In perfect conditions, almost any old decoy spread will bring in ducks and geese. But perfect conditions are rare, and most of the time waterfowlers are dealing with wary, pressured Canada geese and mallards that will inspect every detail of a spread before committing.
Hardcore waterfowlers are always looking for an edge over the birds and the competition, and that means using modern, ultra-realistic decoys. Decoy design has improved drastically over the years, and all that innovation might be helping hunters kill more birds, but it’s also driving up costs. So to help you spend your hard-earned cash on the right set of dekes, we tested as many mallard floaters and Canada goose full-bodies that we could get our hands on. We focused mostly on higher end models. Here’s how they ranked.
|Excellent||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent|
GHG might have built the perfect mallard decoy with their XD series. We tested their Harvester Pack, which is a six-pack that includes two active drakes (heads up), two swimmer drakes, and two active hens. Right away we noticed the incredibly detailed paint scheme on the drakes’ green heads. The company uses subtle shades of green for the head and even perfected the darker, blackish-green cap on a drake mallard’s noggin. The head looks like it’s flocked, but it isn’t. This paint scheme, combined with realistic body positions and profiles, combines to make the most lifelike duck decoy in the test. But these dekes can also take a beating. They use what GHG calls “DuraFeather,” which is a soft, more flexible plastic that won’t crack easily. We shot one of these decoys (though not on purpose) with #2 steel from about 40 yards. There were holes in the body, though no cracks and incredibly, the decoy didn’t take any water. With a dot of liquid nails it’s good as new and still in the rotation. GHG sells six-packs in three different options (active set, feeder set, and harvester set) so you can mix and match and build your ideal spread.
|Very Good||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Good||Very Good|
If you’re a flocked-head kind of guy, these are your dekes. Overall, these decoys lived up to their “Rugged Series” name and proved to be very durable (they’re also made from a soft, flexible plastic) but we did notice some slight wearing on the heads after testing. If you keep these dekes in a slotted bag (like you should with any flocked decoys) you’ll be hunting over the same spread for many seasons. The standard pack comes with 1 active drake, 2 resting drakes (all the drakes have flocked heads), 1 resting hen, and 2 relaxed hens. These decoys have a smaller profile than others in the test, which makes them an ideal choice for packing into small, secluded waters.
|Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Good||Excellent||Fair|
This is a magnum mallard decoy at its finest. The large profile (18 inches from tail to the tip of the bill) makes it highly visible from a distance and the marine-grade foam-filled body makes it bullet proof, or at least pellet proof. The beefy, weighted keel ensures it will handle any chop. The decoy’s body profile and paint job are full of thoughtful details that Avian-X has made its name on. The only knock on this decoy is the price. A six-pack—which includes two high-head drakes, two low-head drakes, one high-head hen and one low-head hen—is twice as expensive as top competitors. But, if you hunt big-water mallards and are willing to pay top dollar, you won’t do much better than these.
|Good||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Fair|
For some decoy snobs, Flambeau decoys had been known as spread fillers. In other words, they’re OK for adding mass to a spread, but not what you want the birds to focus on. That stigma should go out the window with the feature-packed Gunning Series. The most interesting thing about this decoy is the keel. It has a low-profile keel with a gap in the middle. That design, plus a rounded hull, makes the decoys “swim” back and forth in a breeze or current. We hunted over these in about two feet of water and variable 10 to 20 mph winds. They moved just like real ducks milling around a slough. The decoys utilize Flambeau’s UVision paint which the company says replicates the ultra-violet light that reflects off real waterfowl’s feathers. A six pack includes a variety of body positions including an upright swimmer drake, preener drake, relaxed drake, feeder drake, upright swimmer hen, and surface feeder hen. Some of the profiles and body positions were not as realistic as the top-scoring models, but overall, these are lifelike decoys that can star in any spread.
|Very Good||Good||Excellent||Good||Fair||Very Good|
These decoys are constructed of flexible EVA material, which means they’ll survive anything you can throw at them (except for maybe a close-range shotgun blast). They ride high in the water and have a bold profile every tester liked. The paint job on the drakes was a little too dark-gray for our liking and not as detailed as the top contenders, but our complaints end there. Their durability makes them a solid value for years of hunting. If you’ve been searching for affordable decoys you can pile up in the bottom of the boat and use season after season, then look no further.
|Fair||Very Good||Good||Very Good||Good||Very Good|
Packable decoys are a great concept for hunters who want to walk in (or paddle in) a big spread. The decoys are inflatable, and have a valve at the tail that you blow air into (think inflatable turkey decoy). They are made of flexible EVA plastic which ensures they’ll never crack and the drakes come in two body positions and with flocked heads. They sport a nicely detailed paint job that pops in the sun. These decoys lost points on profile, because some of the test models (mostly hens) didn’t hold their air over a morning of hunting. We filled them up and closed the valves only to have them slowly deflate over the course of the morning. This could be solved by sealing the valve with glue, but then you’d sacrifice the packable ability of the design.
|Fair||Good||Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Fair|
This is a battle-ready, foam-filled decoy with a nice, detailed paint job. Because of its foam-filled design, the guys from Higdon say it will survive any stray pellets. It sports a long, heavy-duty keel that will keep it up-right in a good chop. The Battleship lost points on profile because it was not as elegant as top-scoring competitors. It has a replaceable head that you screw into position, but our test model had a slight gap between the head and the body. Not a fatal flaw, but a flaw nonetheless, especially when they cost a Benjamin per six.
Full-Body Goose Decoys
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If you want to hunt over the Cadillac of fully-flocked goose decoys, look no further. These decoys have extremely realistic body profiles and coloring that looks just like real Canadas. They come with individual bags (a small bag per decoy) to avoid rubbing down the flocking during transport. Unbagging the decoys takes a little extra setup time, but you get that back with Avian-X’s incredibly useful staking system. The stakes stay in the decoys, and collapse down when it’s time to pack them away. So no more looking for extra pins or bases in the dark. When it’s time to set your spread, simply pop the stake out (which has a sturdy square base) and set the deke. Avian-X has a variety of different AXF packs including a feeder pack, sentry pack, and walker pack (which we tested) so you can mix and match and build your ideal spread. The only downside of these high-end decoys is the high-end price. But if cost is no object, or if you’ve got a bunch of hunting buddies and can pool resources, you won’t do better than an AXF spread.
|Excellent||Very Good||Very Good||Excellent||Excellent||Very Good|
These decoys were the most realistic movers in the test. GHG has mastered their staking/stand system which allows you different options for a light breeze or a heavy wind. These decoys were wonderfully painted and were colored just a little lighter than others in the test, so they stood out better in a dark field. The decoys were made of lighter, more flexible EVA plastic, which made hauling them around the field easier and that extra durability should prolong their careers. All the body positions were outstandingly realistic. The pack included three feeder positions, a sentry, and two active positions.
|Very Good||Good||Very Good||Good||Good||Excellent|
This is a mixed pack of single-piece, full body, flexible plastic dekes any waterfowler should be happy to hunt over. Body positions and profiles are great (the six-pack includes three feeders, two actives, and a sentry). The paint job is nicely detailed, but the color scheme is a little darker than the real birds we shot. We noticed very minor scratches on the paint of a few of the test decoys, but the overall construction was solid. Plus, these decoys are priced right.
This is the workingman’s goose decoy. You don’t bag these bad boys. You just throw them in the truck or trailer and hunt with them season after season. The paint detailing and body positions on these decoys are a step behind higher end competitors, but you don’t buy Bigfoots for perfect realism, you buy them for their utility. Their relatively low price plus incredible durability makes these dekes the best value in the test. The B2s lost points on motion (they are not designed to move at all). But on the upside, their stand design (giant feet that locked into the deke) makes them the fastest to set out in our test field. We tested the feeder pack, but the variety pack offers two feeders, one bull, one upright, one challenger and one resting.
5) Tanglefree Pro Series Full Body Combo Pack
This pack of smaller-sized full bodies brings plenty of durability at a good price. The pack includes four feeders and two uprights. The feeders have a 1-piece design while the uprights have simple screw-on heads. These were the only decoys in the full-body test that showed no chipping or rubbing on their paint jobs. The body positions were realistic, but overall the decoys were a little on the small side. But if you’re looking for a durable, packable, and affordable flocked-head full body, this is a solid option.
These are shell/full-body hybrid decoys so it’s not totally an apples-to-apples comparison in a full-body decoy test. But, we had them on hand and thought they deserved coverage because of their unique design. These decoys have the lightweight, stackable features of shell decoys, plus the higher, larger profile of full bodies. If you needed to add a lot of mass to your spread without wanting to haul around a trailer of full bodies, these would be a solid option. They move nicely in the wind and are realistic enough to pull in geese. That said, the paint jobs and profiles on these decoys were well behind top-scoring models (buy hey, they also go for just a fraction of the cost). The six pack includes two feeders, one sentry, two walkers, and one alert head. At $120 for six, these decoys are a solid bargain.
How We Test
We tested the decoys by hunting over them. We did not evaluate how birds reacted to the decoys because that would involve too many variables for fair scoring. So instead, we hunted them just how every-day waterfowlers would. We packed them in the back of a truck and trailer and drove just a little too fast down rough gravel roads (we tossed the floaters into a canoe and jostled them around). Then we set them out in a realistic hunting spread watching closely how they looked in different light conditions and wind speeds. After a few days of hard hunting, we looked carefully for any wear and tear. Even small chips in the paint or defects to the body cost points (if damage occurred over just a few days of hunting, more is sure to come after a full season). Profile was scored on how realistic the body of the decoy looked. Paint was scored on the level of detail and realism. Durability counted both cracks and dents to the body, plus any paint chipping or wear on the flocking. We scored motion based on how well the decoys moved in a light breeze and how well they handled a 20 mph wind. For floaters, keel design was based on how the keel was weighted, its options for tying on weights, and overall sturdiness. For the full-bodies, stake/stand design scored how easy the staking system was to use in a variety of conditions and how well it packed away. Lastly, price/value is how much bang each decoy delivers for your buck.