The Beachcomber Fall Guide

Decoy and Gunning Show to Attract Thousands to Tuckerton Sept. 24-25

Sep 19, 2016

The 34th Ocean County Decoy and Gunning Show highlights the Atlantic Brant, Branta bernicla, as the 2016 Bird of the Year. The Brant – a small sea goose and cousin to the Canada goose, with similar coloring but slightly different markings, flight pattern and call – was once a tastier game bird when its diet consisted mainly of eelgrass, but in recent decades, adaptations have made them less tasty, though still a thrill to hunt.

Such are the facts one learns at the decoy and gunning show, an annual celebration of the whole culture surrounding the baymen’s lifestyle, including family, food, music and camaraderie, and the epicenter of “every possible aspect of waterfowling and decoy collecting,” according to organizer German Georgieff.

The two-day festival takes place in Tuckerton the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25 this year, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The majority of the action takes place on the lake beach and surrounding lawns at Tip Seaman County Park, with additional happenings at the Tuckerton Seaport. Admission is free, and parking is available at the Seaport, Pinelands Regional High School and Freedom Fields Park. A shuttle bus system will run continuous loops.

Thousands come to relish some of the area’s oldest traditions, from antiques and collectibles to the trades, crafts and music, as well as the living history in every carver, skeet shooter, dog handler and duck caller demonstrating their craft and expertise. Enthusiasts come from near and far to support and take part in the decoy show and its many contests, making it an important stop on the national contest circuit.

Music and food also play an important part in shaping the event’s identity. The music tends to be of the country/folk persuasion; this year brings the talents of the Basement Musicians Guild and the duo Gary Struncius and Debbie Lawton to attendees’ ears. Helping to contribute to the festive atmosphere, the duo will set up near the food vendors, which offer non-competing menus for maximum variety. Spaces are given free to local nonprofit groups to sell edibles as a fundraiser. In addition, the Seaport offers fresh local seafood – scallops, shrimp, clams and oysters. It all comes together to create a sense of a neighborhood gathering and community support.

The heart and soul of the show have always been the decoy carving contests, according to Georgieff, though today’s extravaganza is a far cry from the earliest decoy shows, which basically amounted to a handful of local guys buying and selling decoys off the tailgates of their trucks.

Hundreds of working decoys, Barnegat Bay-style, Delaware River-style, traditional shorebird rig, contemporary and miniature, will be on display under the lakeside tents. Another 50 or so decorative decoys can be found inside the park’s community center, in categories such as fish, birds of prey, game/song/wading bird, shorebird and waterfowl.

The decoy show also honors photography and other artistic mediums, as well as trades associated with sporting – blacksmithing, for example, was vital for making tools such as clam rakes, and boat builders made sneak boxes for duck hunting and garveys for clamming and oystering. Exhibition shooting, retriever contests and the Delmarva Dock Dogs are always huge draws.

The ever-evolving collector’s market adds another layer of excitement to the event. Decoy values can range from a few hundred dollars to six figures, with the most sought-after being those never intended to be collectible. The ones that survived the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, which banned market hunting, rendering decoys useless for all but firewood, have genuine appeal. A household name among collectors is third-generation carver Harry V. Shourds II, who carved the decoy that served as the model for the 2016 Decoy Show collector’s pin, featuring the Brant. The special commemorative cloisonné pin is for sale at the Ocean County Parks and Recreation Department show booth, the entrance gate and the Seaport.

The show also supplies the needs of the modern hunter with state-of-the-art commercial equipment, gear and accessories for sale, reconciling the traditions of the sporting world with the latest technologies that will carry the industry into the future.

— Victoria Ford

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.