St. Croix


CA Guns Hunting: Clean Decoys

CA Guns & Hunting: Clean and touch up your decoys every year

BY BILL KARR/WON Staff WriterPublished: Jan 29, 2020

Male ducks don’t survive through the use of camouflage. In fact, the coloration of most male ducks is bright and bold, compared to the somewhat drab coloration of most hen ducks, which is to provide protection for her when sitting on a nest. Consequently, why would you put out drab and dirty decoys?

Decoy cleanup can be a chore depending on how many decoys you use. A refuge foot hunter generally has his decoys on his back, so clean up and painting isn’t a big deal, but for a blind lease hunter, where sometimes a thousand decoys are deployed for the season, pre-season duck decoy clean up and painting can be arduous.

DRAB COLORS AREN’T as necessary to paint as the white areas on decoys, since it’s the blobs of highly visible color that ducks see from the air. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

Worn-out decoys can ruin an otherwise good waterfowl hunt. After all, when ducks and geese lock up and drop toward your spread, it's because they believe your decoys are the real thing. But if your decoys are full of water, covered in mud, or missing paint, they don't look like live ducks. Fortunately, repairing and painting your decoys is easy and inexpensive to do. And it's a great way to spend some quality time with friends and blind partners on a hot summer day.

First thing to do when you begin your pre-season (or post-season) cleanup, is to squeeze the decoy and see if there’s a hole or break in the seams. Pellet holes are generally very hard to see, but when pressure is exerted air will come out and you can find it. Mark the holes or breaks with a black marking pen. You won’t want to repair them until after they are clean, since your repair patch or liquid will adhere better to a clean surface.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to enlarge the hole with a power drill, since the larger hole is easier to fill and more likely to adhere. Plug the holes with an expoxy sealant or Shoe Goo.

Decoy carver and call maker Fred Zink says that hunters should thoroughly clean their decoys before each duck season. "Wash them with water, but don't use soap," Zink advises. "Most soap contains ultraviolet brighteners that make decoys look unnatural to ducks. But it is a good idea to wipe down colorful areas like a mallard drake's head and chest with Armor All."

cgh_paintingaPAINTING A THOUSAND decoys can be a chore, but it goes faster if you do them over a period of time, and even faster if you have a “decoy painting” party with your blind mates and families. WON PHOTO BY BILL KARR

If your decoys still look dull after cleaning, it's time to touch up the paint. Always use a flat paint, since you don’t want any reflection or sheen coming off your decoys. Feathers don’t reflect light! You can get paint kits with the right colors and helpful instructions from Cabela's ( and Mack's Prairie Wings ( You'll need several paintbrushes from about one-inch wide for painting larger areas down to a small, tapered artist's brush for details like the white ring on a drake mallard's neck and the black edges along wing patches.

After a busy waterfowl season, some decoys may be missing lines and weights. Others may have lines badly knotted or tangled. Now is a good time to fix these problems as well as rig any new decoys you will add to your spread.

I use monofilament line for tying my decoy weights, and 80-pound test is about right, and far, far less than buying any type of decoy string or line from the store that is designated as such. Same with weights: Check the cost of weights in your nearby discount tackle stores, and compare it to the cost of buying weights specifically called “Decoy weights”, they may be less expensive. Of course, the lead “wrap” weights that can be cinched around the neck of a decoy is real handy and keeps decoys from tangling.

The important thing to remember is that those bright colors on ducks are immediate recognition factors for ducks in the air, and decoys act exactly the same way. You will improve the attraction of your spread with bright, freshly-painted decoys, but remember, flat paint only!

cgh_freshlypaintedFRESHLY PAINTED DECOYS are far more visible by ducks in the air, and thus, they are far more attractive to bring them into your spread.

THE BRIGHT COLORS of male ducks are visible signals to wild ducks of not only the same species, but other species, and clearly visible, even amongst muddy, partly flooded ponds.

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