Duck Soup on Saturday But Sunday Shines on Decoy and Gunning Show

Tuckerton Hosts 34th Annual Event
By PAT JOHNSON | Sep 28, 2016
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Rain on Saturday, sunshine on Sunday meant a mixed bag for attendance at the 2016 Ocean County Decoy and Gunning Show in Tuckerton this past weekend.

Saturday’s attendees were more of the outdoorsman/woman variety, not afraid to get their duds a bit damp while watching the “Skeet Shoot from a Sneakbox” contest or the antics of the “Duck and Goose Calling” contestants whose amplified squawks and squeaks were meant to raise the romantic interests of some feathered friends; chortles and chuckles were avian-talk for “good vittles over here.”

Because of the smaller crowd, vendors of duck boats, decoys and gunning trappings were taking extra time to talk with the public about their wares.

Jode Hillman was one of the award-winning decoy carvers at the show. His Delaware River style decoys are singular pieces of art. Yet Hillman was not sentimental about his ducks. “They are all water proof. If I don’t sell them, they’ll go in Delaware Bay and I hunt over them,” he said. Hillman maintains his own website, sends out a newsletter and teaches decoy carving. In fact he is teaching a class in carving a shoveler decoy at the Tuckerton Seaport in October.

His daughter Allison also carves. She won best of show in the OC Decoy and Gunning Show youth competition for the past two years.

Hillman also has the distinction of holding the state record for the biggest blue claw crab caught in New Jersey. He caught it two years ago on the Delaware while “sapping,” a way of crabbing at night holding a spotlight and net. “They come into the shallows at night to feed.”

The crab was 9½ inches from point to point. With its claws, it measured two feet. “I had ‘Goliath’ freeze-dried by a taxidermist and put in a shadow box. It hangs in my workshop.”

Because this is a gunning show attracting all types of hunters, Hillman was also selling his handmade box turkey call. The call is not made by blowing through a call but by friction of wood on wood. The call was a thing of beauty, made of box elder. “A type of beetle attacks the wood and brings a virus with it, and that virus makes a pretty red streak in the wood.”

Speaking of wood, Spike Wells was selling huge planks of red cedar cut in his sawmill near Atsion and Shamong in Burlington County. The blood red slices of cedar could be used for mantle pieces or tables, suggested Wells. He also had smaller chunks of Atlantic white cedar, which decoy carvers use because it is a soft wood, floats well and is impervious to insect damage. Because Atlantic white cedar is protected in parts of the Pinelands, Wells must get a permit to cut that type of wood. “But I cut all kinds: hardwoods like oak and maple, any kind. But I particularly like white cedar because it’s easy to cut. It’s the best wood there is.”

Out on Lake Pohatcong, county employees were setting up brant decoys for the Barnegat Bay Gunning Decoy Contest. Two judges watched as the decoys rode the tiny waves kicked up by the wind. John Holloway has been judging the contest for almost as many years as it’s been held. He had a sharp eye and a sharp wit as well. When asked what he looked for in judging the decoys he quipped, “I was looking for a nice brant, something that looks like a duck.”

When pressed further he replied, “Oh, I pick out little things that are wrong. And then we have the chore of picking the winner and making a whole bunch of people unhappy.”

Rednecks’ Pride sells bait and lure scents primarily used in deer hunting. The scents vary but most seem to have a “deer in heat” component. They also sell wildlife cover scents (to mask the odor of humans) in four scents: cedar, dirt, field and forest, and pine. Would you want your hunter to smell of dirt or pine? Easy question.

The company is owned by Ron Jones, who runs a Camden County wildlife control company. His entire family was on hand to help sell the 5- and 8-once bottles of scent. They also sell leg snares used by trappers or animal control officers.

A line of four “fishing scents” raised an eyebrow. “In 2009 we reformulated these scents with other oils to make them stronger and more appealing to the fish,” said an advertisement. Yeah, that would have to be one strong scent to penetrate through a trout stream or saltwater bay so a fish could smell it.

Oh, you don’t wear them? You put them on the bait? Oh. Novice mistake.

Three big gray boats attracted some attention. They looked like what flying saucers were imagined to look like in the 1950s. These are open water layout boats and Jake Reidnaver sells them through his Point Blank Layout Boat Co., based in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Reidnaver said the boats have no motors so they are towed to a good spot on a bay, lake, even the ocean, and hunters lay back and rock away the hours waiting for the V of waterfowls to cross their field of vision. Then it’s easy to reach for the gun, sit up and… blam! Then lay back down as the boat tender retrieves the birds. This kind of hunting seems akin to “Glamping” (glamorous camping).

On the other end of the spectrum, Ken Barnett from Mullica, Atlantic County, makes the ultimate survivor-type duck blinds. His camouflaged plywood “coffin” boxes are modified from specifications he found on the New Jersey Waterfowlers website. Over the years he found he had to make them more comfortable. “Once I had my winter parka on, I had a hard time getting in the narrow box, so I made them 32 inches rather than 30 inches wide.”

The boxes are then covered with camouflage, woodsy material to fool the ducks and geese. “These are portable blinds, not boats. They are not recommended as boats, although in an emergency they could be paddled. But I’m not suggesting you do that in January or February and risk falling in the water.” Again, a tender boat to take you to the blind is wanted or if on a pond, a walk to the edge of the water, and a hop in before sunrise. “Most guys end up falling asleep in them.”

Over 20 years, Barnett has sold them from Boston to Charlotte and shipped them west to St. Louis and South Dakota.

Barnett is a trustee of the New Jersey Waterfowlers Association, so it was a fair question to ask if waterfowl hunting is on the upswing, decline or about the same.

“Participation-wise, it doesn’t seem like young kids want to hunt; they’d rather stay inside and play video games. So the recruitment to the ‘hunting as a fraternity’ is down,” he said.

And that does not bode well for conservation of woodlands and wetlands.

“Most of the people who do conservation work are hunters. Ducks Unlimited is a group of hunters who want to keep the wetlands conserved so they can hunt. Most anti-hunters don’t have a clue to that.

“And hunting is not cheap,” Barnett added. “You have to have boats, guns, clothes, etc. and the time to devote to it.

“New Jersey Waterfowlers are a voice for the hunter on the state and federal level. Next Sunday we are having a New Waterfowlers Clinic here in Tip Seaman County Park (8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the community center) with a retriever demo, and it’s open to anyone new to hunting.

“It used to be advertised to boys and girls but it wound up being four of us guys and maybe one or two kids. So we opened it up to anyone new to hunting who wants to learn. We have a lot of women who are interested.”

To sign up for the clinic, go to or call 732-842-6375. The free clinic includes coffee, doughnuts and lunch.

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