Dollars from Decoys
Decoys carved by Chincoteague residents have evolved into a form of art that is highly respected and collected. But decoy carving itself originated in the long tradition of waterfowl hunting.
Ducks and geese have always been a part of life on Chincoteague. Located on the Atlantic flyway, the eastern route used by migrating waterfowl, the island and bay offer an enticing stopover. Until 1918, when the interstate sale of migratory birds became illegal, hunting ducks and geese for feathers as well as for meat provided income to several generations of islanders.
Today, decoy carvers continue to bring wood to life and the natural cycle of migrating waterfowl plays an important role in Chincoteague's tourist industry.
"Ducks Were My Living"
Ducks formed an important part of Miles Hancock's life. He remembered early 20th century "when the skies were filled with waterfowl." From his boat anchored in shallow and hidden with branches stuck in the mud, he "bagged 52 redheads with five shots" and "killed 106 broadbills in two hours." But, as he explained, the country was young and hungry…we
As times changed, Hancock did too. His natural knowledge made him a sought-after hunting guide. Using a variety of available wood, he began carving decoys for his gunning parties, painted them with house paint, and anchored them with sand-cast lead ballasts attached with television antenna wire.
Today, collectors prize original Hancock decoys.
Miles Hancock turning wood to art.
As a young man, Tom Reed was an "outlaw." He quit school to become a market gunner, and after 1918, spent many years hunting illegally. To elude game wardens, Reed fabricated hollow decoys for hiding his take. Later, he opened a wild duck farm and became a naturalist and colorful spokesman on island history.
Waterfowling has a long tradition in many wetland habitats. These tinted postcards illustrate the popularity of gunning as well as two different boats used by hunters.
Ira Hudson supplied both decoys and gunning boats to local hunters. Hudson sold his decoys for $4.00 a bird; however, as his birds have become collectibles, one of his carved decoys may sell for over $80,000.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Animals • Arts, Letters, Music • Industry & Commerce • Waterways & Vessels.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Fish So Fine (a few steps from this marker); Chincoteague's Front Door (a few steps from this marker); Chincoteague Timeline (a few steps from this marker); Bounty from the Sea (within shouting distance of this marker); Boats and Bridges (within shouting distance of this marker); You Had to Keep On (within shouting distance of this marker); Misty of Chincoteague (within shouting distance of this marker); So Terribly Helpless (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Chincoteague.
Credits. This page was last revised on January 19, 2021. It was originally submitted on January 19, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 34 times since then. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on January 19, 2021, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.