Smith: Spinning-winged duck decoy controversy has faded

  • Updated: October 23, 2012 - 6:26 PM

Once controversial, the spinning-winged duck decoy now is widely used and the DNR is considering removing the final restrictions on the devices.


Ben, a black Labrador, charged into a marsh after a downed duck, felled with the aid of a spinning-winged decoy.

Photo: Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Any doubts I had about the effectiveness of spinning-winged duck decoys were erased late one fall afternoon when I gazed at thousands of mallards funneling magically into a harvested South Dakota cornfield.

Friends and I were hunkered nearby at a small wetland with a couple of dozen floating decoys. It was a beautiful decoy spread, but it couldn't compete with the single battery-powered mechanical decoy two hunters had in that cornfield.

They quickly shot their limits of mallards, then departed.

Now -- more than a decade after Minnesota considered banning the contraptions and wildlife managers and hunters debated whether their use would hurt duck populations and violate "fair-chase'' ethics -- spinning-winged duck decoys are ubiquitous.

The controversy has mostly faded.

The Department of Natural Resources this winter will consider removing the last restrictions on the devices, including their prohibition the first two weeks of the duck season and their use on state wildlife lands. Any changes would have to be made by the Legislature.

"It may be time to look at whether the restrictions we have are necessary,'' said Dave Schad, Department of Natural Resources deputy commissioner and an avid waterfowler.

"They've become just another piece of equipment, another option for hunters,'' he said. "They are not the threat that people thought they might be.''

That's a major shift in thought, considering the DNR once led opposition to the devices, which mimic the flash of wings of a landing duck.

Agency officials tried and failed to get the Mississippi Flyway Council to restrict their use. And they asked the Legislature to impose a two-year moratorium on the mechanical decoys in 2001, an idea that eventually died due to opposition from hunters.

"When they first came out, we were concerned whether it would increase harvest and create population issues, and about whether people who didn't use them would be at a disadvantage to those who did,'' Schad said.

Since then, he said, those concerns have diminished. Bag limits and season length ultimately control harvest, he said.

The idea of removing the last restrictions has support.

"We're in favor of getting rid of the spinner limitations,'' said Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.

Do they work?

Studies, including a $78,000 project done in Minnesota for the DNR in 2002 by Louisiana State University, show the spinning decoys work -- at least some of the time on some ducks.

Overall, 71 percent of the 510 ducks killed during the study were shot when the spinning-winged decoys were operating, and 29 percent were killed when they were turned off. Mallards seem to be most susceptible to the tomfoolery.

Researchers also found that mallards were almost three times more likely to approach within shooting range with the spinning-winged decoys.

The study found no evidence they reduced crippling or allowed hunters to harvest relatively more drakes than hens -- long an argument for their use.

"Some days they seem to work, and some days they don't,'' said Nylin, who owns one. "I think it's helped for mallards, and not so much for other species.''

Al Afton is a former Minnesota DNR waterfowl biologist and now an LSU researcher who worked on the robo-duck study.

"Hunters who use them kill more ducks than those who don't, but the real question is, what's been the effect on the duck population?'' he said.

Banding studies of mallards show no long-term impacts, he said. In fact, this year, for the first time since 1999, the North American mallard population exceeded 10 million.

"Personally I don't think they are as effective as when they first came out,'' Afton said.

It's difficult to know how prevalent the decoys are.

The DNR conducted a survey of hunters after the 2010 season and found 27 percent used spinning-wing decoys, up from 10 percent in 2000.

Clearly, not everyone embraces them.

"I don't use 'em,'' said Dave Zentner, 76, of Duluth.

In 2003, Zentner created a Concerned Duck Hunters Panel. Among their recommendations: Outlaw spinning-winged decoys.

"We thought doing things the old-fashioned way made sense instead of using technology to limit-out as soon as possible,'' Zentner said.

Several of the legendary waterfowlers on that panel have since died -- as has the push to outlaw spinning-winged decoys.

Zentner is ambivalent.

"You still have to be where the ducks want to go,'' he said.

Doug Smith • Twitter: @dougsmithstrib

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Milwaukee 115 FINAL
Orlando 100
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 103
Denver 69 FINAL
Memphis 99
Chicago 118 FINAL
LA Lakers 123
Montreal 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 0
Winnipeg 2 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Boston 5 FINAL
NY Islanders 2
Arizona 3 FINAL
Toronto 1
Dallas 6 FINAL
Ottawa 3
Detroit 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 5
Columbus 2 FINAL
Florida 3
Nashville 4 FINAL(SO)
St. Louis 5
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Calgary 0
Buffalo 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Anaheim 3 FINAL
San Jose 6
DePaul 72 FINAL
Providence 83
Michigan State 71 FINAL
Rutgers 51
Boston Univ 67 FINAL
Army 71
Fla Atlantic 61 FINAL
Charlotte 86
Youngstown St 87 FINAL
Detroit 93
East Tenn St 55 FINAL
Furman 59
Saint Louis 60 FINAL
George Mason 68
USC Upstate 78 FINAL
Jacksonville 65
High Point 72 FINAL
Liberty 53
Central Conn St 55 FINAL
Long Island 67
Western Ky 56 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 69
Dayton 64 FINAL
Massachusetts 66
Chattanooga 72 FINAL
Mercer 75
Wofford 58 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 42
Maryland 56 FINAL
Ohio State 80
Old Dominion 71
Fair-Dickinson 65 FINAL
Robert Morris 87
Mount St Marys 67 FINAL
St Francis-NY 73
Bryant 68 FINAL
St Francis-PA 75
Northern Ky 75 FINAL
Stetson 85
Coll of Charleston 70 FINAL
Towson 74
Western Carolina 85 FINAL
Va Military 70
Sacred Heart 64 FINAL
Wagner 75
Lipscomb 62 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 78
Kennesaw St 67 FINAL
North Florida 86
Appalachian St 46 FINAL
Ga Southern 83
Holy Cross 54 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 64
Eastern Ill 51 FINAL
UT Martin 81
Jacksonville St 82 FINAL
Belmont 103
Connecticut 58 FINAL
Cincinnati 70
Rider 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 49
SIU Edwardsville 75 FINAL
SE Missouri St 61
Marshall 69 FINAL
Southern Miss 54
Tenn Tech 56 FINAL
Tennessee St 64
Middle Tennessee 58 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
Ill-Chicago 65 FINAL
Milwaukee 71
Weber State 67 FINAL
North Dakota 60
Denver 54 FINAL
North Dakota St 61
IUPU-Ft Wayne 66 FINAL
South Dakota 55
Louisiana 85 FINAL
South Alabama 89
Ark-Little Rock 75 FINAL
Arkansas State 65
Georgia State 88 FINAL
Texas-Arlington 74
Troy 55
Portland 46 FINAL
Gonzaga 64
Kentucky 69 FINAL
Missouri 53
Eastern Ky 78 FINAL
Murray State 85
Texas-El Paso 71
Idaho State 76 FINAL
Northern Colorado 79
Grand Canyon 78
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Utah Valley U 78
Colorado 98 FINAL
USC 94
Cal Poly 57 FINAL
UC Irvine 67
Hawaii 84 FINAL
CS-Northridge 73
Pepperdine 50 FINAL
Pacific 43
Santa Clara 64 FINAL
San Diego 69
Utah 59 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 64 FINAL
UC Davis 70
Montana 73 FINAL
Portland State 54
Montana State 59 FINAL
Sacramento St 75
Long Beach State 91 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 85
Loyola Marymount 54 FINAL
St Marys-CA 68
San Francisco 74 FINAL
BYU 78
California 76 FINAL
Washington St 67
Louisiana 47 FINAL
South Alabama 57
Saint Josephs 51 FINAL
Saint Louis 52
Appalachian St 77 FINAL
Georgia Southern 74
Niagara 58 FINAL
Saint Peters 65
Old Dominion 80 FINAL
FIU 67
Southern Miss 65 FINAL
Marshall 67
Georgia State 45 FINAL
TX-Arlington 57
Ark-Little Rock 69 FINAL
Arkansas State 70
Troy 90
Pittsburgh 45 FINAL
(17) Duke 62
(6) Tennessee 73 FINAL
(10) Kentucky 72
(24) Oklahoma 81 FINAL
(14) Texas 84
Nebraska Omaha 59 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 70
UC-Riverside 68 FINAL
CS-Northridge 56
Army 65 FINAL
Boston U 40
New Orleans 40 FINAL
Nicholls 56
Charlotte 68 FINAL
Florida Atlantic 71
Towson 54 FINAL
Delaware 72
Hofstra 66 FINAL
Northeastern 45
New Hampshire 56 FINAL
Maine 87
Albany 89 FINAL
Vermont 48
Hartford 60 FINAL
Stony Brook 58
UNC-Wilmington 62 FINAL
William & Mary 67
Clemson 62 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Alabama 54 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 85
(23) Syracuse 58 FINAL
(8) Louisville 78
Missouri 68 FINAL
Florida 52
Iona 66 FINAL
Fairfield 77
Manhattan 38 FINAL
Marist 77
NC State 63 FINAL
Virginia 71
(4) Notre Dame 74 FINAL
Virginia Tech 50
(22) Rutgers 58 FINAL
Purdue 49
(5) Maryland 91 FINAL
Michigan 65
Milwaukee 58 FINAL
Cleveland State 67
Wright State 108 FINAL
Oakland 89
Jacksonville 64 FINAL
USC Upstate 66
North Florida 40 FINAL
Kennesaw St 46
Stetson 62 FINAL
Northern Ky 68
Loyola-Maryland 57 FINAL
Holy Cross 51
Lamar 87 FINAL
Sam Houston St 68
Fla Gulf Coast 71 FINAL
Lipscomb 49
Vanderbilt 44 FINAL
(18) Miss State 69
Western Ill 73
Abilene Christian 53 FINAL
Houston Baptist 50
Incarnate Word 54 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 63
McNeese State 78 FINAL
SE Louisiana 57
Oral Roberts 46 FINAL
South Dakota St 71
Louisiana Tech 66 FINAL
Western Ky 82
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 73
Texas-El Paso 52 FINAL
UAB 67
Auburn 47 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Grand Canyon 65 FINAL
Illinois 57 FINAL
(15) Nebraska 59
(20) Iowa 102 FINAL
Northwestern 99
Utah Valley U 55 FINAL
Chicago State 60
Green Bay 67 FINAL
Valparaiso 52
Ole Miss 41 FINAL
LSU 70
Portland State 31 FINAL
Montana 72
Sacramento St 64 FINAL
Montana State 91
North Dakota 55 FINAL
Weber State 48
Ohio State 85 FINAL
Wisconsin 73
Northern Colorado 61 FINAL
Idaho State 70
San Francisco 63
St Marys-CA 56 FINAL
Loyola Marymount 49
Pacific 63 FINAL
Pepperdine 59
Cal-Irvine 61 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 58
San Diego 64 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
UC Davis 64 FINAL
Cal Poly 72
Long Beach St 64 FINAL
Hawaii 72
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question