It seems that a duck that doesn’t fly, doesn’t quack and doesn’t swim can’t be much of a duck.
But indeed it can be, it really can be, especially if it looks the part. Yes, looks alone can do the trick, and that, in a nutshell, is the life of a working decoy.
To be sure, working means just that: nothing fancy, nothing artsy, nothing but good old-fashioned accomplishment that comes in the form of a real duck, one that is fooled and foolish and the cause of a camo-clad hunter’s quickly beating heart.
Duck decoys come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and materials. The finely carved and finished decoys aren’t really decoys.
They are meant for the mantel, not for the job of decoying mallards.
Working decoys might be someone’s idea of fine and fancy, but after a couple loose pellets smack them, the fancy fades.
The finest decoys get tattered, faded and weathered and all that much better for the job at hand.
For the most part, working decoys are rough around the edges, some so rough they resemble a shoebox as much a duck, but a live duck flying a couple hundred feet in the air at 50+ miles an hour isn’t all that picky.
At least that’s what the guy hiding in the shoreline brush hopes. Working decoys are popular with collectors who hunt.
Old decoys represent hunters past, they attract hunters present, and they promise good hunting in days ahead.
Collectors look for styles and names that found favor at a certain time or distant place or represent a carver’s touch.
Collectors put value on well-earned dents, faded paint and especially on decoys with original anchors still attached.
Many collectors actually hunt over their collections, adding real meaning and memories to each piece, maybe a bit of hunting history as well.
Imagine if you will, looking out over a string of your favorite blocks, bobbing in the waves, all part of your collection and all from the same carver’s hand.
Working decoys don’t often come in gift boxes; they are scrounged from barns and cabins, and bought at auctions. Or better yet, they are fashioned by the hunter who uses them.
Cork is popular as a working decoy material. So is local wood. Some antique decoys were carved from fence posts, others from chunks of firewood, discarded crate wood, driftwood and whatever one could find.
On the Chesapeake Bay, sea duck hunters use blackened milk jugs. On the big rivers, hunters can be happy and successful shooting over painted crab trap floats.
On Reelfoot Lake, hunters fight competition by setting out up to a thousand decoys of mixed heritage — some duck-like, some resembling landfill trash.
Indeed, working decoys are like hardworking men and women. They earn their keep and they labor proudly.
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