Vail Valley: Ducks in depth
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –During the Ward Brothers decoy carving world championship, contestants are given a year to carve one duck decoy out of wood. Joe Jonas –who’s at work in the Vail Valley until Sunday –only used three months when he took fourth in 1995.
Grading for the tournament is so precise that decoys have to float at the right depth in the water, Jonas said.
Jonas has also taken first place in decoy carving competitions in 37 states.
Carving ducks out of wood is his life, and he strives to make them as life-like as possible, he said.
Jonas shapes the wood using saws, files and a variety of differently shaped knives. He uses a hot, thin blade to etch the individual strands for each feather on the bird and the tiny teeth into the bill.
He matches the color and tone of his paint to real birds, not pictures. Thin wing feathers flex for the realism, and “each bird is given a pooper,” he said.
He started carving decoys 28 years ago while he was duck hunting on rivers in Nebraska.
“One night we put them under the sand just before dark, at dusk, and covered them with willows. Came back the next morning, I had three of them I had carved, just rough for hunting, and someone stole them.
“So I said, ‘By God, if you want to start stealing my decoys I’ll start carving.’ From there it led to competitions” he said.
Now Jonas carves decoys for a living in his home in Spalding, Neb.
A life sized decoy usually takes three months to complete, he said.
He also makes small replicas of all 36 species of ducks to sell in complete sets, he said. He has made five of these sets so far, and each set takes over a year to complete.
Jonas has traveled to the Vail Valley for 20 years to carve decoys for Bill Reese, owner of the Battle Mountain Trading Post in Minturn.
“Ever since I met the guy I’ve been impressed with his work,” Reese said, “Now he’s been a good friend of mine for 20 years.”
He will be carving his ducks on the trading post’s front porch until July 12, for those who wish to view the work, and his decoys are on display in the shop for purchase. For more information call the Battle Mountain Trading Post at 970-827-4191.
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