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a Canvasback decoy
Canvasback decoy
Courtesy of Steve Surratt, Meredosia, Illinois
Zoom in on a Canvasback decoy
Duck Decoys: Carved Wooden Birds for Sport and Decoration

Decoys have been used by duck hunters for hundreds of years. Both professional and amateur hunters used artificial decoys. Decoys are based upon the premise that they are real enough to fool the prey into approaching. There is a balance of requirements in the design of decoys. They need to be realistic models of the hunter's prey, sturdy, lightweight, portable, compact, and inexpensive. A single hunter may haul and set out from one- to seven-dozen ducks upon the water, depending on the size of the marsh or lake on which he is hunting.

Decoy Types
Working and decorative decoys were handmade during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Working decoys were of two sorts. The main stays were the decoy of the actual prey--mallards, pintails, canvasbacks, and other ducks that were set out in pairs and groups.

The confidence decoy, carved in the form of herons, coots, geese, doves, crows, and other birds, were made for the purpose of giving the flying ducks confidence to land around the mainstay duck decoys. From the sky, the ducks would have the confidence to approach when they saw several kinds of birds swimming, wading, and feeding.

Decoy Construction
Construction methods ranged from embalming ducks to attaching the skin of a duck to a wooden form to carving wooden ducks. While some hunter-craftsmen carved their own, several companies mass-produced wooden, cork, canvas, and inflatable models. There were even attempts at mechanical and motorized decoys.

The simplest type of decoy was the silhouette decoy, Go to image of silhouette decoys which were profiles of birds cut out of metal or wood, painted, and mounted on sticks that anchored the decoy in the muddy bottom of the marsh. Another primitive type of decoy was made by sticking the head of a dead duck on a stick embedded through a mound of clay (the body). Decoy makers also tried stretching duck skins Go to image of a pair of
skin decoys over blocks of wood, mounting embalmed birds on a wooden base, and forming birdlike shapes from cork-filled cotton bags. Go to image of a canvas goose decoy

The decoys we most commonly think of today are the hand-carved wooden birds weighted with lead strips Go to image of decoy weights on the underside. Decoys could also be anchored on a tether to a lead weight, Go to image of lead anchor weights either homemade or commercially produced. They came in circular, oblong, and button shapes.

Carvers used commercial paper patterns, patterns from other carvers, and developed their own from which to carve the decoy body parts. After carving and assembly, the carver, or often his wife, painted the species markings on the decoys. Go to video of hollowing a decoy body

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