Brant Silhouettes

Brant in Two Dimensions

Sunrise Brant

I just finished making 3 dozen Brant silhouettes – both for some customers and for myself.  I made my first ones, though, a few decades ago – back in 1981.  At the time, our crew at NYSDEC was developing a way to trap Atlantic Brant on their wintering grounds.

Brant populations were dwindling in response to a series of severe winters in the late-70s.  The Atlantic Flyway Council was concerned about the future of this never-abundant, small, Arctic goose.  So, DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife in the Region 1 headquarters at Stony Brook set out to capture and band big numbers of Brant after the gunning seasons ended in January.

Brant are especially challenging to capture because they do not feed on corn or other grains like most waterfowl.  They are strictly grazers – with Eelgrass (Zostera marina) being their fabled staple.  Although feeding was restricted historically to shallow bays, recent years found them clipping lawn grass on parks and golf courses.  This presented an opportunity for us to use rocket nets in our pursuit of this bird.

I was not yet an employee of New York State when NYSDEC began banding wintering Brant.  I think it was either 1977 or 1978 when Regional Wildlife Manager Harry Knoch and his crew began to capture Brant along our South Shore, primarily “up west” in Nassau County.  Because conventional bait was not an option, the Brant were netted when grazing on lawns.  To concentrate sufficient numbers within the 40-foot by 60-foot reach of  the net, decoys were used.  Staff worked with Al “Mr. Decoy” McCormick to make a dozen Brant stool.  They were traditional floating decoys, solid-bodied and made from “refrigerator cork” (Black Cork from National Cork Company in Keyport, New Jersey).  As with Al’s other decoys, the heads were carved from red cedar and – most important for our purposes – the keels were flat (not on edge like most keels).  Al put flat keels on his gunners so they would remain upright when the tide ran out on the shoals and mudflats that our puddle ducks, Geese and Brant use for feeding and resting.  So, they looked right when arrayed near the edge of a fairway or park lawn – right near the folded net.

SJS and Dave Riehlman with Brant

These decoys worked fine.  But – like most waterfowlers – we speculated that a bigger rig might draw more birds.  Thus, when I returned to Long Island after a stint in DEC’s Buffalo Office in the winter of 1981 (having gone “Brant trapping” but once in 1979), I set about making a rig of Brant silhouettes to augment our dozen McCormick floaters.  Using the NYSDEC maintenance shop, one sheet of 1/4-inch AC plywood, some band iron, and a quart each of Rustoleum Flat Black and Flat White, I turned out 28 silhouettes for our rig.  They served well for several years – and helped us achieve our annual goals of over 1000 banded Brant.

Silho 01

By the way, we always rigged the silhouettes outside of the catch area – for fear of fouling or ripping the net.  The McCormick birds were okay beneath the net.  Also, because the “hunting grounds” were frozen solid in February, we used a big spike and a 3-pound sledge to make holes for each stake/leg.

Silho 01 A



Layout & Sawing

I began this batch by gathering up some long and skinny 1/4-inch AC plywood cut-offs from my lumber racks up in the loft.  I played around with the layout so I could maximize the number of silhouettes from each piece of plywood.

Silho 02

I used my original silhouette for my pattern.  It measures approximately 18 inches long x 7 inches deep (through the body).

You can print each half out on 8.5 x 11 paper – then tape along the “match line”.  I like to print my patterns onto card stock.  And, you can enlarge the pattern as much as you want.

sm Brant pattern fwd - w LABEL

sm Brant pattern aft - w LABEL

To stack the plywood for sawing, I put a few dabs of Titebond glue in the scrap areas – to hold 3 layers together so I could saw them out on the band saw (a sabre saw would do in a pinch).  I used the drill to bore “reference holes” to locate the glue on each layer.

Silho 03


Silho 04

The C side of this plywood showed lots of flaws, so I filled the grooves and pits with thickened epoxy (used Fairing Compound from and then sanded everything smooth.

Silho 05

Most of the shapes are Feeders…

Silho 06

…but I also wanted a few Uprights to give the impression of activity in the rig.

Silho 08

I used the drill press to drill two 3/16-inch holes for the steel legs, two inches apart.

Silho 07


The Legs

The “legs” are made from mild steel – 1/8-inch thick by 1/2-inch wide.  The bottom ends are cut at a 45-degree angle to help when pushing down into sand or mud.  The steel will rust around salt water – but its strength and stiffness win out over aluminum or brass or wood.

Silho 09

Two 3/16-inch holes were drilled two inches apart.  I used one of my wooden fences on the drill press as a jig.  And, I oiled the bit before drilling each pair of holes.

Silho 10 - drilling legs

I used brass machines screws with washers and hex nuts to fasten the legs.  Although mixing brass with steel can lead to galvanic problems down the road,  I was more interested in grinding down the excess threads to reduce chafe (and I am not building a boat nor installing plumbing….).  Aluminum fasteners would be a good alternative, but I could not find what I needed locally.  In the Ideal World, heavy rivets would be the best fastening choice.

Silho 11 - assembled pair

The best hardware combination was 5/8-inch 10/32 machine screws with washers and hex nuts.  I used some 1/2-inch machine screws but they made it tough to use the washer because they were just too short.

The excess threaded portion was ground off – with either a disc grinder or a flat file – to minimize chafing other rig mates.

Silho 12 - assembled pair closeup


The Paint

I typically seal my gunning decoys with Spar Varnish before applying any paint.  Since these silhouettes should not spend much time in or under water, however, I decided to both seal and prime with flat oil paints instead.  I used Flat Black, Flat White and Flat Grey oils to make sure all of the surfaces and end grains were well-coated.

Here are the colors I use on my floaters – Behr latex sample jars from Home Depot.

HBrant 41 - Behr Paints 2018

You can see my complete Tutorial for painting Brant at:

The Grey covers the whole middle of the body – sides and back.

Brant 10 - grey and white

The White covers the rump and flanks.  It extends further forward than other geese.

Brant WHITE 02

Brant WHITE 03

I began the Black on just the forward end.

Brant 11A - Black fwd closeup

Brant 11 - fwd Black

Brant 13 - 2 phases

The Black on the tail shows just a little bit.  The White upper and lower tail coverts cover most of the tail feathers on a Brant.

Brant 12 A - aft Black

The lower edge of the Black primary groups of the wing feathers curves downward as it goes forward to the side feathers.

Brant 12 - aft Black

Before proceeding further, I decided to make a stand for holding the birds during the painting process. I bored 5/8-inch holes into a 2×4 on edge – and added “feet” for stability.

Brant 16A - Black all done on stand

The Black legs are carefully demarcated on both sides of the body.

Brant 15B Black legs closeup BETTER

Brant 15 - Black legs

To toughen the ever-vulnerable bills, I painted (slathered?) each with a mix of epoxy and graphite.  Later on, I re-painted the bills and heads with another coat of Flat Black oil.

Graphite bill 01

The back is the same raw umber – Behr Espresso Beans – that I use for a body color on Black Ducks.  I feather it over the primary groups.

Brant 17 - Brown on back closeup

Brant 18 - Brown all done

The sides could be painted a solid color – I use Behr Ashwood – or even kept just Grey primer.  I paint in the curvature of the side feathers to suggest depth.

Sides 01A

Now I use a finer round brush (# 10) to paint in the dark barring – again using the Espresso Beans color.  I begin with 3 or 4 bars aft that extend from top to bottom – more or less.

sm Brant sides 03 - aft barring

Then I add a patch of smaller, closer barring up forward, just aft of the Black chest.

sm Brant SIDES 04 -fwd barring

Here is the complete barring – on a bird with the “walking” posture – which attaches the leg in the 2 holes I drilled originally.

sm Brant SIDES 05A

I modified some to give a more horizontal posture – by drilling another lower hole – forward of the initial hole – with the bill closer to the ground, a more typical Feeder.

sm Brant SIDES 05B - alternate leg hole

Here is the barring on the Feeder sides.

sm Brant SIDES 05C - all barring horizontal

Now I add paler feather edging on the sides.  I use Graceful Grey but you could use just White.  I begin aft with a small (#4 or #6) round brush and carefully overlap the wings and back.

sm Brant SIDES 06 pale edging close up

I add some edges in the middle of the sides but do not carry it forward into the barring aft of the chest.

sm Brant SIDES 07 - pale edging done

The sides are all done….now for the necklace.

sm Brant SIDES 08 - rig done except for necklaces

On most of these birds, I daub on some White behind and below the cheeks.


The upright Sentries get special treatment on their starboard necks – to identify the rig owners.

Here is a 10-bird rig.  ready-to-hunt – but a long way from the Atlantic Tidewater…..

Here are the Feeder and the Walker

The “owner’s mark” proudly displayed.




All the best,



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