Play the shell game for more goose hunting success

Posted on: February 13, 2017 | Matt Fincher | Comments

Shell decoys, and especially sleeper shells like at right, can put wary Canada geese at ease. As a bonus for the budget-minded hunter, they can sometimes be found relatively cheaply on the second-hand market.

Walking down the waterfowl decoy aisle of one of those big box stores recently, I heard a sharp gasp behind me, and I mean right behind me.

It was the wallet in my back pocket, clutching its leathery chest.

Ha! I’m just kidding. I’ve got two kids in college. My wallet hasn’t had a pulse in years. Even the sticker shock that comes from pricing decoys couldn’t elicit a reaction like that.

But there’s no denying that building a spread is a pricey proposition.

A single box of a half dozen full body decoys can easily go more than $200. Multiply that by 10 or 20 – to set out as many birds as some recommend — and you’ve spent more than I paid for my first car.

Field Hudnall’s answer is to go old school.

One of the owners of Field Proven Calls in Lagrange, Ky., Hudnall likes hunting big spreads. But he doesn’t rely on lots of full body honkers to fill fields that way.

“A shell decoy is, in my opinion, the most effective decoy you can have. Let me rephrase that. It’s the most realistic decoy you can have,” Hudnall said.

“And to take it up a notch, the sleeper shell is the most realistic decoy you can have as far as what it’s representing.”

Geese, when feeding, are active, he said. They’re chattering, moving their heads, wandering around.

The problem is full body decoys don’t move. If and when geese approach or even land in them, those “statues” almost immediately indicate something is wrong, he said.

Sleeper shells, however, perfectly mimic geese comfortably at rest, he said. That’s important to getting birds to come in, he added.

“A goose will feed where he has to but doesn’t want to. A goose is not going to sleep where he doesn’t want to. That goose is going to sleep where he’s comfortable,” Hudnall said.

“So when you have sleeper shells packed in, and those geese are approaching, they’re very comfortable, too. That’s as comfortable as you can get.”

Some past experience made that clear to him.

In field testing decoys – not hunting over them, but allowing geese to approach on their own and do their thing — Hudnall said the birds that wound up in spreads of full body decoys always eventually walked out, without exception. They were just nervous, he noted.

Geese that responded to sleeper shells often actually went to sleep themselves within the spread, until it was hard to tell the decoys and birds apart, he said.

The best news perhaps?

Shell decoys have fallen out of favor a bit with the “new” wave of waterfowlers focusing on full bodies, Hudnall said. Hunters can use that to their favor, especially between now and next hunting season, by keeping their eyes open.

“So when you think about how can I beef up my spread, go to garage sales. Find some shells. Find the stuff that nobody wants anymore,” he said.

“They’re cheaper. They’re easier to carry into the field from your truck. And they work.”

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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