Duck Decoy Carving

(Tim) When it’s just too darn cold,
this wood working barn in Cambridge, NY
is a warm refuge for a man with a hobby.
(Steve Sanford) This is my decoy barn,
it’s what we call the grainery,
one of my outbuildings here, and as you can
it’s almost entirely consumed with duck decoys.
(Tim) Steve Sanford hunts all kinds of ducks
during the
hunting season, but it’s in the off-season
that his passion is displayed in the form
of beautiful
decoys which he hand-carves from raw lumber.
In nearly 30 years of carving, Steve has tried
his hand
at almost every species of duck from the colorful
drake widgeon, to an entire rig of Canada
Some of his fancier decoys serve merely as
mantelpiece accents.
Most are actual gunning decoys which Steve
uses for hunting.
No matter what their ultimate purpose,
all of them are stunning.
(Steve) One of the things I’ve found when
you hunt ducks is
that what you do more than anything else is
you sit there
and you look at your decoys. So you could
look at ugly decoys,
or you could look at decoys that give you
satisfaction, so that’s what I’ve done.
(Tim) To better appreciate this workmanship,
consider the starting point.
In the course of one afternoon, Steve will
transform a crude
piece of white pine into a beautiful drake
pintail duck.
One of the most difficult and time-consuming
pieces to carve
is the head.
(Steve) The first ones, when you’re learning,
take hours and hours…because you’re always
afraid to take
off too much…and you don’t really know.
And if you are cursed with an artistic sensibility,
you know, the wrong 64th of an inch can
drive you crazy… [laughing]
but that’s one of the reasons you do it too.
Mostly now I’m just checking for symmetry
to see
if I’m on the right track here. Big fat-cheeked
(Tim) As with most artistic endeavors,
decoy carving demands 100% concentration and
Still, during the carving process, there’s
time to ponder
the philosophies of hunting, art and life.
(Steve) Like anything where you’re working
with your hands
I’ve found a lot of people, who like myself,
work by and large in an office environment
where the fruits
of your labor are not always easy to identify
at the end of the day
When you see something actually coming to
shape in
your hands, I think it meets a need that
a lot of people have to know…
that the investment they’ve made in something
is paying off.
(Steve) One of the reasons why I go to all
the trouble
to make my own decoys rather than just buying
from a factory somewhere, is twofold– one
is that it gives
you an opportunity to be creative with your
hands and
with your mind and produce essentially a work
of art.
I think everybody likes to do that to a certain
And then the other is that I think a lot of
the hunting
psychology, it stems from self-reliance, and
the more
that you can have a hand in everything that
on in the hunt, whether it’s picking the spot
you hunt,
or using a duck call, or building a boat,
or making your own decoys, that all just enhances
the whole experience.
The pintail doesn’t really have a pure white
but I’m going to start out making it white.
(Tim) When the paint goes on, Steve finds
out if his
endeavor has been successful. He has carved
many birds
in the past, thinking he was on the right
only to see the whole decoy fall flat when
the paint goes on.
(Steve) Final bit here is just to put the
pale blue racing
stripes down the bill that really make it
look like a pintail.
(Tim) This bird doesn’t appear to be a flop
at all.
Of course, the acid test comes when Steve
eventually uses this pintail to hunt in the
(Steve) When you’re out there handling the
looking at them, you realize it’s something
you’ve made
and you enjoy that, but another part is the
fact that there’s a
lot of fellowship among duck hunters and people
share information and you teach each other
things and
being able to show other people how to make
has given me a lot of pleasure and forged
a lot of friendships over time, so in lots
of different ways
it really enhances the sport for me, so it’s
just something
I imagine I’ll always do as long as I can
lift a knife up,
so l’m just gonna keep at it.

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