Using a duck flag works wonders for adding flash to a decoy spread
Unlike decoys, real-life ducks create a lot of motion when they are on the water. Successful waterfowlers have figured out a lot of different ways to add motion to their decoy spreads but many of us have become reliant on motorized devices.
One can hardly fault the waterfowler who relies on a motorized spinning wing decoy. In the right conditions, it’s extremely effective.
Minnesota waterfowlers know that motorized spinning wing decoys are not allowed until a week into the season. Motorized devices designed to attract ducks are never allowed on water totally within a state wildlife management area. Devices without motors, the regulations clearly state, are the only kind of motion allowed.
What happens in those situations when motorized devices are not allowed? Or what is a waterfowler to do when the only way to access a body of water is a lengthy hike? Anybody who has hauled a motorized decoy and batteries is not necessarily eager to do it again.
Then there’s the belief some waterfowlers hold that ducks are becoming conditioned to spinning wing decoys.
Adding motion to your decoy spread is definitely obtainable without mechanical devices and without lugging a ton of extra gear.
Waterfowlers who pursue geese wouldn’t be caught in the field without a flag. The concept of flagging is old but modern refinements to flags have made them extremely effective, affordable and portable.
A lot of hunters are not aware that there are duck flags on the market as well and these are just as effective with ducks are black flags are with geese.
“How many times have you looked out on the water thinking there weren’t ducks out there only to see the flash of a wing when one stretches and then you discover an entire flock out there,” said Matthew Cagle, Founder of Rig’Em Right Watefowl gear and an East Coast waterfowler who is accustomed to hunting big water.
“I grew up hunting the coast of North Carolina with big huge open water and we needed something we could use to attract ducks from a long way off. We’d spend days watching the birds trade up and down the coast unable to see our decoy spread or hear our calling,” he said.
To solve that problem, Cagle began using a gray duck flag with a stripe of blue and white resembling a mallard. “It was basically a spinning wing decoy but non-motorized and more portable—you can really get that flag up high when the birds are far away and provide a flash that catches their eye and gives them a reason to come take a closer look.”
Author Ron Hustvedt, Jr and his father (Sr.) after a productive outing using jerk rigs and duck flags (and a high quality dog like Maddy the yellow lab)
The concept is the same as a goose flag or spinning wing decoy in that the movement of the flag resembles the flash of a duck’s wing. This can be seen at a tremendous distance and allows a waterfowler to attract ducks out of visual range of decoys and audible range for calling.
Flags have obvious applications on big water but they work on smaller bodies of water, field hunting and even in tighter situations such as flooded timber. “If you hold it out like a frying pan and really pop it, it sounds like duck wings coming through timber and looks good as ducks pass overhead,” Cagle said.
Just like with goose flags and spinning wing decoys, duck flags require a hunter to pay attention to how ducks are reacting. There are times when you can flag too much and times when you can’t seem to flag enough. Watch how the ducks react to determine what is working best.
“Generally I have found that it works best like calling, flag them on the tips and tails-when you see them in the distance and when they are flying away. It can be especially effective on the tails, when they are flying away.”
A hunter can flag with one hand and call with the other but flags can be a great way to get other hunters involved, especially those who are not the best at calling. “I have a buddy who can’t blow a duck call to save his life so we give him the flag while we call and it creates a very effective setting for ducks,” Cagle said.
This writer used one of Cagle’s duck flags last season and noticed a definite value to having them along. When hunting large bodies of water the flag was very effective. It was also great while field hunting in layout blinds for ducks. The secret is to make sure you are highly concealed because once you start waving that flag the attention is on you. If they can see hunters behind the flag, you just busted yourself pretty bad with that flock.
Don't forget to bring the newest generation along with you
A flock of ducks sitting on the water creates an amazing amount of commotion as they feed and socialize. Duplicating that movement can be done with vibrating bases but a more portable and affordable solution is using a jerk rig.
Whether purchased already assembled or making one yourself, jerk rigs are like a basic fishing rig in that there’s a hook, line and sinker. Decoys are hooked to a main line that has a weight on one end and is controlled by the hunter on the other end.
“It’s really a simple concept that doesn’t need to be blown out to be effective. In a typical spread, one or two jerk rigs at the most are all that is needed,” Cagle said.
The technical specifics of a jerk rig are just as simple. A weight does not need to be very heavy to be effective. A three to five pound weight is all that is needed. Any kind of weight will work but a grappling hook style anchor is best and will stay put from continued use.
Bryan Sathre and Kevin DeLisle with an impressive bag taken over non-motorized tools. Lexi the brown lab did great work as well
The line portion of a jerk rig works best with dark-colored nylon line that sinks. This line runs from a bungee cord attached to the anchor to the hunter and has four or five decoys hooked on using a decoy anchor.
Cagle said a jerk rig is extremely effective in calm conditions when the water resembles a mirror. When the string it pulled it gets those four decoys moving and those ripples get the other decoys in the spread going. When ducks are approaching the hunter pulls on the main string creating the illusion of movement on the water.
Pulling on the string causes the decoys to swim toward the hunter while relaxing the line lets the bungee pull them back out. It doesn’t take a lot of pulling to generate an impressive amount of duck-like ripples.
Portability and clutter are two issues all waterfowlers deal with so if you make your own rig keep those elements in mind. You want something that can fit in your bag or pocket and be pulled out without much difficulty.
Hunters who like puddle jumping or setting up small decoy sets on hard to reach waterbodies will find this method especially effective.
It doesn’t take a great deal of expense or equipment to add motion to your decoy spread. Even those hunters with the expensive gear should find these tactics enhance their waterfowling this fall because they are more portable and able to get into harder to reach water.