Islands Lure Wary Waterfowl
November 03, 2010
Covering a board with burlap gives field decoys a perch.
Lonzo McDaniel of Marysville, Calif., noticed ducks and geese prefer to sit on small islands, floating logs and narrow strips of land such as rice field levees. However, few hunters take advantage of this behavior, unless such resting areas occur naturally or as man-made land practices in their hunting waters.
Lumber and a block of Styrofoam form the bases of Lonzo McDaniel's strip of land and artificial island.
So McDaniel decided to build floating platforms that mimicked out-of-the-water loafing spots and to place decoys on them to give his setup a realistic effect. His idea was judged to be so innovative in concept and so simple in execution under field conditions, it was awarded third place in Category 2 of the 2008 Boats and Blinds Contest, sponsored by Avery Outdoors.
"Ducks and geese love to loaf in a place where they can get out of the water to rest," McDaniel said. "Drive to any waterfowl sanctuary in your area and you will see ducks and geese sitting on islands, logs and narrow strips of land. The birds like these places because they give them security. Any land-based predator, such as a fox or coyote, would have to cross areas of water to reach them if the birds are on an island or floating object, and this would alert the birds of the danger and give them time to fly or swim away."
McDaniel said much of the waterfowl hunting in his area of California is done in flooded rice fields. In most of the rice fields, blinds are constructed of steel, dug partially into the ground and located in the levees. Situating blinds on levees is done for the convenience of farmers, not to help the success of waterfowl hunters. Only a few exceptional properties allow waterfowl hunters to place blinds on islands in the fields away from the levees.
"To achieve a safe and secure feeling in the waterfowl looking over a decoy spread, knowledgeable hunters always place most of their decoys on the levee or dike," he said.
"However, this is not easily done if the dike is covered with a heavy growth of cattails or other weeds."
So, with an eye toward instilling the illusion all is well last hunting season, McDaniel built what he calls a "narrow strip of land" and an artificial island to set up full-body mallard decoys.
"It's an off-season project anyone can do," he said. "It's easy and fun, doesn't take much time and will create that sense of security you are really looking for in your decoy spread next hunting season."
As the foundation for building his narrow strip of land, McDaniel used a wide plank. The plank could be a 2-by-8-inch, 2-by-10-inch or 2-by-12-inch board about 6 to 8 feet long, easily obtained at any lumberyard. Pine, Douglas fir or redwood would fit the bill.
Decoys are secured to the strip of land or artificial island with paired screws and copper wire. Two tie-downs per decoy prevent wind from tipping them over.
"Nail or screw two to four 1-by-4-inch wood pieces crossways across the bottom of the board to reduce the amount of warping once the wood gets wet," he said. "To further reduce warping and to give it the look of land, paint the wood with dark brown and black camouflage paint colors. Wet wood shines, but land doesn't. Then, you have to cover the wood with burlap. Burlap sacks will work fine. But if you can't find any burlap sacks, you can also buy burlap in a fabric store."
Nail or staple the burlap to the wood using corrosion-resistant fasteners. Overlap the burlap in several places to give a textured or lumpy look. Excess burlap hanging over the sides softens the edges of the board's outline at the surface of the water. Paint the burlap brown, black and green to camouflage it.
"If you want to give it that extra-realistic look, put a few drops of white bathtub tub caulking along the edge," McDaniel said. "It's good for a few laughs from your buddies because it looks like droppings or feathers."
The next step is to drill a hole in each end of the board from topside to bottom to accept the dowels, which stabilize the board and prevent it from rolling over in high winds.
Dowels can be wood, metal or bamboo stakes such as those used for plant stakes.
McDaniel prefers bamboo because it is inexpensive, strong and doesn't swell when wet.
Be sure not to use living bamboo and remove it along with the floating island when the hunt is over. Transplanting an invasive species such as bamboo is not good conservation.
The length of the dowels will be based on the depth of water where the floating strip of land will be set up. Excess dowel can be cut off just above the board or left projecting above the board. Bamboo requires no trimming because it blends so well with the surrounding vegetation and camouflage paint scheme.
"The next step is to position your full-body decoys on the floating strip of land," McDaniel said. "I use Greenhead Gear full-body decoys because their wire bases easily support the decoy and are easy to secure to the board. But other brands of decoys could also be used with equal success."
To secure the decoys, fasten with two woodscrews about an inch apart. Wind a piece of copper or brass wire around one screw, then place the decoy base between the screws and wrap the wire around the other screw. Another pair of woodscrews and a connecting wire secures the other side of the decoy base to the board.
"I've found the best success with two tie-downs per decoy because it prevents the decoy from blowing over in a high wind," McDaniel said. "If the wind changes direction, I simply loosen the wires, spin the decoy around and retie the two wires to secure it again."
Depending upon the length of the board, the artificial strip of land can accommodate four to eight full-body mallard decoys. Since the decoys are sitting on the board, they are elevated much higher than floating decoys and exhibit a more pronounced silhouette visible at greater distances to flying ducks and geese.
Decoys molded into a sleeping or resting position are the best choices for instilling confidence in circling waterfowl. McDaniel also sets a couple of floating dipper, bottoms-up or sleeper decoys near th
e floating strip to complete the illusion of a family group of ducks feeding and resting at peace.
"The second part of this project is building your artificial island," McDaniel said. "You will need to get some Styrofoam for building it. I got my Styrofoam from a cardboard box. It was the packing around a new tool chest I had bought. Another easy source of material could be a cheap Styrofoam ice chest bought from a convenience store."
McDaniel said a serrated knife was the best tool for cutting the Styrofoam. To prevent spreading Styrofoam bits and pieces into every nook and cranny of a garage, cut it outside.
"Go to your local hobby or fabric store and buy some special glue marked specifically for use with Styrofoam," he said. "Other glues will melt the Styrofoam."
The finished island is a foot wide by two feet long, with a thickness of four inches. It should be large enough to accommodate at last two full body waterfowl decoys.
Once the Styrofoam glue has set, paint the material with dark brown, black and green camouflage paint. Be sure to use paint that will not dissolve the Styrofoam or glue, such as paint marked as acceptable for applying to plastic outdoor furniture paint. Test a small piece of Styrofoam before painting the entire island.
Next, add the burlap covering, securing it with longer and larger diameter screws, nails or other fasteners than used for the strip of land's wooden base because they will have to hold in the softer Styrofoam. The burlap should appear bulged or wrinkled, so fit it loosely. Cut it so the excess falls over the edges of the Styrofoam to float in the water to break up the sharp outline.
As with the narrow strip of land, the island must have a hole drilled from the topside to the bottom at each end to accommodate dowels to keep it in place and prevent capsizing.
Secure decoys with paired screws and rustproof wire in the same manner as they were secured to the narrow strip of land, although longer screws are required with the Styrofoam base.
Other materials can be used to make the base of the island, but most materials are heavier than Styrofoam, and therefore, more difficult to carry to the hunting site and to set up. A weathered 2-by-12-inch board or old floating log cut in half lengthwise will work as the base for the narrow strip of land or for the floating island.
"If you don't consider yourself to be a handyman or if you do not have a good place to carry out these projects, there is a commercially manufactured decoy island," McDaniel said. "You can check with a sporting goods dealer or online for more information or if you want to buy one. But I would rather hunt with whatever I can make for myself because it's more fun. Try using the strip of land and floating island with your decoy spreads next season, and I think you will be surprised at the increase in the number of waterfowl that will give your decoy spread a second look or drop right in."