My son is getting an early birthday present this week. His birthday isn’t until the end of the month, but youth waterfowl day is this coming Saturday, and as the gift involves duck hunting, I figured why wait?

I’ll tell you what it is, but you have to promise not to say a word. He’s getting a dozen decoys.

It took me some time to build my collection up to such a respectable level. I started with four black ducks, which I still use to this day. I built on that in small increments.

My mom, bless her heart, didn’t know much about duck hunting, but she tried. Each year I’d find a decoy or two under the Christmas tree and they rarely matched any of the others in my collection. One year I got a pair of hen mallards. I was crushed because they didn’t fit in with my pure strain of black ducks I was trying to amass; but I didn’t dare let on for fear of disappointing Mom.

The next year she got it right, sort of. I got a black duck, but instead of molded plastic it was rubber, and had a removable head. It looked less like the rest of my blacks than the hen mallards I got the year before. Disparate though they were, the flock was growing.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I splurged and finally bought enough blocks to put out a decent spread. Although, I guess my parents were the real squanderers, because I used money they had given me for more mundane things like food and textbooks. I’m sure they would have approved, in time.

Once he gets over the excitement of his new collection, I’ll probably take my boy over to L.L. Bean to pick up some heavy-duty decoy line and decoy anchors, and make a ritual out of rigging up his new tollers. May as well rig ’em up right.

In my day, it was make do with what you have. Fortunately, my dad ran a charter boat. To save money, he bought a set of molds and made his own fishing sinkers from old lead sheathing left over from construction projects.

I managed to talk him out of some sinkers and a couple of hand lines, the latter of which I stripped off their wooden frames, cut into appropriate lengths and used for tying the sinkers to my decoys. Since I achieved adulthood I’ve switched over to parachute cord and real decoy anchors, but most of my old decoys are still rigged with fishing sinkers and braided nylon line.

While we’re at it, we may as well get a decoy bag to tote them in. I used canvas army-surplus duffle bags for years, until my rig got too large, and the bags literally rotted away. One big mesh decoy bag was easier to carry than four or five canvas bags. The mesh also lets water and swamp muck drain out rather than festering in the canvas bags over the winter, spring and summer.

We’ll probably skip the waders until he gets a little older. For starters, finding kid-sized waders is darned near impossible. And if you do, they’re not cheap. I already spend enough on sneakers, winter boots and cleats, which kids outgrow in a year’s time.

When I was a kid, hippers rarely lasted more than one season. Of course, they were made with rubber back then, which fared alright in the open marshes, but just couldn’t hold up to the beaver bogs and flooded timber where we did most of our duck hunting. With a bicycle-tire repair kit I could sometimes get two seasons out of a pair. When my feet finally maxed out, I invested in a pair of black fireman’s waders that withstood the swamps and marshes better than any pair I’ve owned before or since.

But they couldn’t withstand sitting idly between seasons. The rubber eventually cracked, so I cut the tops off and used them as knee-highs.

Today they make waders out of neoprene, which if cared for, will last indefinitely. My son will outgrow those in a year or two, so I’ll probably hold off until he’s done growing.

Then maybe I’ll send him off to college with a little extra money for food and textbooks. At least I know he won’t squander it on decoys. He’ll already have those.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

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