A History of Decoys : Louisiana
Louisiana was and still is recognized as a prime destination for waterfowling. The diverse terrain ranges from the rice, bean, and grain fields of the north, to the bald cypress and tupelo of the south. It was there that hunters could watch massive flocks of mallards, blues, snows, and speckled bellied geese fly over the skies in search of their field to feed. There the guides would go with their clients for $3 a day in hopes to fill their bags and make another dollar cleaning and distributing their haul. The north was so plentiful with food and cover that there was little need for decoys, this is why the vast concentration of early carvers came from the “Tilted Triangle” as it’s called – an area within fifty miles of a line drawn from Donaldsville to Grand Isle. This area was a vast marshland where the terrain is covered in a few feet of water and unpredictable soil that can be hard as a rock in some spots and barely support a man’s weight in the next. This odd terrain with little natural food compared to the north is what forced early waterfowlers to resort to carving lightweight decoys they could use to lure ducks into their trap.
Due to the lack of cataloging and records from that day, the art of tracing down many carvers has been quite confusing. And no, Duck Dynasty was not the first to do it… Many accords attribute their carved decoys as “my grandfather’s” when in fact they could have been carved by many others in the mixed bag.
One skilled carver was Nicole Vidacovitch. He originally arrived in the US on a boat from Yugoslavia in the late 1800s where it is rumored he jumped from a ship and swam to the shore somewhere around Empire, Louisiana. Nicole had a passion for the outdoors growing up and worked as a guide for the Delta Duck Club where they brought in pounds and pounds of duck, geese, deer, oyster, and fish for the market (when market hunting was still legal). Nicole was soon recognized for his remarkable carving of cypress root decoys which he sold to multiple duck camps in the area for $18-$24 a dozen. Nicole was also known as a “traiteur” or faith healer. He was known to remedy migraines quite often and did so for free. Nicole was a well renowned man and loved by many in the area for much more than his decoys.
Another Master Carver was Mark McCool Whipple. Born in the bayou of Bourg in 1884, he was an inspiration for many carvers to come in that area. Mark was a tugboat captain who spent his free time carving, hunting, and guiding. Mark was seen as one of the best marksmen in the area, largely due to his 32 inch full choke 12 gauge he named “Ole Doube”. The Whipple decoys are some of the most plentiful still around because of Mark and his brother’s enormous love and energy for the sport. They used tupelo gum cut from the bottomlands of the basin, and their decoys rarely showed shakes or splits since they took enormous care in drying and painting each one.
This is just a small part of the history that these duck carvers from Louisiana have left behind. There are many many more carvers that have inspired generations to come with their exceptional work. These men are known as pathfinders in wetland heritage. Their long, lightweight designs specifically carved for the terrain are largely sought after by collectors and museums to display. We can only be thankful that these men and others inspired their next of kin to pass down the traditions of call making and bring this art with the family name forever.
This is Part 1 of The History of Decoys! Join next week for another region, thanks for reading and be sure to like and share on Facebook or Instagram.
Cited: Charles Frank: The Great Book of Waterfowl Decoys