I have been carving my own hunting decoys since I was a teenager in Northern
California. I began with Green wing teal and widgeon to add to my dads spread of
mallards and pintails. Those first efforts were made from 4x4 redwood fence
posts that were rounded with a horseshoers rasp and a head glued on.
Surprisingly the teal actually landed in them and I was hooked on carving ever
since. When I was 14 my great uncle Bill Neal helped fuel my passion for decoys
by giving me my first patterns and a lot of good advice on making working birds.
I carved birds all through high school and college and sold quite a few back
then to pay for hunting gear and hunting trips.
After college I ended up bouncing all over the world as a weather forecaster
in the Air Force (a job that sure helps my duck hunting). I have kept carving
whenever possible and now that I'm at my last duty station (retiring soon) I am
carving every off duty moment. I concentrate on puddle ducks since we see them
most but I do carve a large array of divers for the larger lakes too. My
favorite birds are still the teal (blue and green wings) but widgeon are a close
second to those. Strange that I don't care much for mallards, maybe it's cause
everyone has them but not much else.
My carving methods are quite simple to many but since I have not interacted
with other carvers I do what I have learned by trial and error, lots of errors.
I use 2x6 and 2x8 white pine lumber that I hollow out and laminate. I use a
bandsaw to cut out the halves and the heads and then hollow everything out. Once
the bird is laminated I use an old fashioned draw knife to round out the bird. I
use rasps, files and lots of sanding to get the final smooth finish. Once my
birds are smooth I give them four coats of spar varnish to seal them really
well. I use eyes from Van Dykes here in South Dakota. On top of the varnish
sealed bird I use mainly Rustoleum enamels. I start with flat white and black
and mix most of my colors with tints that I buy. I really don't have any
training in carving and I've recently read that they have seminars and
competitions for carvers. That should be interesting. I spend a great deal of
time watching and photographing ducks in the wild. The main goal of my decoys is
too get a spread of very realistic looking birds in many different poses and
several different species.
I have not sold any birds in many birds and don't even know if there is a
market for wooden decoys. I know I can't compete with those cheap plastic birds
but there again they look like cheap plastic birds. Maybe I'm nostalgic but I
love large spreads of wood decoys in several species that I have carved. It just
adds so much more to MY hunt. Any other carvers feel the same way about hunting
over birds THEY have made and not some factory in Taiwan (where they've never
seen a pintail)?