Waterfowl Decoy Maintenance

boy washing waterfowl decoys

Restore reliability and bring back bling to your blocks with these simple tips.

By Jay Anglin

Waterfowl decoys and tools for repair
Grab all the tools you’ll need, then line up those busted, leaky, and anchorless decoys. They’ll be off of the disabled list in no time. Save the painting for last.

We all know that guy. You know, the one who seems to find new ways to destroy any duck or goose decoy in his midst. He leaves decoys in the back of his pick-up until July 4th or so—including the ones he borrowed from you two years ago and never returned—and then, in an unceremonious act of glory, tosses them behind the garage so they can be dealt with later.

Perhaps you are that guy.

It could be a broken decoy line, a missing head or busted keel that’s keeping that pile of decoys in the corner of the garage unaddressed (just high enough to constantly remind you that something needs to be done with them).

While every waterfowl hunter has a long list of wants and needs, most of us have plenty of decoys that sit idle season after season for various reasons. Perhaps you take really good care of your decoys but in the heat of battle forget about the few that will inevitably end up in disrepair. Dealing with decoys is a lot like managing a baseball team: Phase new decoys in regularly and, as the season progresses, relegate others to the disabled list. Some of those game-worn blocks will end up being sent down to the minors for rehab and only be called up to the bigs on one of those days when a massive spread is required.

boy washing waterfowl decoys
even the toughest decoys need a bath once in a while. The author’s son only has 500 or so more to go!

My grandparents gave me a dozen mallard floaters when I was 12 years old—well over 30 years ago. While they don’t look nearly as good as the incredibly realistic and effective newer stuff in my arsenal, they still work when a big spread is needed; joining a cast of characters that varies in origin but, ultimately, serving the same mission. I have two bags of such decoys relegated to this type of duty that are always ready for deployment. Last season, they spent three days bobbing around in flooded corn with roughly 200 other decoys—most of which made them look ugly, but they worked perfectly.

This wasn’t by chance. I could have thrown those old blocks away or passed them on to a young hunter years ago, but I keep them around and seem to use them every season when the situation demands it. They’ve been repainted a few times and have worn a range of different anchors and lines, but over the years, I’ve taken care of them.

Fixing Floaters

The best way to fix all your old decoys is to tackle them all at once. You’ll need to patch holes, glue keels and heads, and apply touch-up paint where needed. You’ll also need to fix or replace missing or damaged lines and anchors. It’s all cheap and easy.

Waterfowl decoy with hairline crack
Hairline cracks along the keels of plastic decoys can be difficult to see. Use a permanent marker to note where they are, then flatten a bead of silicone over the cracks to seal them off.

Finding shot holes and cracks is fairly easy, but may require some detailed inspection. Use clear or black silicone to patch holes as needed. Take a close look at the base of each keel for hairline cracks— a common problem on decoys that spend a lot of time packed tightly in bags.

There are several good options when it comes to touch-up paint. One of the best, specifically manufactured for decoys, is Bird Vision UV Paint. These paints work great and are highly recommended for newer decoys. That said, plain old satin latex applied with disposable foam brushes can work just fine for decoys on the JV squad. Flat paints tend to look dull after use, and glossy paints have too much shine. Satin perfectly matches the natural sheen of waterfowl feathers. Ducks Unlimited and other organizations are great resources for specific tips on repainting decoys of various species. A quick search of the internet will have you painting with confidence.

Once the holes are plugged, cracks and filled and the paint is dry, it’s time to repair and replace lines and deal with anchor issues. Have anchors and decoy cord handy, as well as crimps if you’re not into tying good knots. Fencing pliers or similar tools with crimping ability will help ensure those expensive new anchors don’t end up at the bottom of the drink.

Drilling a hole in a plastic waterfowl decoy
Plastic decoys with shot holes and cracks often fill with water but won’t drain easily. Drill a hole on top of the decoy to drain them quickly, and then use silicone to seal the holes and cracks.

Full-Body Rehab

Full-body decoys and stackable shells need love, too. Over time, heads become loose or broken, and paint becomes soiled and chipped. Scrub those filthy, full-body decoys, then fix and repaint them as needed.

Snow goose decoys, in particular, are susceptible to soiling, and while real snow geese do get dirty, decoy spreads have much better visibility and appeal to high-flying birds when individual decoys are clean and pop at a distance. A pressure washer can be used to clean some full-body decoys, but it’s risky for others as the water pressure may blow off some paint. It’s best to start with a soft brush and warm, soapy water.

Once the decoys are clean, take a close look at all feet and heads, which can become overly loose or broken. While broken heads can be glued back on, about the only thing I’ve seen that truly holds up to being banged around in a boat is black windshield urethane, which can be purchased at automotive glass repair shops, or permanent, black marine adhesive (3M 5200). Another option is to screw the heads on with short drywall screws and use black butyl-based roofing caulk or waterproof roofing repair cement. These adhesives form a flexible yet durable waterproof seal that typically dries flat and blends in nicely with flocked heads on Canada goose decoys.


Plastic decoys with shot holes and cracks often fill with water but won’t drain easily. Drill a hole on top of the decoy to drain them quickly, and then use silicone to seal the holes and cracks.

Painting a plastic waterfowl decoy
This old goose floater may be in desperate need of some paint but the screw/roofing adhesive combo has held the broken head in place through four seasons.

And, speaking of flocked heads, it’s wise to occasionally re-flock or replace well-worn goose decoy heads. However, a low cost, quick-fix is to use satin black Krylon Fusion for Plastic paint on flocked heads that are peeling or faded. The flat white Krylon Fusion also does a great job of freshening up cheek and rump patches. Just be sure and mask off the darker paint so you don’t bleed over into the body of the decoy.

Some of the newer decoys on the market are molded with flexible materials that won’t crack or split and are marked flawlessly with paint that doesn’t chip. These decoys absorb shot with amazing resilience and every waterfowler should consider upgrading the starters in their line-up. Ten years from now, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find quality needing repairs, so they are well worth the modest investment. They just work better.

But, even the best decoys need occasional work on their anchors and lines—especially if they were in the care of that guy. A little TLC can bring older blocks back to life, so when you need to greet those northern red-legged greenheads with a great big welcoming party they are all ready for the show.

Put me in, coach!

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