MANITOBA can boast some of the best outdoors-style craftspeople in Canada. We have painters and knife makers, and some of Manitoba's woodcarvers are beginning to take the decoy carving world by storm.
As many know, decoys are used by most waterfowl hunters to help lure birds within shotgun range, and the art of wooden decoy carving goes back many hundreds of years. Back in the "old days," wooden decoys were the norm and the collecting of those antique decoys has become an obsession for many. In fact, there are decoy styles that typify certain carvers and certain regions of North America. For example, Manitoba's own Delta Marsh, for decades a treasured waterfowling area, has its very own "Delta-style" wooden decoy.
The Manitoba decoy carving tradition is thriving, thanks in large part to the Oak Hammock Carving Guild. The guild is a group of about 20 dedicated carvers who regularly meet at the Oak Hammock Centre (OHC) to create wooden decoys and other types of carving as well. And according to master carver Bill Palmer, Manitoba's carvers rank right up there with the very best.
"Manitoba's decoy carvers can truly be described as world-class," said Palmer. "Take St. Claude's Jean Minaudier, who creates stunning decoys, and when he attends the World Carving Competition, he literally cleans up."
During the weekend of May 15 and 16, the guild held the seventh annual Decoy Carving Competion at OHC. According to Palmer, the event is designed to test the skills of Manitoba's master carvers to create real traditional hunting decoys that can be taken into the marsh.
"We had three categories," explained Palmer. "There are the true hunting decoys that are sturdy and painted with oils so they won't deteriorate in the water. Then we have the traditional hunting decoys that most often end up in collections, and then we have the contemporary hunter decoy class where the carvers' imaginations take over with often stunning results."
Interestingly, the decoy judging takes place literally in the water. Decoys are placed in the marsh and three judges carefully grade the "birds" based on their actual utility in the duck blind.
"Many guild members are dedicated waterfowlers," explained Palmer, "which explains why our fall weekend workshops have fewer attendees; they are all in the marsh with their decoys and shotguns."
Bunch of winners
Best of Show winners were: Danny Myhal, novice division; Ron Pozernick, intermediate division; and Saskatoon's Harvey Welch, open division. The Oak Hammock purchase award went to Ray Minaudier for his black scoter; the Richard Whittom award went to Frank McFarlane for his merganser drake head; the Rod Fowler Memorial purchase award went to Doug Carson of Neepawa for his plover; the Ross Gage purchase award went to Al Whitfield for his antiqued Shorebird. A merganser hen by Harvey Welch received the Best of Show award.
Note: The Minnedosa Delta Waterfowl Chapter is holding a sporting clay shoot near Erickson on June 12 and 13 to raise funds for their mentored youth waterfowl hunts. It promises to be challenging and a lot of fun and it's for a good cause. Call Mike Bonner at 848-7582 or Terry MacKay at 467-5824 for more information.