The art of using decoys to lure waterfowl dates back hundreds of years. Native Americans were ingenious in there uncanny ability to survive in the wilderness with very primitive means. These very creative people would use just about anything they could get their hands on to create look alike creatures that resembled the game that they were hunting. Cattails and different grasses were the first primary materials they would use to create the first decoys. They would assemble floating decoys that resembled the very game they were hunting. By doing so they would lure the waterfowl into their nesting areas whereby they could then snare the birds by various means such as netting or the use of a bow and arrow. The Native Americans were masterful in their knowledge of the migratory waterfowl flight patterns. They would maintain their villages in close proximity to the local water ways, ponds, and lakes. Hence, the first duck decoys were born.
The world’s first mass produced duck decoys were manufactured in Salt Lake City, Utah, bringing a high quality, reasonably priced, easy to carry and set-up duck decoy to the average duck hunter. These decoys were produced in a rubber material. Early decoys were carved from wood which often became water logged and did not last long. Later, decoys were carved from a cork product. While the cork decoys were more buoyant and lighter to carry, the cork duck decoys also had a shorter life span due to the wearing over an extended period of time. Recently, many decoys are produced from blow-molded plastic. Decoys in general have become relatively inexpensive and very light weight. However, some of these decoys are easily damaged and must be replaced often. Decoys have also been made from Styrofoam with cloth covers. However, these decoys are easily torn and destroyed. Another material used in making decoys has been urethane foam which produces a solid foam decoy. The solid foam decoy is however brittle and therefore subject to breakage. This type of foam decoy does not allow the decoy to have detailed features to more accurately mimic a live water fowl.
Duck decoys are created to mimic the shape and coloration of water fowl. Various types of decoys are used on land while other types of decoys are used to float in water. The floating decoys are placed by the hunter in water to which the ducks are attracted. The decoys typically have a fowl shaped body made of a buoyant material using a variety of methods. Many decoys today are very realistic with amazingly intricate feather detail, true-to-life paint jobs and anatomically precise shapes. Some of the most fascinating duck decoys are the newest motion decoys that offer great durability and a rotating wing motion that is quiet and effective thanks to its specially designed heavy duty direct drive motor and aluminum spinning wings.
Aside from using duck decoys for hunting, many avid collectors have treasured hunting for the older and signed decoys. Before duck decoys began to be seriously collected in the 1970s, they were thought of as another form of folk art. Now they are known as the duck hunter’s art. There are examples of some decoys that come to auction and sell for a few hundred dollars. Of course, they won’t be signed by one of the master carvers, and may be late 20th century. Unless you know what to look for, you may end up buying a recent reproduction. Some fine examples of decoys were factory made and are worth collecting. The Mason Decoy factory of Detroit Michigan made the first factory decoys (1896-1924). William Mason was a dedicated waterfowl hunter. He began making handmade decoys in 1890 of cedar blocks with heads carved and finished by hand. On an assembly line basis, the decoys were put together, painted and affixed with glass eyes. Auction prices vary widely for them. As low as $200.
Whether you are using decoys for hunting, collecting, or just intrigued at the history of this fascinating discovery we wish you well in your ventures.