Apply Fresh Paint to Give Duck Decoys a Real Appearance

Maintaining your Decoys

Waterfowl decoys are expensive and range in price from $3 to $15 for ducks and from $8 to $30 for goose blocks. As you will need several dozen decoys spread out around you for your blind or pit it is a major investment. After the initial set-up cost it makes sense to maintain them so they last for many years.

It is not a cheap sport what with licences, duck-stamps and high-density loads and the last thing you need is to have to buy new decoys on a yearly basis. To replace them every season would cost hundreds of dollars whereas a new paint job is just a few bucks for each deke. Most of the damage that detracts from their appearance is not when they sit on the water. The damage is caused as they are being transported and packed away. By handling them with care you can cut down on the cost of freshening them up.

You can assume that after three seasons your decoys will need sprucing up. You need to find someone who, in the summer months, spends time repairing and repainting decoys. It is not how good the original paint job was because after a couple of seasons the finish begins to fade and they become bashed and battered until they no longer look like real ducks. Ducks identify each other from their plumage and if the decoy isn’t realistic, the hunt is over no matter how good a shot you are .

Cleaning them up

Apply a liberal amount of petroleum jelly to all exposed surface of the decoy using a rag. Really rub it in and then wipe it off. If the paint job is still acceptable wait another season before repainting.

Study Living Images of your Decoys

Use the net, bird books or the real thing to look at the colors and patterns and then match those colors using the appropriate paint.

Use the Correct Paint.

Use flat or satin finish paints. Cabela’s sell decoy paint kits for £40 dollars and this kit will freshen up a dozen mallard decoys or bluebills. If the plumage has iridescent qualities check out hobby shops in the big-box stores for the correct paint. For a mallard drake’s neck you will need to mix dark blue and dark green for the right match. In addition there is a new line of ultraviolet-reflective decoy paints available from Twilight Labos and Parker Paint. Flambeau uses this on its UVision line of decoys which gives a lifelike appearance to waterfowl.

The Brush

Use a sable brush to apply the paint. For most decoys a 1″ brush or 1/2″ bush is adequate. If you have to spray large areas use a black or white satin finish spray but ensure the applicator is fan shaped.

Don’t go to extremes

You are not a wildlife artist so ignore minor defects. You need to match the color patters not each little detail. It is a decoy and only needs to appear real to a duck flying at height.


There is a lucrative market for old wooden or cork decoys. As with antiques of any kind you don’t want to destroy the value by painting it. Remember these are collectables and very valuable. When they get to a certain age decoys should be retired and stored for future sale to some rich enthusiast.

Finally a word of warning. Compressed-foam decoys should never be spray painted or have oil-based paint on them as it will eat holes into the decoy.