places, you’ve got the teal first, and then the later it gets, the bigger birds (then) come on down. Know which birds are coming into that area (and when).”

A fourth tip from Yeldell is to add some sort of visual attraction – curb appeal, if you will – to your duck decoy spread.


The sounds of duck hunting are important. But as these five duck decoy spread tips show, sometimes the sights are even more important. (Lynn Burkhead photo)


“It’s all about contrast,” said Yeldell. “We (often) use pintail decoys regardless, but especially the butt decoys because you can see that flash of white. That’s really going to pop (as ducks approach).

“You’ve got to think about it (a decoy spread) from a bird’s perspective,” he added. “If you’re 300 yards away and you’re a duck flying into a spread, that white is what is going to bring them in from a distance.

“It’s kind of the Mojo, or spinning wing, principle, where you have that flash of white. But even without a spinning wing decoy, you are still going to get that flash of white (when using) pintail decoys. It’s super important to throw that contrast out there (in your spread).”

Yeldell says in his mind, the same thing applies when he is putting a goose rig out.

“Don’t be afraid to put some snow-goose decoys out,” he said. “If you’re hunting a bean field, those snow-goose decoys are going to pop a whole lot more than those Canada-goose decoys will.

“Conversely, if you’re hunting on snow itself, don’t be afraid to throw some Canada goose decoys out because that’s going to provide some contrast against the snow.”

In Yeldell’s mind, one of the best things a hunter can do is to think like a duck does and examine things from the bird’s perspective when possible.

“Be the bird,” said Yeldell. “If you have time, walk away from your spread about 100 yards and see what pops. If need be, make an adjustment because it’s all about that contrast.”

Interestingly enough, while some waterfowlers opt to use larger-than-life decoys, the so-called magnums or jumbos, Yeldell doesn’t do that.

“Me personally, I’m a life-like fan (when it comes to decoys),” he said. “I try to get a decoy that mimics the appropriate proportion of the bird that I’m hunting. I want a duck to be life-like and about (the same size as the real thing).”

That being said, if he gets into a situation where using larger decoys is preferable, he’ll try and adapt as best he can.

“(Sometimes), we’ve got our layout boats (ready) and we’ve got those things chock full of decoys,” said Yeldell. “But once we get there, that latest information (from scouting) tells us that we’ve got to pack light and go to the far corner (of a marsh).


When setting out a decoy rig, try and avoid setting out a rig filled with a tin soldier look of decoys that all look the same. (Lynn Burkhead photo)


That can necessitate ditching gear, going lighter and opting for larger decoys instead of numbers.

Which leads to Yeldell’s fifth and final tip.

“Be flexible,” he said. “If that means going to a jerk string and a couple of decoys, that’s what it means.

“Do things that everybody (else) is not,” he added. “You’ve got to remember that these (birds) are being hunted from Canada all the way down. Everybody is doing the same thing, they are setting up the same spread because everybody can afford about the same amount of decoys. (So be different).”

Even though the gist of our interview was about duck decoy spreads, Yeldell says he feels the same way about calling.

“I’m a minimalist when it comes to calling,” he said. “Mimic what the bird is giving you, but as soon as they start coming in, I shut it down. Give them that confidence call but again, do what everybody else is not doing with their calling.”

As long as you’re making mallard music with an RNT duck call that is, something that is sure to bring a smile to the face of Sportsman Channel duck hunting expert Jim Ronquest.

Even as he’s going about the task of setting out a good Tanglefree Decoys duck spread.