Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rediscovering Silhouette Decoys at the SHOT Show

Each year the National Shooting Sports Foundation puts together what is probably the world’s largest trade show for the outdoor industry—the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor, Trade (SHOT) Show. Manufacturers and importers come from around the world to display their wares to a crush of retailers, wholesalers and the press, and all of them scrambling to make a few bucks.

The hundreds of men and women of the outdoor media are all chasing material for new articles and stories and hoping to corner an editor long enough to get some assignments for the coming year. Some of the media people (and others) look at the SHOT Show as an opportunity to renew their acquaintances and friendships and make new ones. Nowadays I fit more into that group and chase fewer and fewer assignments.

After returning home I started thinking about the show. As always, the show’s booths were packed with everything imaginable to satisfy the needs of hunters and shooters. Most of the products have a place and purpose but sometimes I question the manufacturers’ intent. I am not always sure if the product is intended to help hunter/consumers or just get their money.

One product I rediscovered was silhouette goose decoys. I was happily strolling down an aisle when I spotted the Real Geese booth. The skinny decoys brought back a flood of memories. Every summer my father and his friend cut out and painted silhouette goose decoys. My father had patterns that included feeding, sentry and even sleeping geese and he also taught me how to set a spread of silhouettes so to incoming birds the decoys appeared to be moving. To get that same effect with today’s big, full-bodied decoys you need to invest in a mechanical or kite decoy although you can now buy wings for silhouettes Lucky Dog Bandit Silhouette Wings. I prefer my father’s method. Besides, it is a heck of a lot more fun and it takes (I believe) a little more skill.

When I walked up to the guys in the Real Geese booth the first thing I said was, “If silhouettes are placed right a spread will look like the birds are moving.” The booth guys said I was the first person at the show to say that and that it was absolutely true. After showing me the true-to-life artwork finish on their decoys we started talking about my buying some decoys through their online store. I don’t need hundreds of decoys because I’ve found that in my part of North Dakota you don’t need a huge decoy spread to attract geese, only a well-placed and crafted spread to convince the birds to drop in.

Back in the press room (my hangout) when I talked about using the silhouettes I was startled by the number of outdoor writers who don’t know how to use silhouettes, a fact which is troublesome to me because it points out that we, as hunters, are becoming more dependent on increasingly complex gadgets for our hunting success. Both Ernest Hemingway and Jose Ortega y Gasset warned hunters (and anglers) about dependence on gadgets. Hemingway was promoting the skills of the hunter and Ortega was pointing out that the more a hunter relies on equipment for success the greater the distance between the hunter and the purpose of the hunt. Yet I do find many of the gadgets not only help on the hunt but open doors to new experiences.

Finding the Real Geese booth started me thinking about my goose hunting and the rewards of the hunt. I’m going to order some Real Geese silhouettes and I think that over the summer I will make a few of my own as well. Maybe using the silhouettes, mine and theirs, will strengthen the mystical connection of the hunt. As for some of the other products at the SHOT Show I am stepping back to rethink them. I wonder just how many gadgets I really, truly, need to experience a good hunt. glg

I no longer have my father’s patterns for cutting out goose decoys but I have found a possible source of patterns Getting the Very Best from Your Scroll Saw. I haven’t actually checked out the book although I plan to do so this spring, unless I come up with a better source. If anyone does get this book or already owns it please let me know if it is helpful, or if you know of a workable pattern for cutting out silhouettes I would like to hear from you.

On another front, setting an effective spread of silhouettes is a formidable task. I did a little research to see what was available beyond what is in my library and there is a plethora of waterfowl hunting books. M.D. Johnson has one that does offer some advice on using silhouettes Successful Goose Hunting and I do trust Johnson to produce a good text on the subject.

My visit with Real Geese later led me to their web pages but their decoys are also available from at Real Geese Economy Series Silhouette Snow Goose Decoys. Other silhouette decoys available online include some magnum size decoys Outlaw Super Magnum Canada Goose Silhouette Decoy and still another source is from Big Flock which is also available online Big Flock Silhouette Canada Goose Decoys.

If you have never used skinnys before try them next goose season, you might be pleasantly surprised.


mdmnm said...

Aldo Leopold also had some thoughts about dependence on gadgets in "A Sand County Almanac". Said Leopold- ""Then came the gadgeteer, otherwise known as the sporting-goods dealer. He has draped the American outdoors man with an infinity of contraptions, all offered as aids to self-reliance, hardihood, woodcraft, or marksmanship, but too often functioning as substitutes for them. Gadgets fill the pockets, they dangle from neck and belt. The overflow fills the auto-trunk, and also the trailer. Each item of outdoor equipment grows lighter and often better, but the aggregate poundage becomes tonnage."

Personally, I really enjoy lighter, better equipment but have to watch the tonnage.

What's the basic idea behind placing silhouette decoys?

Blessed said...

we really like using silhouette decoys for goose hunting - it is amazing to me how real they look when you get the spread set and then go a little ways away, preferably up a small hill and overlook your spread.

The problem with hunting gadgets is that you have to store them, carry them, clean them, etc... less really is more - it's just figuring out exactly what is essential and what is just a gadget that is the trick!

Terry Scoville said...

Excellent post. I use the Reel Geese Silhouettes and absolutely love their realism. Also as you noted, it's not always about quantity, but rather quality and knowledge of the products used. I spend a lot of time hunting alone and am not interested in setting up 200 decoys when a couple dozen well placed will do the trick.

Albert A Rasch said...

Hey Galen,

I think I remember seeing you up at the Pressroom at the Shot Show!

Though I'm not a goose hunter, I enjoyed your article. I'm looking forward to reading more of your archives!

Albert A Rasch
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
Proud Member of Outdoor Bloggers Summit
Southeast Regional OBS Coordinator

Galen Geer said...

You probably did see me in the press room but at least this year I wasn't taking a nap!

Hemingway, Ortega and many others have all commented on the dependence on gadgets. We should pay attention to what they had to say.

Oh, the science to setting the silhouette is simple, at slight angles so as the birds fly over the birds seem to move. Simple to say, somewhat difficult to learn but it works. glg