Aiming for Perfection: The 37th Ocean County Decoy and Waterfowling Show

Oct 02, 2019
Photo by: Pat Johnson Duck boats, decoys, dogs, a perfect combination at the 37th annual Ocean County Decoy and Waterfowling Show.

Two days of perfect weather and the 37th annual Ocean County Decoy and Waterfowling Show brought together crowds of hunters, artisans and dog lovers to Tip Seaman County Park and the Tuckerton Seaport Sept. 28-29.

Saturday was a bit warmer than expected and various sweatshirt sales were slow, but the food vendors had a great return during this unseasonable “picnic weather.” The tuneful, traditional songs picked by Gary Struncius on guitar and sung by him and Debbie Lawton pleased an early-morning crowd; the Basement Musicians Guild would power up the afternoon with covers of the Man in Black (Johnny Cash) and Roy Orbison.

Nearer the stage area, a contestant practicing for the New Jersey Duck Calling Championship played the strains of “Jingle Bells” from a duck call. This playfulness aside, the contest is a serious one, as the winner will go to the world championship in Stuttgart, Ark.

The park was filled with vendors catering to the waterfowler: functional decoys, sneak boats, weather gear and waders, A relatively new invention by North Carolinian John Evanson of Southern Flyway Outfitters was garnering attention. His “Decoy Raft” waterfowl platform is a kind of rug made of polypropylene mesh that can be deployed in as little as 25 seconds, said Evanson. “It’s an extremely easy and quick way to deploy decoys, and it mimics the way they (ducks) raft up.”

At home in their garage, hunters can clip their rig of decoys to the mesh, then pack it up easily in the duck boat. When at the site, the raft can be anchored and unrolled with decoys ready to float on the water. The raft automatically adjusts to the wind. When the day is ended, the raft can be easily picked up as well. Evanson has a small size for boats with limited space and a larger raft to hold up to 100 decoys for open seas.

“It’s been wildly successful, and I’m wildly happy,” he said. Jay Boone, a friend and outfitter also from North Carolina, said he uses the rafts and they work. “It’s a great friggin’ idea,” he said.

Decoy carver Jody Hillman from Mullica Hill carves both Barnegat Bay and Delaware decoys. Barnegat Bay decoys are hollow in the middle while Delaware birds are made of solid wood. He also sells decorative decoys and some unusual pieces, such as wooden oysters open on a wooden plate, and wooden butterflies.

“I always have some weird or unusual things on my table,” he said. “The butterflies are almost gone as the women like these, and they usually control the purse strings.” Hillman also makes a wooden turkey call that is a small drum shape sold with a decorative stick. Dragging the stick over the surface produces clucks that mimic turkey calls.

Mike Carter from Willingboro had his multi-apartment birdhouses for sale, but it was his bat boxes that caught the eye. A relatively small bat box would hold 20 bats, he said. “Put it 12 to 15 feet off the ground facing the southeast. A female bat only has one baby a year, that is born in September or October. The gestation is long, as the bats mate in February.” That’s one of the reasons that bats need human help, plus loss of habitat and white nose fungal disease. “But they are making a comeback,” said Carter.

All kinds of organizations use the day to get out the word about their doings. Ryan Miller was handing out information on his nonprofit “Hunters Helping Hunters.” The organization, formed in 2009, takes disabled military veterans, police and firefighters on hunting and fishing excursions all across the U.S.

Tuckerton Masonic Lodge #4 was selling cinnamon pretzels and deep-fried Oreos to the breakfast crowd. The lodge will be celebrating 200 years in 2020.

The Tuckerton Seaport was well represented by its Jersey Shore Heritage tent, with the Seaport Stitchers and master basket weaver Mary May at work. May had created a decoy out of cattails such as the Native Americans and Colonial hunters would have used. She also had a new basket weave product on display: decorative Indian corn made of colored flat reeds.

It was early in the day Saturday, but West Creek artist Thomas Rutledge had already sold two of his hand-painted roof slates. He paints the thick, antique slates with images of ducks, bay scenes and dogs that are highly collectible. Each one is unique.

There was much more to see and experience, such as contests in skeetshooting and retriever puppy training at the park, and a whole ’nother attraction at the Tuckerton Seaport: the Delmarva Dock Dog competition.

New this year in the park was a beer garden sponsored by the Seaport, where visitors could sample the local craft beers from Pinelands Brewery.

— Pat Johnson

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