HARKERS ISLAND — Decoy lovers from near and far traveled to Harkers Island for a weekend full of waterfowl.
The Core Sound Decoy Festival was held Saturday at Harkers Island Elementary School, while Waterfowl Weekend was held Friday and Saturday at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center. Both events continue Sunday.
For the past 32 years, the elementary school has filled with decoys and other waterfowl activities as carvers come to share their craft.
In the school’s cafeteria Saturday, a crowd watched as judges critiqued several rounds of floating decoys. Judges were looking for the lifelikeness of the bird and its floating ability.
As well as the decoy competition, the festival featured several exhibitors set up throughout the school. Among them was Leaning Tree Game Calls out of Sampson County, featuring the work of Alan Page.
Mr. Page brought along wood duck calls, turkey calls, deer calls, salt and pepper shakers, a cheeseboard and all kinds of different crafts. He and his daughter Skye have been participating in the decoy festival for many years.
“Dad started out doing decoys and carving in competitions,” she said. “Then he started turning and doing duck calls, so he said he might as well buy a booth.”
Mr. Page said he enjoys mingling with the crowd and seeing people purchase his merchandise.
“It just feels like tradition at this point,” he said. His daughter agreed.
While people browsed through the items at his booth, Mr. Page demonstrated the different type of calls.
The wood duck call has a high-pitched frequency. The mallard call is loud, while the regular duck call sounds, well, a bit like you’d expect.
Mr. Page made all of his calls and designed the art on the pieces, as well.
Another attendee at the event was this year’s featured carver, Dr. Stan Rule.
“It’s a real treat to be complimented by the people you enjoy so much,” he said when asked about his thoughts on being this year’s featured carver. “To have your friends want to honor you…it feels good.”
Dr. Rule said he brought along 80 carvings and the activity has become a hobby for him.
“I do 40 to 70 birds a year,” he said. “Shore birds are 30 to 40 percent of what I do.”
Dr. Rule said he also carves decorative birds and hunting birds.
Russel Fish, one of the day’s competition winners, out of Chincoteague, Va., said he enjoys making working birds.
“I first carved for hunting, but in (19)82 I got talked into doing a show and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.
Waterfowl Weekend started Friday with the ticketed Friday Night Preview. It served as a sneak peek for what the weekend had to offer. There were exhibitors, carvers, artists and more.
During the Friday Night Preview Party, the annual Janice M. Smith Champagne Waterfowl Decoy Competition was held.
During the competition, carvers submitted their mini decoys. The decoys had to fit within a 3½-inch circle and float properly.
Walter “Brother” Gaskill has won the competition many times, but he said it’s harder than it looks.
“You have to pull everything down to a smaller scale,” he said. “It’s a lot harder than you think.”
Mr. Gaskill said it takes most of the day to carve the tiny decoy and then two to three hours to paint the bird, but he likes the challenge.
“I just like to compete anywhere,” he said. “It’s in my blood. You can’t help it.”
Mr. Gaskill competes in decoy competitions in California and Maryland, as well.
Those who weren’t able to attend the Friday Night Preview Party got a full glimpse of the vendors and exhibitors Saturday at the museum. Among them was Howard Bauer with Shore Things.
Mr. Bauer makes the trip to Waterfowl Weekend from Maryland each year. This year, he brought his decoys, both antique and those made to look old. He also brought along hand-carved Santas and penguins for the holiday season.
“I’ve been carving for 40 years and I still have all 10 fingers, so that’s a good thing,” he said.
Mr. Bauer said there was different steps to making the decoys look old.
Once he is done carving the bird, Mr. Bauer said he torches the decoy to make it looked aged. Then he uses a thin layer of paint. Sometimes he uses a mixture of vinegar and rust to give the decoy an antique look.
He said he uses several different types of wood to make his decoys and his favorite bird to carve is a ruddy duck, which takes about half an hour.
“They are little, and they are a cute little duck,” he said. “You can take liberties on these ducks.”
Mr. Bauer said he has been participating in Waterfowl Weekend for several years and enjoys the island’s atmosphere.
“Harkers Island is a lot like Rock Hall (Maryland),” he said. “There are a lot of watermen (here). The people down here treat you really well.”
Decoys weren’t the only thing on display at Waterfowl Weekend.
Tony Craig, a local artist, was on site showing his photographs and paintings of and inspired by the area.
Mr. Craig said he has been attending Waterfowl Weekend for five years. It was something he enjoyed participating in when he lived in Pilot Mountain, but now that he lives on Harkers Island it is easier to get involved
“I like to see everybody,” he said when asked about his favorite part of the weekend.
Waterfowl Weekend also featured book signings, porch talks and food.
Contact Megan Soult at 252-726-7081, ext. 223; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or follow on Twitter @meganCCNT.