Have you ever put out a decoy spread and thought to yourself, this is the best-looking spread ever? I think every waterfowl has at least once in their life. There are many spreads to run: big water, potholes, fields, shore, combos, rivers, creeks, open water, and many more! 

Take Pictures of Birds When Scouting

The best tip I can give you for setting decoy spreads out is that most people forget to take pictures of birds. When I say take pictures of birds, I mean when you’re scouting, take a picture of how they look in the water, Field, Shore, or on ice. This will help you better prepare yourself. You gain knowledge from pictures of the birds intermixing in their spread or how they are staying in groups of their own. 

If you’re hunting a pothole and the mallards are staying on one side, and the pintails are staying on the other side, don’t go mixing your pintail and mallard decoys together (Looks Unnatural for the current spread). Can that spread work? Yes, however, you would do better splitting it up. The same goes with diver ducks and puddle ducks; they usually don’t mix. Divers don’t like to fly over puddle ducks because when they take off, they jump straight up and can hit them flying by. 

take pictures of birds when scouting

Hunt Waterfowl on the Ice

 Hunting ice is my second favorite thing to do on any body of water! However, when hunting ice from shore on big water, I will usually run one spread because it always has a high success rate. The number one rule when hunting ice is to keep the decoys in the water! This is where many waterfowl hunters mess up as they pack the area with decoys. By doing this, you’re not giving the birds adequate space to land. I typically run duck and goose floaters (Heyday) on top of the ice, right on the edge, lining the ice line. If the ice breaks, they don’t sink like shells or full-bodied decoys. Then I load the shore up with silo decoys and Heyday decoys. In the water, I will normally put my motion decoys in, and that’s it! This will give the birds plenty of room to work in! Keep the bulk of your decoys upwind on shore and on the ice. 

Boat Blind Hunting for Waterfowls

Boat blind hunting open water is also one of my favorites! Everyone has their own method. However, this is mine. I have a white snow goose decoy that I like to place where I want the boat to be. Then, I use On-X hunting maps and drop a pin on the perfect decoy spread. Drive 50 yards north, south, east, and west of the blind location and drop one decoy. I do this so I know that’s as far as I want my spread and know that’s 50 yards from where my boat will be. I will usually set my boat into the wind, so I have to cross shots and make it easier to anchor my boat. I will throw a puddle duck spread on one side of my setup and a diver spread on the other side.

If I am hunting geese as well, I will mix in some ducks on one side and geese on the other. I work to imitate a big refuge with my spread, making family groups and giving plenty of lanes for birds to land. If you’re going to run a big open water spread, run your puddle decoys upwind and leave a landing spot right up the gut of your spread (10-15 yards wide). Throw a line of divers in a row down that shoot and set up south of the spread downwind. This will allow you to hunt both ducks and geese out of the same spread. 

Make sure to pay attention to what the birds are doing (Take Pictures). They may be in one big spread or in family groups! My Recommendation for big water hunting is to run goose decoys with a mix of pintail decoys. Create a big “C” with a line of geese on the outside of the “C” and your puddles on the inside of the “C.” The divers love coming into goose decoys, and so do pintail! 

the hunter is scouting besides the river with a perfect decoy spread

The Biggest Mistake to Perfect Decoy Spreads

The biggest mistake hunters make in their decoy spreads is not leaving exits for ducks and geese. Birds will not commit fully and will short-stop or not come in at all because they don’t feel safe. This will make a big difference in your decoy spread, and your success rate of getting birds to decoy will increase. Every decoy spread is different for each day. Set up for the wind and let the birds tell you what they want, and don’t forget to take Pictures! 


Steve McClone

Steve McClone

While I was at Niu I co founded the college fishing team. From their I fished the pro FLW Circuit for 5 years on the co angler side. Since then I have become a USCG Master Captain with a 100ton license. I owne a guide service called Moonpie Outdoors LLC where I focuse on guiding youth, vets, disabled and another individual wanting to get in the outdoors fishing and hunting! While doing this I am enjoying life with my wife, son, family and friends and our deer tracking dog Betsey!


Related blogs

October 09, 2023 — Steve McClone
Tags: Hunting Tips

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.