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How to Carve a Hunting Decoy
By Willy McDonald

The Hunting Decoy - Part 3

In the case of a "true" hunting decoy, it's the head that usually defines the attitude of the bird. By raising or lowering the head, and changing its side-to-side rotation, various attitudes can be portrayed utilizing a common body shape. Simple sleeping and preening attitudes can be achieved by turning the head backward. Feeders and dippers require a different head design, but can utilize the same basic body shape if the design is not extreme. Waterfowl in the process of landing are very accepting of decoy anatomy that is not quite kosher. For this head carving demonstration, I will follow a basic carving format utilizing simple rounding techniques.

Another integral part of decoy design is the keel. The main functions of the keel are to provide a place for anchorline attachment, to keep the decoy pointed into the wind, and to make the decoy self-righting. However, the inventive spirit of the waterfowler has created many more uses for the keel beyond the basic requirements. For instance, the keel can store anchor line or become a handle for easy wrapping of line around the decoy. Some keels are designed to dispense just the right amount of line to reach the lake bottom. Other designs allow for anchorline attachment at different spots to enable the decoy to face in different directions. For this article, I will show several basic and specialty keel designs.

The top and side views of the head were transferred from the pattern to the head stock and "locked in" during the band saw cutting process (see "The Hunting Decoy, Part Two," in the Spring 1999 issue). With two views already established, the rest of the head can be carved utilizing guidelines and simple rounding techniques.
Transfer the carving guidelines from the pattern to the top and side of the head blank:
A. Centerline
B. Width of crown
C. Eye channel
D. Cheek and neck rounding line
Transfer guidelines to the top, bottom and side of the bill. The widest part of the bill is at the bottom; the dotted line is a warning line not to remove wood in this area.
Cut in the width of the crown using a right angle cut, and remove the checkered section shown in the main photo. A knife or cylinder-shaped rotary rasp works well for this process.
Round the top of the head (crown) from the centerline to the eyeline. A 1/4" inch rotary rasp or knife works great.
Continue rounding from the eye channel to the dotted line on the cheek (line D), and then to the back of the neck centerline.
Cut a groove separating the cheek from the neck, and then finish rounding the neck. The lower cheek can be rounded at the neck area at this time.
This photo illustrates the various rounding spots on the head.
Next, round the bill from the centerline to the dotted safety line, leaving the small area at the top of the bill flat.
Drill the eye hole and increase the depth of the eye channel if needed. Final sand the head and install the eyes. Now it's time to design a keel.
This photo shows a variety of keel shapes and designs. The top keel is a molded lead design; the rest are cut out of hardwood for strength and weight. Extra weight can be added to the keel by pouring melted lead or gluing lead shot into holes drilled in the keel.
This bluebill hen from my rig has a very basic hardwood keel. Notice the leather strap for anchorline attachment, and the width of the keel.
The keel on this ringneck is designed so that you can wrap the anchorline around the keel for storage, thus keeping the decoy from damage caused by dangling anchor weights. This decoy is from my diver rig.
This is a Jim Wicks redhead decoy with a unique swing keel. Notice the anchor-line attachment in the close-up view. This keel is made of copper wire and lead. As an avid layout shooter who hunted on big water, Jim Wicks would put out a hundred decoys with this keel design.

Every waterfowler has a different opinion on keel design and usage. Many puddle duck hunters would just as soon not have a keel at all as they are hunting on small, calm bodies of water and feel that their decoys will move better with the slightest breeze without a keel. Big diver rigs in heavy waves demand a keel that keeps the decoy upright and into the wind. Whatever your hunting needs may be, experimentation is the key to satisfaction with your decoys' performance.

In our next installment of "The Hunting Decoy," we will put it all together by attaching the head and keel, and then painting the decoy.

We have had so many requests for the canvasback pattern used in this article series that we have included it on the back of the puffin pull-out pattern in this issue. 

Summer 1999 Wildfowl Carving Magazine

Part One | Part TwoPart Four

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