What flirts these mortals be! Humans have tried for millennia to lure ducks closer to them for hunting purposes. But today's high-tech devices are making the task so easy that the state of Washington recently banned the use of electronic decoys.
Archeological evidence shows that Native Americans used decoys that were quite effective at bringing prey closer, and there is still an active collectors' market seeking out the hand-carved wooden decoys that were part of many settlers' basic equipment. A few years ago, decoys took an evolutionary leap into electronics, with battery- operated models now marketed under such names as WonderDuck, Widdow Maker and Mojo Mallard.
What makes these devices so enticing to the ducks is that they spin. Some are made to look like ducks, but others are just flat ovals that spin around, showing white on one side and black or brown on the other. Apparently, to a duck, the flashing images that result look like another duck coming in for a landing.
Although these decoys tend to lose their effectiveness over time, and there is no evidence that the devices pose a long-term threat to duck populations, many hunters and others are concerned that the decoys wrecked the ethical concept of "fair chase."
In August, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission imposed the first state ban on the devices. (Pennsylvania already had a wider ban in place against using electronics in hunting waterfowl.) The prohibition has generated some consternation from legislators who feel it unfairly robs hunters of a tool. "If you have the sophistication to be able to use a mechanical decoy," says Washington state Representative Jim Buck, "you're probably going to be good enough at duck hunting to get your limit whether you've got a decoy or you don't."