Ramsey meets with Chesapeake Bay waterfowling historian and preservationist, C. John Sullivan, at the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, Maryland to larne about this region’s fabled history. From market hunting tools-of-the-trade to legendary carvers, we gain insights into why the Chesapeake Bay’s history is so well preserved and, in a sense, who we are as duck hunters.


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A Good Day for Ducks

Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere where today I am in Easton, Maryland at the Waterfowl Festival, if you’ve not heard of it, you should have, if you’ve not been here, you need to start adding it to your short list of things to do, it is utterly amazing. Today’s guest, Mr. C. John Sullivan, who’s a historian and preservationist of a lot of very fascinating Chesapeake Bay Waterfowl Hunting heritage. John, how are you today? I’m glad to see you finally.

John Sullivan: I’m in great shape today and I’m happy to be here.

Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s raining outside like ducky weather anyway?

John Sullivan: Yeah, it looks like a good day for the ducks.

Ramsey Russell: How long have you been coming to this event?

John Sullivan: Well, the show is 51 years old and I have been coming for 51 years and I’ve been an exhibitor here for over 40 years. And I focus today primarily on the artifacts displays where I’m bringing historic decoys and accouterments used by waterfowl hunters and some guns along this year, I particularly brought a powerful punt gun used on the Chesapeake Bay along with me and further down the bay on the Smith Island area, a battery gun, a 3 barrel device, ran out of room or I would have had a couple more here.

Ramsey Russell: What’s the difference in the Chesapeake Bay punt gun versus a battery gun? Obviously this one down here, the battery gun has 3 barrels, the punt gun looks like a great big musket. Were they used similarly or differently or in different eras?

John Sullivan: You used at the same period of time and I think you got a wider spread with a battery gun with 3 barrels and those barrels are a little over a 4 bore gauge for the 3 barrels, some of them were 5 barrels or even more. Fascinating about the history of these large bore guns, Maryland was the premier conservation area for illegal hunting and these guns were outlawed in Maryland as early as 1832. And the description in the legislation was any gun that couldn’t be conveniently fired from the shoulder. Well, when you have this punt gun which weighs about 90lbs not many people are going to hold that up to their shoulder, they were mounted on a boat, rested on a sandbag in a small skiff, primarily use at night time, you use night paddles to paddle up on the resting ducks and get one shot and the birds were sold to the market.

Ramsey Russell: And it was all about efficiency, it was all about – it wasn’t about human greed and average, it was about efficiency, one shot, the most ducks to sell in the market and feed my family. You bring up a good point, I’ve never heard this before, John, you say that the punt guns, battery guns that form of hunting was made illegal in 1832, that’s almost three quarters of a century preceding The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, I thought that’s what made everything illegal.

How Did You Become a Chesapeake Bay Waterfowl Historian and Preservationist?

John Sullivan: But then we started in Maryland really early and of course, they were used illegally up probably, after 1900 they were still being used illegally primarily for night. Many of the guns were lost because they would put them overboard, when the ducking police that which we had on the Susquehanna Flats, they had a special conservation police called ducking police on the Susquehanna Flats between Hartford County and Cecil County, the large estuary called the Flats which is the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Ramsey Russell: This punt gun you’ve got right here on display, looks like it’s been sitting on the bottom of the bay for a while.

John Sullivan: It has. I think, it left its days as a killing machine and went in a damp old barn down outside of Havre de Grace, where I found it.

Ramsey Russell: How did you get into this? How did you become a Chesapeake Bay Waterfowl historian and preservationist?

John Sullivan: Curious tale of how I got my start. My father was a county assessor looking at real estate to value for tax purposes and the gentleman that he worked with grew up on a part of the land in Hartford County Maryland, which became the Aberdeen proving ground and that gentleman had been a waterfowler his entire lifetime always. And he gave my father a pair of old decoys, they sat in the living room on the hearth next to the family fireplace. And apparently, I became fascinated with those as a youngster and they would travel up to my bedroom or they go on display and the next day they disappear out of my bedroom and go back to the fireplace hearth. And finally, my maternal grandmother gave me my very own decoy and it became the focal point in my bedroom. It was on display from the time I was about 11 years old and moving forward into my adult life when I started my life as a tax assessor looking at real estate around the county and I worked with a gentleman out of Havre de Grace by the name of R. Madison Mitchell Jr, his father was one of the preeminent carvers in the city of Havre de Grace. And I expressed my desire to have a few more decoys to young Mr. Mitchell. And he would get decoys from his father and sell them to me on Monday morning after he’d worked in the shop making decoys over the weekend and I paid $6 a piece for ducks and $8 a piece for Canada geese. And then the big expenditure of a full size Madison Mitchell Swan in the 60s was $100. And Mr. Mitchell discovered that I like the old ones as well as the new Mitchell decoys. So hunters would bring in their rigs to Mitchell’s shop to have them repainted and they didn’t care what they got back, so they get New Mitchell decoys and I would get to buy the old decoys going into Mitchell shops for repaint. And it started this passion which grew, there was a period of time anything that looked like a duck would come home with me, then I refine that collecting to strictly Chesapeake Bay decoys. And I have a few others that step outside that realm, but most of the things in my collection are from the Chesapeake Bay and primarily the Susquehanna Flats.

Ramsey Russell: What decoy did your grandmother give you, do you remember?

John Sullivan: I didn’t bring it along today, but it was made over in the Cecil County side of the Susquehanna Flats by a carver named Captain Benjamin Dye, still have it with me to this day. And later in life, I found out which hunting rig it had belonged to a family by the name of Heisler that had a large sink box rig they used on the Susquehanna Flats. And I had the letter H carved on the bottom and I took it to the – found out that there was a Heisler family and they identified that as their family brand. Most of the early decoys when people asked the question, what is the decoy signed? Well, they weren’t being signed by the carvers in those days, they would be branded by what rig it went to, which hunter used that decoy and he would brand it, that’s probably one of the elements of my collecting that I’ve really honed in on these decoys with brands from gunning clubs and from individuals.

Characteristics of a Chesapeake Bay Decoy

They have rounded bodies for riding on the water, as you would travel across the Susquehanna Flats, a curious, a style differential developed. 

Ramsey Russell: I’m just going to fly off into decoys for starts, what defines Chesapeake Bay decoys as compared to other parts of the United States? What is it specifically that makes it a Chesapeake Bay decoy?

John Sullivan: They have rounded bodies for riding on the water, as you would travel across the Susquehanna Flats, a curious, a style differential developed. And on the Havre de Grace side, the decoys typically have a little up sweep to the tail, where on the Cecil County side of the Susquehanna Flats, they had a more defined paddle tail, two different styles and easily identified by that. And again –

Ramsey Russell: I can see it sitting here in your booth. I can see the up tail sweep off of these and I can see the paddles tail off of these, that’s very interesting.

John Sullivan: What you’re looking at there is that I have a Canada goose that changed the species and became a swan and it was made in the Havre de Grace by a member of the Holly family in this case, James T. Holly. And you can see that very clearly you have an upswept tail to it. And that style is still being carried on in that tradition today in the city of Havre de Grace, they use that same exact style where that decoy there that Canada goose is probably made in the 1880s and if you look at a brand new Canada goose from Havre de Grace you’re going to see a very similar characteristic of that tale.

Ramsey Russell: I want to adjust your mic just to tag because it’s rubbing on your mustache area. Is that good, that comfortable? That’s okay. That’s very interesting. What other characteristics to find definitively the Chesapeake Bay Decoy?

John Sullivan: You the rounded body for floating out there on the water in the upper Chesapeake Bay, you move down the bay to the Crisfield area where the Ward brothers are some of the most famous carvers on the planet. The Ward brothers, their decoys typically have a flat bottom on them, completely different style and the whole length of the bay, they would use a lead ballast to balance the decoy in the water. They have photographs of a carver from Havre de Grace that was appeared in the National Geographic magazine in the 1920 of Robert F. McGaw floating his decoys in a galvanized wash tub in his shop to make sure they would float right and to pinpoint the location of where he would put his lead ballast weight on the bottom of that.

Ramsey Russell: Were they hunting in different types of water, is it shallower or -?

John Sullivan: Well, as you get down the bay, it would be more shallow water in the Crisfield area and a deeper – the purpose of the rounded bottom, so they would ride themselves if a wave would hit them, they’d float back up in the proper position.

Ramsey Russell: Who were some of the earliest carvers in Chesapeake Bay? How many were there at peak when it boomed the most?

John Sullivan: There’s probably at least a dozen in the Upper Chesapeake Bay that we can identify by name, perhaps even more than that. But you had a lot of carpenters and cabinet makers that made their own rigs that will never be identified, they will remain the anonymous unknown carvers. And for those that follow the decoy auctions, many times an unknown decoy will bring every bit as much money as a known carver, strictly because of the style and form. One of the best things that I have in my collection sitting there above the preserving our waterfowling heritage sign is a decoy that I purchased this past year that no one has identified, it’s a preening swan decoy with a great shelf at the neck rest on and a paddle tail and a two part body. And that decoy, when I purchased it and I sent a picture from my phone to my son who’s accompanied to these shows, since I was carrying him as a toddler, his eyes are perhaps a bit sharper than his father’s. And when I showed him the decoy and he looked at the bottom of it, it wears the brand Weissler and the Weissler could have been a gunning scow or it could have been an individual’s name that fact remains elusive to the collecting community. But Weissler was a very hard brand to find and there’s some Susquehanna Flats decoys wearing that brand and then there’s unknown decoy wearing that same brand.

Ramsey Russell: It’s interesting to me how at a glance, all of the Chesapeake Bay style decoys, you go, that’s from Chesapeake Bay. At a glance to me, to a novice appreciator, but to a nuanced, someone like yourself or like some of the local carvers, for example, I’ve got a pair of black head decoys, I just have thought forever they were Jim Pierce, they’re unsigned. I met with Jim Pierce just the other day and I showed his son a picture he goes, no, that’s Paul Gibson. What did he see or what do you think he saw that made a difference? I guess, it’s almost like a lot of these carvers had their own signature, maybe they had a taller head, maybe they had a different method of painting.

John Sullivan: Well, what Jimmy Pierce, again, he’s one of the foremost carvers from the Havre de Grace area and he learned in Mitchell’s shop and he carries on the tradition that came down through the Holly Families. One characteristic, the bodies for most of those decoys from Havre de Grace are turned on a lathe, a duplicating lathe that came into use in Havre de Grace by Robert F. McGaw. In about 1929, he started using a duplicating lathe, so the body are nearly identical in form. But the Gibson body which Jim Pierce looked at the black head decoy you have is a chunkier. It’s a fatter looking bird, it’s a sturdy decoy. Paul Gibson made some wonderful decoys and I had a great association, spent a lot of time in his shop with him just talking to him and he shot a lot of rabbits that was one of his passions besides the gunning sinkbox, he had always kept beagles and he was an upland hunter as well, but he made a very sturdy decoy, very practical decoy that could be used hard and held up well.

Ramsey Russell: One of the most interesting things I learned from Mr. Pierce and talking to him, he explained, he started carving as a little boy when he was 14 years old, he was a hunter with his family, he described growing up and working in association with Mr. Mitchell a very long time. But what he described about that era is, he described the people of Havre de Grace more as water men than duck hunters. In other words, some of the most astute carvers or hunters of canvasbacks, market hunting or not, it was seasonal. Now it’s duck season, but then there’s lobster season, there’s cod season, there’s oyster season, they just lived on the water all the time. And maybe a lot of these unheard carvers, you’re talking about – I’m trying to lay out this timeline because at one time, you had these water men that were market hunting, implying their trade on whatever the Chesapeake Bay would produce for market, then it began to evolve, but at some point in time, you had commercial carvers, Mr. Mitchell, for example, was a undertaker of a funeral home and yet he made decoys to sell to hunters. But then they were the hunters that just use whatever raw material they could make to make a stool to go out and shoot these birds to feed their family or feed the market. How would you describe in historical perspective, a timeline maybe that transition or that aura between the water men that were just feeding their families or feeding the market versus today’s sportsmen and how it would be projected in the evolution of decoys along the Chesapeake Bay?

John Sullivan: You can see that today with some of these carvers in the town of Havre de Grace, the Jobes family in particular, the youngest of those brothers, there’s a father who passed away, Captain Harry Jobes and then there’s the 3 sons that carve and the youngest of those carvers Joey Jobes, he spends his life on the water. I mean, I think his boat is called the Chesapeake Sun and when he’s not making decoys, he’s out on his Susquehanna Flats. He’s crabbing, he’s catching rockfish and then he takes parties out and we have a sport pretty much unique on the Susquehanna Flats called body booting. And the sink box was outlawed in 1934, so starting in the 35 season, it is a great slowdown in waterfowling in that region. And then someone came up with the idea that if they stood in the water in chest deep water with surrounded by decoys, they could accomplish the same thing that they would lying on their back in the sink box. And Captain Joey Jobes takes parties out body booting. I went out with him a couple of years ago with my son and my grandsons and reluctantly I didn’t get in the water and when the boys got in the water, it was up to their waist and when they got out of the water, it was chest high and you’re holding the gun up out of the water and it didn’t seem like a lot of fun to me, but the sport was great and they got a variety. I mean, they shot canvasbacks and black heads and black ducks and a few buffleheads the same day. I mean, it was a good sport.

Forms of Chesapeake Bay Duck Hunting

For some reason, I associate the punt gun, the battery guns, sink box, old sink box with Chesapeake Bay duck hunting.

Ramsey Russell: For some reason, I associate the punt gun, the battery guns, sink box, old sink box with Chesapeake Bay duck hunting. Did it originate here? Did those forms of hunting originate here or is the history just from here so well preserved it seemed like it?

John Sullivan: The era of the sink box on the Susquehanna flats, we feel that, all the history that I’ve read about it, that sport of the sink box originated up in the area of Long Island around New York and there was a huge outcry when they tried to make that illegal up there. And you had these sportsmen, wealthy sportsmen at that time, not market hunters, but wealthy sportsmen that made this trip to the Susquehanna Flats and they brought the sink box down with them and it became the mode of shooting on the Susquehanna Flats. And the harvest that they would accumulate with the success of the sink box is just unbelievable in the days, killing a 100 decoys out of a sink box, you can’t imagine that today and of course, legislation and all stop that and the decrease in the flocks, but it must have been tremendous sport. They also use the bushwhack method was used there where you’d have a small craft and you would paddle up and then literally drift up in to your decoys and great sport with curtains on the front of the bushwhack boat disguising it, everything would be white and the hunter would have a sculler in the back. So there’d be no motion, no power motor on it and no one splashing the oars, it would be a scull out of the back of that bushwhack boat.

Preeminent Waterfowl Species of the Chesapeake Bay

How important was the canvasback to the Chesapeake Bay?

Ramsey Russell: It seemed to me that the canvasback was the preeminent waterfowl species of the Chesapeake Bay. A lot of decoys, a lot of history, it was commanding top dollar back in the market hunting days and it seemed to be, it’s still one of the most popular species of Chesapeake Bay. How important was the canvasback to the Chesapeake Bay?

John Sullivan: Well, they shipped them overseas, believe it or not, they would actually ship these over to families in Great Britain and up and down the East coast and the presidents would dine on them and they were sold by the market hunters to the best hotels up and down the east coast canvasbacks was king. What is curious in my researching, I’ve extremely fortunate to own a number of gunning logs and have access to the historic gunning logs in the various historical societies. But they shot as many blue bills and redheads as they did canvasback some time, I just did research on a club which became part of the Aberdeen proving ground by presidential proclamation in 1918. But they shot a lot of bluebills at the Elton Ducking Club, many more bluebills than can back the canvasback sort of were a rare thing to appear in a lot of these early logs, even though they were epicurion’s delight.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. And Chesapeake Bay canvasbacks commanded absolute top dollar. We’ve talked to historians down in Texas, I’ve talked to folks over in Utah who they killed lots of canvasbacks. But in fact, I hunted at a camp in Utah, John, that was named at one time the Chesapeake Bay Club, so that when they ship their canvasbacks, historically back to the east coast, they could get top dollars instead of Utah, the old third rate for them canvasbacks.

John Sullivan: Well, the Susquehanna Flats that were filled with this wild celery grass and that’s what brought the canvasbacks there because they would feed on this wild grass. And unfortunately, that was wiped out by a number of the – by pollution and major storms took the celery grass out of the upper Chesapeake Bay.

Ramsey Russell: You make a good point because I talked to some folks just last night that were under the impression however, malign that over hunting market hunting is what caused a decline in waterfowl populations. And I explained to him, no, that’s not the case, it was not over hunting, it was loss of habitat pursuant to civilization, building up.

John Sullivan: Loss of habitat and in the case of the particularly of the canvasback duck, the loss of this wild celery grass.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. One of the most interesting things in the whole annal of waterfowl history that I’ve stumbled across was that it was hunters, sport hunters that ushered in conservation, not purely for conservation, they just wanted to push the market hunters out of the way because they wanted to go out and shoot more ducks. And hey, we’re stuck with some great laws, the North American model and everything else, but I find that period of time very interesting at some point in time for whatever reason, sport hunting entered the scene and began to legislate market hunters to the sidelines that they could go out and shoot more ducks, but then it became a real big conservation movement. Have you ever stumbled across that in your research?

John Sullivan: Well, the Carols Island Ducking Club is one of the most famous ducking clubs in the Upper Chesapeake Bay and in their logs, which I’ve been fortunate enough to research and spend a lot of time studying, if they would hear a punt gun being fired at night, they would make a point of searching for that punt gun and capturing it on their own rather than bringing game wardens. And they disassemble them, there’s actual photographs in their archives of captured guns where they would break them apart and then photograph them and keep them in the photograph albums of the club.

Ramsey Russell: Like a trophy.

John Sullivan: Exactly, that was a trophy. And in one case, they had shipped – have records of them shipping canvasbacks duck to the White House, but also, they would ship confiscated guns into Washington D.C. And one of my favorite punt guns was, I have a photograph of it in a book called the Outlaw Gunner by Harry Walsh. And I owned the punt gun because it was captured, went to the Department of Interior and then sometime along 1950 the Department of Interior didn’t want to stored any longer and it went to auction and it ended up somehow sitting in my living room, that was a good find.

Ramsey Russell: They banned punt guns in 1832 which I was aware that states passed conservation laws preceding federal government Migratory Bird Treaty Act, I knew that had happened. But how long was that outlaw period on Chesapeake Bay? Between the time Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the cessation of market hunting and still these punt guns persisted around and the hunting style and I mean, old habits die hard, how long did that 

John Sullivan: I truly believe they were still doing illegal hunting with punt guns, large war guns or battery guns into the 20s. I think, it lasted that long. A hard habit to break, let’s say for someone to tent to the outlaw life.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I mean, I guess and it’s almost generational that this waterman mentality, my granddaddy did it this way, my daddy did it this way, I do it this way. And that must have been a hard cycle to break.

John Sullivan: It’s hard to break. I’m sure, yes.

Ramsey Russell: Do you think the laws had more to do with it or was there a decline in waterfowl that just kind of helped it go away?

John Sullivan: I think the clubs imposed a lot of rules and regulations themselves and they went looking for outlaws for -because they won their own sport. But I think the laws and the bad press these hunters would get and I mean, in the city of Havre de Grace most of the lawbreakers that reported in the early newspapers were the guys that would cross the line, as to shooting before the sunrise that was one of the biggest offenses, more arrests for shooting out of the prescribed hours of shooting than anything else in that region.

Ramsey Russell: I’m sitting here in this beautiful room surrounded by Chesapeake Bay Antiquities, I mean, and I know this is a very small part of your collection, but the first question I had to myself was why is Chesapeake Bay decoys and the aura of duck hunting so well preserved as compared to most other parts of the United States, Texas or Utah. Well, why is that?

John Sullivan: Well, we had the first decoy contests early on along the east coast as far back as least as the 1920s they started showing their craftsmanship. And along comes a preservation thought that we’re going to save these things and open up museums, you’ve been to the one recently in the City of Havre de Grace, there’s one in Saint Michael’s just Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and then the Ward Museum down in Salisbury. And people were visiting these museums early on and thinking, well, this is an art form, it’s not a tool of a hunter, it’s actually an art form. And of course, in Havre de Grace and over in Cecil County as well in the Prairieville and Charlestown area, we think of today’s contemporary fancy carvings, some of these craftsmen were creating miniature decoys or decoys to sit on a mantel piece way before 1900 some wonderful miniatures that were – they recognized that it was an art form early on at the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum, there’s a pair of Holly decoys in there that were given us a wedding present in the 1880s and they saddled a mantelpiece in the same house from the day they were made until they ended up being gifted to the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum carved by the Holly Family in Havre de Grace, I think about 1883 wonderful pair of canvasbacks. And I think that tradition, the fact that they saw that their craftsmanship was an art form. You’d have hundreds of these things surrounding your sink box or your bushwhack boat, meanwhile, though, they’re carving something a little better grade, a little finer thing and they’re keeping it in their house. I have 2 flat bottom wooden decoys that would be used on the outside of what they call the wings of the sink box, they’re sitting there and one of them was made and perhaps never used, it was stored in the family’s attic from the day it was made and it’s sitting next to it is one that was used. And if you hold them together and you look at the heads and you put the bottom there are identical form, but the family thought enough of that one piece they were made over in Charlestown and Cecil County Maryland by John B. Graham. And the Graham family was a tradition that they were cabinet makers, undertakers, casket makers and decoy makers. But where the Holly Family, they made as many boats and sink boxes as they did the decoys almost. Well, not really because they were making hundreds of decoys, but they had a boat building industry in Havre de Grace and sink box. And when I researched the Holly Family archives, a lot of people are familiar with the cast iron decoys that were used on sink boxes, people thought they were doors stops perhaps, but they were actually used to weight the sink box. But I found in their ledgers where they sold iron decoys by the pound and I think it was about 6 cents a pound is what they sold them for.

Ramsey Russell: They’re worth a lot more than that of today. They’re hard to find, I think.

John Sullivan: Real ones are hard to find. That’s one thing that the collectors have to be so cautious of today is the people that are out to make a little bit of fast money and they’ll do a reproduction of a good old decoy and what they can do with paint today and distressing the wood, a lot of people have gotten burned with that. So, I would recommend to anyone that wants to start collecting decoys that they go to a reputable dealer, someone they can trust and give them a personal guarantee of what they’re getting is real and authentic.

Best Decoy Carvers in the World

Like if your house caught on fire, that’s what you’re going back to get?

Ramsey Russell: Who are some of your favorite carvers just personally? I mean, who are some of your favorite carvers? It may not have been just about the decoy itself, it may have been more about the family history or for whatever reason or some of your favorite carvers?

John Sullivan: We mentioned Paul Gibson a while ago and he was a big stout man, he was the head of the fire department on the Aberdeen proving ground, but I took my son there when he was probably 3 or 4 years old the first time and I have pictures of him working on carving and painting a decoy with my son standing right by his side and so I’d have to put him down as one of my favorite carvers because he was so good to me and he was so good to my young son at that time. And the same thing with Mr. Mitchell, you could spend hours sitting down with him and he would talk about the old days and now here I am talking about the old days. But on a historic level, those two were contemporary carvers in my day. But I prefer the Holly family decoys of Havre de Grace, the Dye family that Captain Benjamin Dye from Cecil County and John B. Graham from Cecil County, they’re a couple of my favorites. But as far as the style that I like as much as anything, Charles Nelson Bernard from the city of Havre de Grace and I have a pair of his great high neck decoys sitting here.

Ramsey Russell: Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

John Sullivan: And the beauty of those, I was fortunate enough to come across a gentleman with the name of John Pusey and I bought a decoy of his at a public auction in Bel Air and it wore the J. Pusey brand. And I called up the Pusey household and introduced myself and visited him the next day, Mr. John Pusey, grew up shooting canvasback on the Susquehanna Flats, continued to shoot every day of his life. And I developed a relationship with him and was able to purchase his entire decoy rig about 400 pieces of decoys. And they were stored in a warehouse and having had access to that warehouse and it took me years to build confidence and trust enough with him and he finally let me into that warehouse, Ramsey. But as to those high necks made by Bernard and there’s not one feature of those decoys that you could criticize or not like, I mean, they were legitimately used in his sink box rig, I have a picture of John Pusey in his sink box when he was 14 years old with that pair of decoys. They took them out of the water, I have no idea if the line, the anchor line broke or what, but they were sitting on the side of the sink box and they mean an awful lot to me, I’d be hard pressed, they’d be like the last thing I’d give up in life.

Ramsey Russell: Like if your house caught on fire, that’s what you’re going back to get?

John Sullivan: That’d be the first one I’d grab. And if you look at those and there’s a certain level of dignity that you can see with those massive heads arched back, they define dignity and they’re just so refined and the photographs I have of Charles Nelson Bernard, the carver, you can see that same dignity in his face and the way he carried himself, he was a railroad man and did that as a sideline, but that was a great time. And I recently purchased a rig of decoys from a gentleman’s grandson and that occasion is almost impossible to find, but it took a 30 year relationship to finally get the entire rig. And the rig, it was associated with a gunning scale called The Blooming Lily that was used on the Susquehanna Flats. But I started off getting a pair of miniature decoys and then a couple more decoys and then a couple more and finally purchase the entire rig. And you think this is as good as it’s going to get, I’m done now. But the search continues, I live with this stuff, I love it, I pick them up every day, they’re just not objects that I walk by, but I stop pick them up, I study them, think who made it, try to associate the wonderful times that, that decoy brought into someone’s life to some sportsman’s life and now I vicariously enjoy that same exact experience.

Ramsey Russell: John, thank you very much for your time, that was a wonderful glimpse into what you have collected and what you have observed over the years. The crowds are pouring in and I know you’re going to have a very busy day. How can the listener get in touch with you or explore some of your stuff?

John Sullivan: They can go on the internet and I have a website there, you’ll see a nice picture of me there, you’ll see images of the some of my collection and the 13 books that I’ve authored now about various ducking clubs around the flats and up and down the Chesapeake Bay.

Ramsey Russell: Are those book for sale on your website.

John Sullivan: Yes, they are, sir.

Ramsey Russell: Very good, I’ll certainly be shopping myself. Folks, you all been listening to my friend C. John Sullivan, here at the Eastern Maryland Waterfowl Festival. He is a historian and most importantly, a preservationist, not just of stuff, not just decoys, not just punt guns and boats but of a way of life. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.





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Benelli USA Shotguns. Trust is earned. By the numbers, I’ve bagged 121 waterfowl subspecies bagged on 6 continents, 20 countries, 36 US states and growing. I spend up to 225 days per year chasing ducks, geese and swans worldwide, and I don’t use shotgun for the brand name or the cool factor. Y’all know me way better than that. I’ve shot, Benelli Shotguns for over two decades. I continue shooting Benelli shotguns for their simplicity, utter reliability and superior performance. Whether hunting near home or halfway across the world, that’s the stuff that matters.

HuntProof, the premier mobile waterfowl app, is an absolute game changer. Quickly and easily attribute each hunt or scouting report to include automatic weather and pinpoint mapping; summarize waterfowl harvest by season, goose and duck species; share with friends within your network; type a hunt narrative and add photos. Migrational predictor algorithms estimate bird activity and, based on past hunt data will use weather conditions and hunt history to even suggest which blind will likely be most productive!

Inukshuk Professional Dog Food Our beloved retrievers are high-performing athletes that live to recover downed birds regardless of conditions. That’s why Char Dawg is powered by Inukshuk. With up to 720 kcals/ cup, Inukshuk Professional Dog Food is the highest-energy, highest-quality dog food available. Highly digestible, calorie-dense formulas reduce meal size and waste. Loaded with essential omega fatty acids, Inuk-nuk keeps coats shining, joints moving, noses on point. Produced in New Brunswick, Canada, using only best-of-best ingredients, Inukshuk is sold directly to consumers. I’ll feed nothing but Inukshuk. It’s like rocket fuel. The proof is in Char Dawg’s performance.

Tetra Hearing Delivers premium technology that’s specifically calibrated for the users own hearing and is comfortable, giving hunters a natural hearing experience, while still protecting their hearing. Using patent-pending Specialized Target Optimization™ (STO), the world’s first hearing technology designed optimize hearing for hunters in their specific hunting environments. TETRA gives hunters an edge and gives them their edge back. Can you hear me now?! Dang straight I can. Thanks to Tetra Hearing!

Voormi Wool-based technology is engineered to perform. Wool is nature’s miracle fiber. It’s light, wicks moisture, is inherently warm even when wet. It’s comfortable over a wide temperature gradient, naturally anti-microbial, remaining odor free. But Voormi is not your ordinary wool. It’s new breed of proprietary thermal wool takes it next level–it doesn’t itch, is surface-hardened to bead water from shaking duck dogs, and is available in your favorite earth tones and a couple unique concealment patterns. With wool-based solutions at the yarn level, Voormi eliminates the unwordly glow that’s common during low light while wearing synthetics. The high-e hoodie and base layers are personal favorites that I wear worldwide. Voormi’s growing line of innovative of performance products is authenticity with humility. It’s the practical hunting gear that we real duck hunters deserve.

Mojo Outdoors, most recognized name brand decoy number one maker of motion and spinning wing decoys in the world. More than just the best spinning wing decoys on the market, their ever growing product line includes all kinds of cool stuff. Magnetic Pick Stick, Scoot and Shoot Turkey Decoys much, much more. And don’t forget my personal favorite, yes sir, they also make the one – the only – world-famous Spoonzilla. When I pranked Terry Denman in Mexico with a “smiling mallard” nobody ever dreamed it would become the most talked about decoy of the century. I’ve used Mojo decoys worldwide, everywhere I’ve ever duck hunted from Azerbaijan to Argentina. I absolutely never leave home without one. Mojo Outdoors, forever changing the way you hunt ducks.

BOSS Shotshells copper-plated bismuth-tin alloy is the good ol’ days again. Steel shot’s come a long way in the past 30 years, but we’ll never, ever perform like good old fashioned lead. Say goodbye to all that gimmicky high recoil compensation science hype, and hello to superior performance. Know your pattern, take ethical shots, make clean kills. That is the BOSS Way. The good old days are now.

Tom Beckbe The Tom Beckbe lifestyle is timeless, harkening an American era that hunting gear lasted generations. Classic design and rugged materials withstand the elements. The Tensas Jacket is like the one my grandfather wore. Like the one I still wear. Because high-quality Tom Beckbe gear lasts. Forever. For the hunt.

Flashback Decoy by Duck Creek Decoy Works. It almost pains me to tell y’all about Duck Creek Decoy Work’s new Flashback Decoy because in  the words of Flashback Decoy inventor Tyler Baskfield, duck hunting gear really is “an arms race.” At my Mississippi camp, his flashback decoy has been a top-secret weapon among my personal bag of tricks. It behaves exactly like a feeding mallard, making slick-as-glass water roil to life. And now that my secret’s out I’ll tell y’all something else: I’ve got 3 of them.

Ducks Unlimited takes a continental, landscape approach to wetland conservation. Since 1937, DU has conserved almost 15 million acres of waterfowl habitat across North America. While DU works in all 50 states, the organization focuses its efforts and resources on the habitats most beneficial to waterfowl.

It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ramsey Russell’s Duck Season Somewhere podcast is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. Please subscribe, rate and review Duck Season Somewhere podcast. Share your favorite episodes with friends. Business inquiries or comments contact Ramsey Russell at ramsey@getducks.com. And be sure to check out our new GetDucks Shop.  Connect with Ramsey Russell as he chases waterfowl hunting experiences worldwide year-round: Insta @ramseyrussellgetducks, YouTube @DuckSeasonSomewherePodcast,  Facebook @GetDucks