I’m not the most creative guy. I’m not a great drawer. I don’t sing, dance (well), or act. I have a terrible eye for design and aesthetics. But there is one medium that I really enjoy working with – so much so that I am able to look past my lack of artistic ability and create something that I am proud of. I like to carve wooden duck decoys.
I got my start carving decoys during the spring of my sophomore year. Our adviser for the Bemidji State Ducks Unlimited chapter is an experienced carver, having spent many years making his own duck hunting decoys that he uses every fall. That spring, he supplied the necessary materials and advice to a group of students so that they could learn the steps in carving a functional hunting decoy. Here’s the bluebill that I made that year.
The carving process is often very tedious, and for the carvers like us who do not have access to power tools to speed up the process it often takes 5-6 hours to just carve the duck’s head alone.
Starting off with a solid chunk of cedar and a sharp knife blade, the work begins to whittle away material from the head until it takes on the outline of the species that you are carving. In my case, this decoy will ultimately be painted into a drake bufflehead, one of the prettiest ducks around.
It’s slow work. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you can always take more material off, but you can’t put the wood back on after it’s carved off. The following picture shows the head just starting to look like a duck’s, with the eye channels carved out and the shaping process just beginning.
After a few hours of carving the head and shaping the bill, it is time to move on to the body.
The decoy’s body begins with a 4″ x 12″ chunk of cork that is roughed out in the general shape of a duck. As with the head, a couple hours are spent removing material from the blank and smoothing sharp corners and edges until the carver has the shape they want. As you can see in the picture below, there is a quite a bit of difference in body shape from when you start to when you have the smooth outline that you want.
After the head and body are carved and sanded down, it is time to attach the head to the body with a screw and wood glue. This is an extremely important step because the connection between the head and body is the weakest point on a decoy — a hunter doesn’t want to accidentally drop a decoy while out hunting and see the head break off.
Next, wood filler is dabbed into any cracks or crevices to create a smooth surface around the decoy. Because this wood filler takes a day or so to cure, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to paint the decoy, attach the keel, or test it on the water. Hopefully in the coming days I’ll be able to find some time to finish it.
Thanks for reading!