Small Towns: Wood duck crafting

Posted at 3:15 PM, Oct 17, 2018

For over a decade, Bruce Urben has been blocking off chunks of time to whittle away a spot in the world of duck decoy creations.

"Working from a block of wood out it takes a little bit of time,” says Urben. “But it's a labor of love. You really tend to feed off it."

The inspiration behind the work was unknowingly turned on when Bruce was just 12 years old - that's when he was introduced to his lifelong passion of duck hunting.

"I hunt diver ducks a lot with both of my boys, so diver ducks are really the ones I focus on, but I’ve done all the puddlers and mallards,” Urben explains.

Starting with a hunk of white cedar, the bodies of Bruce’s ducks are shaved down and ground out to resemble something that the lifelong hunter will recognize. The fine details of the wings, feathers and every curve along the way are meticulously planned out.

"The important thing on decoys is that there's a symmetry between the left side and the right side," Urben explains.

Working from cheat sheets and a great deal of memory, Bruce’s patterns begin to give life, or at least the appearance of life, to his decoy.

The process is time consuming. The details of the duck's character are etched out and then painted on in such a manner that the decoy can possibly fool the real deal.

"Many of the decoys I’ve carved we've used," says Urben.

Even after a life time of trying to find the perfect bird in the wild Bruce has discovered that his creations are sought after sometimes just as much as the ones he has whittled into being.

"One of the guys that had hunted with us as we're pulling in decoys,” says Urben. “He was pulling one in and said, ‘You know, one of these days you're going to be missing one of these. It's going to be gone.’ He has one of them now. It's sitting on his mantle."

This is where Bruce Urben continues the process of giving life to something lifeless and giving memories the chance to be embodied in a form that makes an experience tough to forget.

"Keep thinking back to those old birds that I had done when I started out, and in fact both of my boys have some of the old ones, and I told them I wanted them back. But I haven't gotten them back yet."