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decoy carving knife Before decoys were commonly used for hunting waterfowl, hunters used live decoys, specifically Mallards.  While some old, traditional duck clubs still do maintain live decoy pens, for the most part, today's hunting decoys are manufactured.

The first decoys were hand-carved and painted to be as realistic as possible.  The earliest decoy companies produced decoys in a wide variety of species including mallards, black ducks, bluebill ducks, canvasbacks, golden eyes, buffleheads, teals, and more.  Many of these decoys were made with flat bottoms and keels to keep them stable, and they were intricately painted so that all the waterfowl details, down to its plumage, were evident.  Today the hand carving of decoys is considered an art, and in most cases a hand-carved decoy is more likely to sit on a mantel or shelf instead of in the water.  Antique hand-carved decoys have become popular collector's items, particularly among duck hunters, and depending upon their rarity, can command quite a price.

drake decoys While some of today's decoys are still carved of wood, they are mass-produced.  In addition to wood, other materials commonly used in the manufacture of decoys include cork, paper, Styrofoam, and plastic.  Today's plastic decoys, in particular, are incredibly lifelike, and sometimes they even fool other hunters!

Decoys come in three sizes:  standard, magnum, and super mag.  The advantage of the larger decoys is that ducks can better see them from the air.  That being said, standard-sized decoys are generally as big as, or even slightly bigger than, the average duck, and are therefore, a perfectly acceptable choice.

mallard duck decoy floating on water In the late 1990s, a new trend in decoys emerged:  the mechanical or electronic decoy.  Hunters have always used wind or strings attached to decoys to mimic lifelike movement, and mechanical decoys take this concept one step further.  These decoys feature electric motors powered by small batteries, and can be controlled by the hunter from the duck blind.  Some mechanical decoys have spinning wings or blades that move at high speed, imitating the movement of waterfowl, while others vibrate to imitate feeding waterfowl.  However, mechanical decoys are controversial.  Many states have restrictions on motorized decoys, while others have banned them completely because of their ability to quickly deplete species of birds.

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Decoy Types

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Male Duck Hunter in North Dakota