North Carolina

The making of decoys in North Carolina follows the same history as many Atlantic Flyway regions, with the years between 1850 and 1950 considered the golden years of the handmade decoy.

Cedar, pine, and balsa were the woods of choice by North Carolina carvers. However, some fashioned their lures with a wooden bottom board and a wire frame over which canvas was stretched for the body, and a wooden carved neck and head was attached. These canvas decoys were usually larger than the traditional wooden decoy and fashioned to lure geese and swans; and, sometimes small versions were crafted and fashioned to resemble brant, canvasbacks, and bluebills.

As with the iron decoys cast at the "Principio Furnace" in Maryland and used for ballast and camouflage for the "sink-boxes" on the Susquehanna Flats, cast-iron "wing ducks" were produced by a foundry in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. These cast-iron decoys were placed on the battery shooting rigs common in Currituck and Dare Counties prior to the 1935 Federal legislation outlawing the practice. Geese, brant, redhead, bluebill, canvasback, and even ruddy duck decoys were cast for this purpose.

As for the traditional hand carved decoy, the North Carolina school followed many of the styles and techniques used by carvers through the Chesapeake and Virginia areas. For example, decoys of coastal North Carolina are almost indistinguishable from those produced in the Back Bay area of Virginia. Nevertheless, North Carolina carvers are considered among the finest carvers of American waterfowl decoys. This school is particularly noted for its ruddy duck and snipe decoys.

While the majority of North Carolina carvers fashioned solid body, round or semi-V bottom lures, some carvers favored flat bottom decoys. Most decoys were nicely carved but with no wing or feather exaggeration, sanded and finished with simple paint patterns. One significant characteristic common to many North Carolina decoys is the type of tether or anchor line tie used -- Generally a nail was placed to protrude from the lower portion of the breast with the tether or anchor line fastened somewhat below and behind the breast nail. This breast nail provided a means to lengthen or shorten the tether or anchor line as necessary because of tide fluctuations common in the region.

Probably the most famous carvers from this school are Lee and Lem Dudley of Knotts Island. They made canvasback, black duck, mallard, redhead, bluebill, pintail, geese, wigeon, and ruddy duck decoys. Ned Burgess from Churches Island was probably North Carolina's most prolific carver whose speciality was canvas-over-wire-frame decoys, but also carved most species of divers and puddle ducks. John Williams of Cedar Island made many species of decoys but is best known for his swans.

Other noted carvers from this school include James Best; Alvirah Wright; Mitchell Fulcher; "Big Ike" Walter; George O'Neal; Gary Bragg; and Stanley Wahab.