Ocean County Decoy and Gunning Show Was a Blast
On Saturday at 7 a.m., residents of Tuckerton awoke to the sounds of gunshots coming from Tip Seaman County Park, but once they remembered the gunshots were the starting salvo of the 30th annual Ocean County Decoy and Gunning Show, they could just roll over and go back to sleep. The “Preliminary Skeetshoot from a Sneakbox” competition starts as soon as the light allows, and if you didn’t know what a sneakbox is, you could sashay over to the Tuckerton Seaport, which has the distinction of owning the world’s largest collection of the camouflaged, low-to-the-water boats that are used to spy on ducks during hunting season.
The Decoy and Gunning Show is a real economic shot in the arm for the area, and for two days, cars with license plates from as far south as Arkansas and South Carolina were seen entering the town’s borders. Foreign folks from all over the state walked the edge of Route 9, coming from their recently bagged parking spaces.
Overcast, cool weather on Saturday felt like the start of hunting season, and it was a slow crawl past the vendor booths selling hunting decoys and artist-decoys, various water boats, hunting dog paraphernalia and even Labrador retriever puppies. And more dogs than you could “shake at stick at” came to try their luck at the Delmarva Diving Dock Dog Competition (see accompanying story).
On Sunday, the sun shone and some famous decoy carvers were spotted in the vendor tents; Harry Shourds and Dave Rhodes were autographing decoy books obligingly. Over at the Tuckerton Seaport’s Folklife Center tent, members of the Seaport Stitchers were selling their homemade quilts and table runners, a basket weaver was plaiting an oak basket, and women decoy carvers were selling a book about themselves.
In the tents, serious decoy carvers could purchase glass eyes and cast-metal duck and shorebird feet, special carving tools and every kind of paint and paintbrush. Taxidermist Ray Vosseller collected a crowd around his mounted blue crab dioramas. Vosseller said he takes the top shell off dead crabs, uses dental tools to pick the meat out and then stews them in a chemical bath to make sure all stinky stuff is gone before wiring, painting, shellacking and mounting the crustaceans, pincers raised in threatening lifelike poses on his shore-themed table plaques. They serve as conversation pieces, he said, and were selling like hot cakes.
Wherever one walked in the park, kids were wild with anticipation, sneaking up on unsuspecting adults and blasting them with their inexpensive geese and duck calls.
Over on the Ocean County band shell, the serious duck- and goose-calling contestants were quacking and goose giggling up a storm. A real flock of Canada geese flew in to land on Lake Pohatcong and may have been making their own assessment of the multilayered ruckus.
Next to the band shell, sharpshooter and showman Tim Bradley drew the biggest crowd as he demonstrated shooting the Benelli line of shotguns, expertly blasting clay pigeons from the hip, then shooting with his gun upside-down.
At the start of his demo, the real Canada geese rose from the water with great splashes and wheeled overhead while the crowd, tired of avoiding the ubiquitous goose poop, urged Bradley to “shoot them!” Bradley declined, though he boosted he could get the entire flock of about 20 if it weren’t illegal to do so. Instead, he focused on decimating all kinds of foodstuffs from eggplants to cabbages and a dozen or more hardboiled eggs thrown by eager teen volunteers.
Sales were slow, however, in the decorative decoy tents, a reminder that the recession is not over yet. Tuckerton Councilman Ryan Short had won a first place in the Traditional, Stick-up confidence decoy for his Great Egret and had won a first last year for his stick style egret. His elegant folk-style decoys would blend with any home decor from modern to country., yet he had sold just one bird on Saturday.
Still, it was a couple of days of meeting and greeting residents and visitors and great for the community, he said.
The two-day event celebrating the great outdoors closed on Sunday with the Hurley Conklin awards given to individuals who embody the bayman’s way of life. This year’s recipients were sawmill owner Anthony Schairer from Galloway Township and Capt. John “Jack Jr.” Kennell from Point Pleasant, a longtime charter boat captain.
— Pat Johnson