Decoy Carving Workshop PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jackie Wolfinger   
Tuesday, 29 January 2013 17:46

This past weekend, William “Willy” McDonald held his annual Decoy Carving Workshop at the Bird Sanctuary! Students traveled from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin to learn how to carve and paint a Drake Northern Shoveler! This is an art that I find intriguing, but my only experience with decoy carving was creating an ice fishing decoy out of foam insulation with Lake State’s Fisheries and Wildlife Club. I was excited to be able to observe the whole duck decoy process, and as you can imagine, it had some striking differences from carving a fish out of insulation!

For starters, Willy is an award winning decoy carver.  He received the Michigan Heritage Award in 2007. He also writes for Wildfowl Carving magazine and has mentored two apprentices as part of MSU’s Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. When I asked Willy how he got into decoy carving, he said that “many, many years ago” he emceed Ducks Unlimited banquets. He told me that those experiences got him interested in ducks and decoy carving, and the rest is history! Currently, Willy and his wife, Diane, run an online store which sells carving supplies and instructional videos and features the work of Willy and other carvers.

Willy’s workshop got an early start on Friday morning (when I arrived at work at 8am, many of the students were already set up and ready to go!). Throughout the day, I watched the students turn a block of cork into the shape of a Northern Shoveler’s body. Willy told me that the students were using cork instead of wood for the body, because the way cork moves in the water is very similar to how a duck moves in the water. The next step was to create the shoveler’s head out of a small block of wood. The students cut the basic shape out first and then spent a lot of time filing away the wood until it looked just like the heads of the shovelers out on Wintergreen Lake! At the end of the second day, all of the students had a decoy that looked like this:

Fully constructed shoveler decoy that is ready to paint

A fully constructed shoveler decoy that is ready to paint

Sunday, the last day of the workshop, was for painting and when one of the greatest transformations occurred. The first coat of paint was black and white:

Shoveler decoy after a base coat of paint was applied

A shoveler decoy with the first coat of paint applied

When I stopped in a few hours later, the decoys had color added to them:

Shoveler decoy with basic identification colors added

A shoveler decoy with the basic identification colors

The final product included lots of details!

Completed shoveler decoy

Willy's completed shoveler decoy

Willy told me that the amount of detail needed depends on how you plan to use the decoy. He said if you want to use it as a decoration or enter it into a competition, lots of fine details are important. If you want to hunt with the decoy, having the basic shape and coloring of the duck you are trying to attract is all that’s necessary.

Overall I was very impressed with the workshop, and it was neat to see such a wide variety of people participating. One student was carving her very first decoy while another student has attended five of Willy’s decoy workshops. Some of the students said they planned to take their decoy duck hunting while others said they put too much work into their decoy to get it dirty, wet, and possibly shot at. One of the coolest parts of the workshop was looking at all the completed decoys at the end; I think the fact that even the beginning students’ decoys came out looking as great as the expert students’ decoys is a sign of a great teacher!

If you want to learn how to carve a decoy or brush up on your skills, Willy’s decoy workshops are the place to do it! Willy told me he plans to be back at the Sanctuary for another workshop in January of next year, so be sure to watch for information about that! In the meantime, you can catch Willy’s decoy carving demonstration at the ODCCA Decoy Carvers Show in March or check out some of his work on his store’s website, The Duck Blind!