For Illinois River decoy carver, Pat Gregory, carving gunning waterfowl decoys is a family tradition that reflects where, what and how he, his ancestors and mentors have hunted waterfowl since way back when. He’s big into traditions and waterfowling history like that. While sitting in ankle-deep wood chips at his makeshift shop at Delta Waterfowl Expo, Gregory explains how his decoys and carving methods speak about him as a carver, hunter and human being. So why not just pitch plastic decoys? In true story-teller fashion, he chips away at the answer. Tune in to find out.

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Ramsey Russell: How do you describe your decoy style?

Pat Gregory: So, I’m a mix of Illinois river and I’ve kind of morphed into my own style. And there’s a reason for that, a couple reasons, actually. One reason is the water I hunt was different than the water my great granddad hunted. I hunt bigger water. I hunt more aggressive water where he hunted more backwater. So I’ve had to change the configuration of the bottom of my decoys. But I –

Ramsey Russell: But it’s an Illinois river decoy?

Pat Gregory: It is. I stick with Illinois river styles. I stick with Illinois river look to my decoy. I would consider my decoy, Illinois river decoy. But like any good waterfowler, you got to adapt to conditions. And so, that’s changed the configuration of my decoy versus, say, my great granddad’s decoys.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, where today I am sitting in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the Delta Waterfowl Expo. What a great place to be when it’s 1000 outside, just a broom full of great duck hunting and duck hunting companies. Joining me today is Mr. Pat Gregory, who is an Illinois river decoy carver of epic proportion. He goes the old school ways. Pat, I ran across you first with my buddy, Jeff Pelayo. And among his. I don’t know if you called it a gun room. I don’t know if you call it a museum. I don’t know what you call his den that has got decoys and memorabilia from all over the world.

Pat Gregory: Sure.

Ramsey Russell: But in that whole big room, I just saw what I call menace chasing blue wings. I’m like, what is this? And it was your decoys?

Pat Gregory: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And it was amazing.

Pat Gregory: Yeah. Jeff and I share a lot in common. We’re both kind of waterfowling history nerds. We love waterfowling history. We love hunting over hand carved decoys. And when I first hooked up with Jeff, he started getting some of my decoys to use and hunt with, Jeff is a significant dog man and he likes his dog swimming through good decoys. And so it was a natural friendship.

Ramsey Russell: How did you get into decoy carve? What started you? When did you start? How did you start? Why did you start?

Pat Gregory: So that’s a pretty deep question, but I’ll say this. It goes back to my childhood, back to my great grandfather. He was an Illinois river decoy maker for 60 years. And back when he started in the late 1890s, they had to make decoys because you just didn’t buy decoys from a store or whatever.

Ramsey Russell: They used a lot of live ducks.

Pat Gregory: They did. Before he ever carved decoys. They actually, before he ever used the duck call in the 1890s, you could still use live decoys. They called them English callers and they were pen raised and they would take them out and they’d pitch them and they had a tether that they’d put around their ankle. And most of them were mallard hens, although they had drakes. And they’d put a line and a weight on them just like a decoy and they’d pitch them in the water. And you think you’re a good duck caller, you’re not better than a mallard hen. I mean, those mallard hens would just sit there and squawk. And I always think they’re kind of like traders. They’re calling their buddies into gunshot and – But anyways, he had English callers until when they outlawed live decoys. Then he started actually spinning his own duck calls which you learned from the great Charlie Perdew.

Ramsey Russell: There’s a lot of people. I’ve heard rumors that the duck call, as we know it, originated in the Illinois river bottoms. Have you ever heard that rumor?

Pat Gregory: Maybe. But it wouldn’t surprise me, because, hey, these carvers, these duck call makers were ingenious. They were going to figure out because it just wasn’t about going out and having a recreational hunt. They were putting food on the table.

Ramsey Russell: And making a living, sell them.

Pat Gregory: Exactly. They were – some of these guys were shooting for the market and so their family counted on it and they were very resourceful. I’ll tell you a quick story, my great granddad, I got to go and hunt with one of the old timers, he hunted with. Back in 1987, this would have been. And he was we’re out in old john –

Ramsey Russell: How old was he?

Pat Gregory: He was like 60, probably 65, 67 and here we are, he shows up in an old Ford stage 4 ltd wagon, he’s got a john boat hanging out the back and we’re going out to some pretty kind of significant water. And anyways, this old boy, so he’s telling me stories all the way going down to this place we hunted, a place called Millsdale, which was where my granddad used to hunt. And anyways, we get down there, we get the john boat out and this old boy, I’m looking for the outboard motor. There’s 2 oars there and so he got on it. He got into boat and threw the decoy. He’s like, come on. Here we go.

Ramsey Russell: Old school.

Pat Gregory: Oh, I’m telling you. Then he’s like, okay, we got to pitch the decoys. And he had some plastic decoys in there. But when he dumped the bag out in the bottom of the boat, out fall my great granddad’s decoys. Like in 87, he was still using them. Ramsey, he was an old school or an old timer. Nobody told him about this whole decoy collecting thing and all that, so he used to use them. That’s what they did. And so we hunted. I mean, he tells stories about. Yeah, your granddad, your grandma would make him 2 sandwiches and he’d have a meeting before he ever got to the blind. And then he’d be looking at mine and then he said so we get in this blind and it’s all switchgrass, right?

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Pat Gregory: And they got this little coal stove in the corner of that blind and he fills it full of charcoal and he dumps the fluid on there and I’m telling you, man, he lit that thing and that flames come out of that. I’m thinking, we’re going to die. This blind is switchgrass, man. And what they did is they closed that stove. It had a top to it and they’d make their sandwiches in tin foil and they’d put their sandwiches on there and they’d warm their sandwiches and it was the heater for them back in the day. But when we were going home, he said, your granddad, because my granddad, great grandad, never learned to drive, and so he’d have to drive them. And that’s how he took care of a lot of his buddies. That’s how a lot of them got the decoys. They take them hunting and he’d give them decoys. But we stopped at this spot and he said there used to be a red cedar tree right over there. And your granddad told me to stop one day, he said, I’m going to cut that tree down. And they end up cutting it down. And he spun duck calls out of it. So these men were opportunists. They used to –

Ramsey Russell: They are practical people is what they were. Practical.

DIY Tradition: Tales of Handcrafted Decoys and Duck Calls

And so for me, being kind of a waterfowl history nerd is collecting some of this history. I think when you collect, like, if you collect the decoy, my great granddad’s, you collect a piece of that man’s history.

Pat Gregory: Absolutely, salt of the earth people that really – they just didn’t have all the capabilities we have today. So they did it themselves. So he made his own decoys, he made his own duck calls, made his own boats, and they were craftsmen back then. They really took pride in what they did, because, again, even the boat, it’s not like he grew up on a farm. You just didn’t go out and buy a boat. They built their own. And so for me, being kind of a waterfowl history nerd is collecting some of this history. I think when you collect, like, if you collect the decoy, my great granddad’s, you collect a piece of that man’s history. And I feel the same way about my decoys. Jeff Pelayo, he’s got some of my history and what I love about it is he takes it out in the fall. I mean, he decorates with –

Ramsey Russell: He soaks them, as he calls it. He soaks them.

Pat Gregory: Yeah. And he decorates with it in the offseason, which is amazing. But then in the fall, he takes it out and hunts with it. And as a decoy carver, there’s no greater compliment for me.

Ramsey Russell: Tell me more about your great granddaddy. What’s more, the stories in the family about him.

Pat Gregory: So, George Barto was his name. He was born in 1880. He played semi professional baseball. He played the violin.

Ramsey Russell: Violin or to fiddle.

Pat Gregory: Yes. We’ve got an old family log. Back in the day on the farm, he grew up in Tiskilwa, Illinois, on a farm. And back in the log they’d keep – back in the day, they’d keep a logbook. In every day they’d put entries in there. Killed a hog today, got $3. I mean, whatever. And so they, so I’ve got a logbook from like 18 something where it was just, I’d read through this logbook and see my family history. And so, he grew up on a farm, went to Princeton High School, which was near Tiskilwa. That was the high school, he was a great athlete. Played semi professional baseball. He started playing baseball in the late 1890s and he played baseball all the way to 1917. And could have played semi professional baseball, I think. But –

Ramsey Russell: Baseball was a whole different sport back then. He didn’t have aluminum bats and none of that, did he?

Pat Gregory: No, sir. I mean, baseball, Major League Baseball was very immature at the time. Very immature. I mean, it was just developing at the time. But I actually have done some research here recently. I’m doing research on his baseball career because I’ve done the research on his waterfowling and decoy career and I’ve written about that. I’ve got stuff published on it for like, decoy magazine, hunting, fishing, collectibles. But I’m doing something on his baseball career because they called him home run Barto as – so the collectors, the decoy collectors called him home run Barto because of his baseball. And they used to nickname him that. The family, to us, he was Skippy. That’s what we called him Skippy, grandpa Skippy. So I’m pulling that research together and, hey, he had a good career, played semi professional baseball. But I got like one account. Here’s your story. One account is the Chicago White Sox needed a game. He was in a semi, like a minor league role at the time with a team. And the Chicago White Sox needed a game for their second teamers. And so they contact my great granddad’s team and they’re like, hey, we want our second teamer, they need some playing time, so we need them to play, you guys. So they played the Chicago White Sox they had to come from behind to beat my grandpa’s team, he was 2 for 3 and he drove in the only run, they won 14 innings. They were leading one to nothing the entire game. And in the 14th inning, the other, the Chicago White Sox came back and won 2 to 1. But he was 2 for – He was amazing athlete, about 6’2. Very athletic, very stable, chewed, spit, smoked cigars. My mom would talk about, she’d go into a shop –

Ramsey Russell: All that toxic man manliness stuff back to back in the day.

Pat Gregory: And one of his hunting buddies was a beer truck driver. He had a beer route. And so they would all meet at his shop. At the end of the day, that was kind of the place. And so my mom, she was like 6, 7 years old and she said, you know Pat, she said, I’d go in grandpa shop. And I’d say, grandpa, what’s in that brown bottle? And he said, well, Connie, that’s my medicine. And she said, you sure do drink a lot of medicine.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right. What did I – now look, playing baseball back in 1917. Growing up, a young man, pre Migratory Bird Treaty Act, live decoys, market hunting. Who would have been some of his contemporaries and associates that inspired him into the decoy carving or influencers decoy carving?

Pat Gregory: Probably the biggest one was Charles Perdew. I mean, if you look at the top 4 in Illinois river, vintage carvers, Charles Perdew is number one. He’s the most noted, he’s the most famous. I mean, and Charles Perdew was a true friend of my granddad. He was from Henry, Illinois. He was the most prolific carver. Duck call, same thing. I mean, he spun red cedar and walnut duck calls. Charlie got into some decorative duck calls, which are these, like, today, big money. But granddad spun a duck call. He learned from Charlie and he spun walnut and red cedar calls like Charlie did, because they need to. Once they have –

Ramsey Russell: These weren’t, like, decorative or coming to show, to sell. This was freaking. I need this tool to go out and shoot mallard ducks.

Pat Gregory: To eat.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Pat Gregory: To eat. Matter of fact, another story. There’s an outdoor writer from my hometown, Joliet, Illinois, by name, Art Schumann. And Art Schumann was the godson of my great granddad and Art was the outdoor writer. So he – a lot of the – we’re really blessed, Ramsey, with documented history. Like, we have a lot of good history on my granddad. We’ve got pictures of him. I got pictures of him in 1920 in a duck skiff with his decoys around. Now think about that 1920s. So where do, how do you take it? You didn’t pop out your cell phone and take a picture. So we’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of photos, a lot of documentation on my granddad. And, I thank Art Schumann for that because Art did a lot of that for my granddad. And so back then, you had to be intentional about that kind of thing. They weren’t going through time like we are. We’re looking at their history and appreciating and that’s great. They were surviving. I mean, they were feeding their families. They weren’t making decoys to go to shows.

Ramsey Russell: It wasn’t a passion. It wasn’t an obsession. It wasn’t a recreation. It was just a way of life.

Heritage of Purpose: Decoys as Tools for Survival

I mean, if you would have said to my great granddad that your decoys are art, it would be laughable, because they were tools. It was like a hammer, it served a purpose, it killed ducks.

Pat Gregory: It was. And, like, for me, I’ve got some art background. I’ll just tell you. My first 2 years in college were in commercial art and so I’m fortunate that way. But, it’s just me, Pat’s opinion. I’m not big on all this stuff being art. They’re decoys, okay? They’re decoys. I mean, if you would have said to my great granddad that your decoys are art, it would be laughable, because they were tools. It was like a hammer, it served a purpose, it killed ducks. And they had families to feed. One of the great stories that just touched my heart was Art Schumann told me this story verbally. And Art, he probably passed now, but he’s in his 80s, late 80s, he said during the depression, your granddad would go out and harvest ducks and go door to door and make sure people had food to eat. Yeah, he’d hand out ducks, so, he’d make sure that the people had food. That’s just how they were back then. They took care of each other. And so, that kind of thing drives me, for decoys, for duck hunting, he’s one of my heroes. I’m humbled by what he did with what he had. I think they did far more than – like today, we got all this power and automation and all this. And those guys were simple men and they used simple means.

Ramsey Russell: I went to the waterfront Museum in Peoria back this winter and there’s a collection of just extremely valuable art, folk art in the form of decoy.

Pat Gregory: Right.

Ramsey Russell: And it’s spellbinding.

Pat Gregory: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: It’s amazing to see those beautiful art works of art under glass. And yet, when you hear the stories that some of the rarest decoys in there initially sold for $5. $5 and maybe the guy didn’t pick them up. There’s one. There was, like, an iron footed decoy in there.

Pat Gregory: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And the guy ordered a dozen I think –

Pat Gregory: Charles Schneider.

Ramsey Russell: And he didn’t pick them up. And so they just sat a rafter for decades until somebody found them.

Pat Gregory: 1967.

Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that crazy?

Pat Gregory: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: They didn’t view it as art. It was just something to get by. They just had to be colorful enough to trick the duck.

Pat Gregory: Yeah. Then that’s – hey, obviously, they lived in simpler times and they weren’t complicated people and I love that about them. I mean, honestly, even in here in the air, the age we live in, I try to live a simple life. I don’t like things that are too complicated. But I’ll even say that in my decoys, my decoys are simple. A lot of people say, well, like, how much time you have in a decoy? And I said, yeah, I make –

Ramsey Russell: Longs it take.

Pat Gregory: Exactly. But I owe them an answer. And I’ll say, I usually got it like, an hour in the head, hour in the body, hour in the paint. But I try to keep my time down because these are gun decoys.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Pat Gregory: I’m not going to over complicate them and so I’m going to keep them simple. That that’s just – And I think I get that from my granddad in that area. I really appreciate what they do and how they lived.

Ramsey Russell: You had told me something. You had inherited some patterns. And that was who? That was your great granddad’s patterns or your granddad’s patterns?

Pat Gregory: So my great granddad, George Barto, he died in 1959. I was born in 1958, so I never really got to learn from him, although he’s been my inspiration. There’s a gentleman and he had 3 boys. None of the boys learned to carve. They hunted with him, but none of them learned to carve. And then the rest were out daughters. They had 3 daughters, but there was a gentleman by name, Art Bennett, in our hometown when he came back from the war in 1947. My granddad, he was the only local decoy maker there was. So everybody, you can imagine, all the duck hunters went to him, got their decoys, the clubs went to him, got their decoys, got their duck calls. And so I learned from Art. So in 1984, my wife, Nancy, she said, hey, Pat, you could do this. You could make those decoys. And I’m like, no way. Well, 41 years later, she’s still right. I’ve been making them ever since. And so I went up to visit Art and I said, Art, I’m Skippy Barto’s grandson, great grandson. I’d love to learn how to carve decoys, would you teach me? And he did. And we just lost Art this past here at 97 years old, he was making decoys into his 90s. But see, he would go into Barto’s shop every day and like, they’d get decoys that need to be repaired, repainted. And grandpa was falling way behind on his orders. I mean, he’s getting older as time goes on. So, Art stepped into my granddad’s life and helped him out for a lot of years and he stepped into my life. And boy, those are great relationships. He used to call me kid. I’d go, he’d call me kid. He’d say, hey, kid, how you doing? And I was always so proud. I’d take decoys up and show them, what I was making and all that. But anyways –

Ramsey Russell: When you told me the story yesterday about getting hold of those patterns of your granddad’s and you weren’t carving, you got them before you carved. So maybe they sat in a shop or sat on a shelf or something and it reminded me of, my grandmother gave me this old hammer gun that I couldn’t shoot because it was an old gun. It didn’t take modern ammo. One day I woke up, decades later and I woke up and that gun kind of started sort of speaking to me like I remember. I take it out of the safe and oil it once a year.

Pat Gregory: Sure.

Ramsey Russell: Rub it down, hold it. Look at it. There’s some green splattered of paint on the woodstock. Now, here’s the deal that would have been. We’ve decided that was probably her granddaddy. So my great, great granddaddy’s and some green paint on the stock and it’s like, was he painting a barn? Was he painting a duck blind? Was he painting a duck boat? Who knows –

Pat Gregory: Mallard head.

Ramsey Russell: When I went and got with – mallard head, when I went and got a little bit of work done so that I could shoot contemporary shells, the guy said, well, let me go ahead and refinish wood. I said, hell, no, don’t touch that wood. But it’s somehow – and I’ll swap gears to another shotgun, old Remington 1100. There must have been bazillions of them made in the 70s.

Pat Gregory: Sure.

Ramsey Russell: It was my granddaddy Russell’s. And when I picked that gun up, because now that you’ve got ball shot shells, these soft metals, you shoot through them old safe queens. When I pick that gun up, it speaks to me. It’s not a hammer. It was a hammer to him. It’s not a hammer to me.

Pat Gregory: Yeah.

Ramsey Russell: And I just imagine that you weren’t carving when you got these patterns. You’ve got this history, you’ve got this legacy and it somehow must have spoke to you, too, Pat.

Pat Gregory: It does. And I like to think that with our heritage, with our history, family history, in this case, waterfowling history. I like to believe that there’s an emotional connection there’s some kind of connection that draws you back to that and maybe, like, you had the benefit of having forefathers that had shotgun, okay and I do, too. But for people that are just starting waterfowl today, maybe you’re a first generation waterfowler. You’re writing your history. I mean, we’re all writing a story.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

Pat Gregory: Yeah, we’re all writing a story. I like to say we’re all writing a story, write it well. And so, make sure that, hey, if you are like a first generation waterfowler and you’ve got a son or a daughter that you’re taking hunting or a friend, that, hey, they may think that your shotgun is pretty cool. And dad, could you show me how to use this? And maybe you’re being intentional about, I’m going to leave this to you. And it’s just a great bond and relationship to pull this together. Me personally, at 65 years old, I like to enrich my waterfowling experience. So it’s just not about killing piled up ducks. No, no, no. It’s about, I want to go and I want to see these ducks light into my decoys. I want to see these –

Ramsey Russell: Your decoys.

Pat Gregory: My decoys that I made that I got blood, sweat, and tears into my soul and I like to see these retrievers swimming through my decoys. It’s a great honor. I’m flattered. Hey, would they swim through, black painted jugs, black clark. Yeah, they would. But you know what? Hey, you know as well as I do it’s not always raining ducks. And when it’s slow, I like looking at nice decoys. So I’m going to make my own.

Ramsey Russell: You bring up a good point. I’ve actually got with some friends of mine, some close friends of mine down in Louisiana, because when I was a broke college kid, I had some plastic decoys. I didn’t have enough plastic decoys for some of the bodies of water. And I was somewhere in Catahoula Lake. They used a lot of plastic jugs. And I go, snap. I can increase the look of my spread. And so I painted black pop bottles and put them out in my decoy. They rode my decoy boat, rode my boat for a long time. We’re going to do a hunt like that this year. And I hunt over plastic decoys and pot balls and everything else. But it doesn’t have a soul. Wooden decoys – Why do wooden decoys have a soul, Pat?

From Hunt to Hearth: The Journey of Carved Gadwalls

I’ll take them home, I’ll put them on the table, I’ll put a cardboard behind them, I’ll make a pattern off them, and then I carve that bird.

Pat Gregory: Well, hey, obviously as a carver, I’ve got a lot of blood, sweat and tears in them. I’ll give you example. At 65, I’m looking to just enrich my carving, my waterfowling experience, because I honestly believe that I’m writing my history. So here’s an example. One of the things I’m really doing a lot of these days is there’s no better example of, like, making your patterns. For example, I’ll go on a hunt and maybe I shoot a stud gadwall drake, just gorgeous. I’ll take them home, I’ll put them on the table, I’ll put a cardboard behind them, I’ll make a pattern off them, and then I carve that bird. Because to come from the harvest to the pattern, all this, how am I going to do this? How am I going to make this pattern to then, making the patterns and then making it carving into dimension and wood and then going out and killing ducks over it and then taking that meat and put it on the grill. I mean –

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. The whole process. I carved decoys briefly when I was younger. And I still got a couple of dozen of. They’re not near as nice as yours. But what I remember the most about carving those decoys is when I was bearing down on with a fordham or the butcher knife on cork stuff like that. I was never thinking about bills. I wasn’t thinking about work. I wasn’t thinking about – I was thinking about duck hunting. I was thinking about those ducks coming in. I was thinking about how that duck looks swimming on the water. I was thinking about my dog bringing it in. I was thinking about what my granddad must have been like. You saw, that’s what’s going through my head. And I think it’s just kind of transferring, however crude my decoy looked into that body of work and I find just some kind of satisfaction sitting out hunting over my decoys.

Pat Gregory: Big time.

Ramsey Russell: It’s like a direct conduit to that duck, into that art of just that, that relationship we have with waterfowl.

Pat Gregory: Some people do decoy. Some people train their own dogs. Some people spend duck calls. Some people shoot vintage shotgun shotguns. Some people, I’ve got friends that even dress old school. But find out whatever that is. It doesn’t have to be make your own decoys. Although, I’ve got a lot of people that want to do that. But find out what that is, that’s going to enrich your experience. Because, hey, when you’re younger, it’s about getting out there and getting a pile and all that stuff. But as you get older, I’m more just about the quality experience. I mean, hey, when I go with my buddies and take my friends, they get to hunt over hand carved decoys, our dogs and we train our dogs all summer and those dogs get to swim through hand carved decoys. And it’s just a more enriched, fulfilling experience, just knowing. And for me, hey, like you said, what’s going through my head is my great granddad, Art, my mentor, he just passed at 97. All these people have spoke into my life and made me who I am.

Ramsey Russell: We were talking about how wooden decoys have a soul versus plastic maybe when my battery died like an amateur. But I want to swap gears just a little bit and talk about, you’re still hunting in Illinois. You’re born and raised in Illinois. You’re making Illinois decoys in tradition of your ancestors. How do the decoys – You’re hunting over your decoys, but talk about the area you’re hunting. How is it the same and different from your granddad?

Pat Gregory: Yeah. Well, it’s the same in that it’s still on a river. He was north of Peoria. They hunted a lot of backwater, a lot of flooded timber, flooded oak trees. But we’re further south, south of Peoria. We’re on the east side of the river, north of Havana. And we’re hunting marshes, sloughs. There’s lake, like, our area. They hunted a lot of flooded corn up north, but where we’re at, we’re almost – it’s natural, it’s wild. And so we shoot a lot, a greater variety of ducks. Hey, we had a hunt. I had a buddy down from Wisconsin one time. We had a hunt. We killed 9 different species of ducks in one hunt.

Ramsey Russell: Your favorite duck is like mine, the next one in the decoy.

Pat Gregory: Amen.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right. I’m already said that, but, yeah.

Pat Gregory: No, I mean I love it. And I love them all because I carve them all and I enjoy them all and I have to learn them all. When you carve a decoy, you have to study it, you have to learn it. You have to understand the colors. And then that’s – you get into poses, like, what kind of pose am I going to do? Am I going to do just all upright heads? I like movement in my rig. I like to see – How many times you go by ducks unless it’s bitter cold, where they’re just all in one pose. No, no, no. They’re like, ducks are like people, man. They’re gooseneck and they’re moving. And so I carve. Well, and I carve. You look at my decoys, I got that head. I’ve turned those heads about every way you can turn them. And so that’s something that keeps me fresh as an older carver is what would be a fun pose to do? I also use ducks for patterns. If I kill an exceptionally nice species and a drake, maybe a drake duck, I’ll come back and make a pattern off it and then I’ll carve it. And to start that thing from pattern to execution, even to where throwing that meat on the grill, it’s just a great, great experience. And so for next year will be 40 years of carving for me. That’s a long time. And you have to look at, how am I going to stay fresh? How am I going to keep my head on my shoulders? Because when I first started out, Ramsey, I bumped into a lot of decoy. I visited a lot of decoy carvers and a lot of them were burned out. It’s like, yeah, I don’t carve anymore and I’ve always been very guarded about, how do I guard against that and there’s a lot of ways to do it, but, different poses, different species. I really want – I enjoy this like a kid, this is, like, day one for me and I want to keep that. I don’t want to let loose of that, making gunning decoys, dogs swimming through my decoys. Just all that is goodness. And so you’re constantly looking how to stay fresh. And the ducks themselves are some of my greatest motivation. They inspire me. Ducks inspire me.

Ramsey Russell: What defines an Illinois river decoy versus Chesapeake Bay or Louisiana or other parts of the world? And how are your decoys reflect Illinois river versus your own style, your own evolving style?

Pat Gregory: Well, the vintage Illinois river decoys, the original ones, were basically mini boats. A lot of these gentlemen were boat builders and so they built decoys like boats. They’re basically a mini boat. They had a V hull. If you look at that – you flip that Illinois river decoy over, you’re going to see the hull of a boat and they get a scoop gouge in there and scoop that out. And so they’re essentially a small boat. They put a lead strip on the bottom. And the problem is the water that I hunt. They hunted back water and they needed decoys that if they had very little wind or wake, that they could get some movement out of. The problem is, it’s a side to side movement, which is kind of unnatural.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah.

Pat Gregory: So where I hunt, I had to go to a flat bottom decoy. I had to put a wooden keel on it. I not only hunt the only river, I hunt the Mississippi river. You got current. And so you didn’t have that current in the backwater. So I’ve had to kind of morph my style a little bit. I’ve gotten into some species that grandpa didn’t carve, but I’ve retained, like there’s certain things on my decoys, like the tail. I cut my tail just like he cut on my puddle ducks. I cut my tail just like –

Ramsey Russell: Man tail.

Pat Gregory: Yeah. And then the bill, that little undercutting that mandible, that was grandpa. I can show you on every one of his decoys, the way he cut his puddle ducktail. Same thing. So I’ve retained some of his history, but then, I’ve kind of morphed into some of my own stuff because I hunt species, he didn’t hunt. And I hunt styles.

Ramsey Russell: Did he hunt ruddy dog?

Pat Gregory: No. Not that I know of.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a beautiful ruddy duck decoy. I mean, it just. I picked it up, had to hold it because it’s a beautiful decoy.

Pat Gregory: Thank you, sir. A little bone ball. They’re okay. I love ruddy ducks, by the way. I hunt them. But, yeah, they were primarily mallard and pintails, black ducks like that. They didn’t really shoot many. They’d shoot a canvasback or a bluebill, but never like ruddy ducks.

Ramsey Russell: You were showing me some of the tools that belong to your granddad yesterday. Do you still use those traditional tools or has your craft evolved where you incorporate a little bit of power, a little bit of traditional?

Pat Gregory: A little bit of both. Yeah. I mean, I want to use the best tool for whatever the circumstances are, so I don’t use a lot of power. But that draw knife, you keep it sharp. That thing has carved thousands and thousands of dig. I carved 2 bodies with it yesterday. That thing has carved thousands of decoys. And you keep it sharp and it still works. So I use his scoop. He’s got a couple scoop gouges that he spun the handles on these scoop gouges, like his duck call. So he spun the handle. It’s got a big, great handle for it. And if I do hollow decoy, I don’t hollow a lot of decoys, but I’ll use a scoop gouge and scoop that wood out. They still work. I mean, they’re timeless. Those things work great. But I’m not a purist that I’ve got to use hand tools. Sometimes I mean, I’ve got power. I’ve got bandsaw and a drum sander, but I use whatever works to make that decoy.

Ramsey Russell: You’re a decoy carver, following in your great grandfather’s tradition. You’re big into waterfowling history. You’re a decoy collector. And I want to ask you, tell me about – I’m looking behind you right here in your booth and you’ve got some bonafide Ducharme decoy. Tell me the origins of them and how they speak to you?

Pat Gregory: Well, these are all Delta Marsh decoys. And so I talked earlier about enriching your duck experience. Well, one of the things that I do is, like I said, I’m kind of a waterfowl history nerd. And I love it. And so when I go somewhere. So in 2014, Ramsey, I had the chance to go to the Delta Marsh. And so my goal was, I’m going to get a Delta Marsh canvasback. Well, let me even back up. So I study when I go somewhere, I’m going to study that culture. I’m going to study when I can get my hands on some history, some waterfowl history. I want to learn about that area. So I study Delta Marsh. I studied the history of it and it made me a better hunter. And when I got that, a Delta Marsh in 2014, I put together an entire rig of decoys that were significant to the Delta Marsh. And then I took some of mine, but I even made – I had a brand made with all my decoys that I took. I branded them Delta Marsh rig. Even some –

Ramsey Russell: I saw your COVID-19 rig. I saw notice that.

Pat Gregory: That was during COVID Any decoy 19 carved during COVID I branded it the COVID-19 rig. I was glad to put that brand away. But for the Delta Marsh show, I studied it. So as I studied it, I understood Mr. Ducharme and the Ducharmes and what they contributed. I mean, they were guides –

Ramsey Russell: Who was Ducharme? What is his background?

Pat Gregory: So Duncan Ducharme is just one Ducharme. His dad was little Joe Ducharme. So when James Ford Bell, you got to start there. James Ford Bell was the founder of General Mills. He hunted on Heron Lake in their club and he loved canvasback. And the problem is, is Heron Lake. And this is back in the teens and the 20s, Heron Lake started to silt in. They started getting carp. And the canvasbacks left because the sago pondweed and the wild celery. So James Ford Bell goes looking for canvasbacks and he finds a Delta Marsh. And this is in the mid 20s. And so, Ford Bell had Heron Lake decoys and he brought them to, with them to the Delta Marsh. And actually the Heron Lake decoys are the precursor to the Delta Marsh decoys. And so Duncan Ducharme, by the way, this is insider baseball. Duncan Ducharme was James Ford Bell favorite guide. Yeah. But so then –

Ramsey Russell: That canvasback decoy, so distinctive because it’s got just a – for lack of a better word, a funky angle to his chest. It’s just kind of a, like a horse neck shape that sitting here, I look at this one canvasback decoy, say, okay, that’s a canvasback. But when I have seen those Ducharmes on the water, it is unbelievable. It reminded me, I was telling you this too, yesterday about, I’ve heard about these fly tires. They don’t look at a mayfly sitting on the on the tabletop and try to tie that right. They’ll put that bug on the top of an aquarium and look at it from a foot underwater and say, that’s what, I’ve got it. That’s what the fish are seeing. So that’s what – that Ducharme decoy is incredible.

Decoy Mysteries: Unraveling the Origins of Design Elements

And so when, like you had Al Hochbaum, their first director and then you had the Ward family there. Well, Peter Ward, he did a lot of these patterns. He understood ducks. So when they did their patterns, they had great patterns.

Pat Gregory: Obviously. Hey, these gentlemen understood ducks, not only at the Delta, you had the Delta Research Station that started in 1938. Probably one of the most significant, well, I’m just going to say the most significant research station in waterfowling history. Our current day waterfowling has been shaped by the Delta Waterfowl Research Station, not only by the research they did, but the amount of biologists they put through there. I mean, Delta funds grad students back then and they fund them today. And I’ll just tell you and I’ve met several, many of the top biologists today came through Delta. And so they understood ducks. And so when, like you had Al Hochbaum, their first director and then you had the Ward family there. Well, Peter Ward, he did a lot of these patterns. He understood ducks. So when they did their patterns, they had great patterns. That sloped rest on the Ducharme, that came a little bit with the Heron Lake. That slope rest was prevalent in the Heron Lake decoys and it’s also prevalent in the Delta Marsh decoys. But it’s a little puzzling because I’ve talked to people about it before. They weren’t hunting current that they were hunting the Delta marsh, so there’s no current. So usually when you see a slope rest like that and a bobtail in the back, like the Detroit river, for example. The Detroit river decoys in Michigan, they have that style to them. But what it was, they built that so those decoys would do this in current. They didn’t do that in the Delta Marsh show. There’s a little mystery around why it was done like that, but it became so prevalent that they just copied one another and they just got together and made decoys.

Ramsey Russell: Tell me about the Lake Winnipegosis logbook. Where the heck is late Winnipegosis? And how did you come into an old pre migratory bird or very old logbook?

Pat Gregory: So when I was doing my research on the Delta Marsh, I had to find literature. And so there’s a collector, Joe Tonelli. He had a Ducharme decoy. I go up to – I know Joe. I went up to, he lives an hour from me. I went up to see him. I said, Joe, I want to buy a Duncan Ducharme decoy. And he’s a longtime collector, great collector. He schooled me on, because when the Gaylord family, they had a Lodge up on Lake Winnipegosis, Peter Ward and Duncan Ducharme built all their decoy rigs. Okay. In 1993, when the Gaylords brought all their boats back and they sold the club, they contacted Joe to sell all their decoys, broker all their decoys. Well, Joe bought every decoy they had. I mean, they still have the lines wrapped on them all these. And so he kind of schooled me on. He said, Patty, he pulled out 3 hands. He didn’t have any drakes left. And the hen I wanted was not the – He said, now, he said, you want this one? And he was right. This one was structurally better. So I took that thing and we – and Paul and I went to Delta Marsh and my whole goal was to kill a canvasback over that Ducharme.

Ramsey Russell: Absolutely.

Pat Gregory: And I had my whole entirely handcarved rig. I took miles Pyrenees, 2 mile Pyrenees, doc Pyrenee decoys. Doc Pyrenee was part of starting the Delta Waterfowl Research Station in 1938. So I have some of his diver decoys. I took a redhead drake and a blue bill hen. So the point is, I had this rig, a lot of decoys significantly, historically significant to Delta. And this Duncan Ducharme out there. We hunted 3 days. We couldn’t get a canvasback. Last day, we’re standing against cattails and the rest of the story. I mean, hey, all of a sudden, I hear Paul go. And so we get down and I’m telling you, it’s like poetry. 3 cans hook came in, came right to that Ducharme decoy. Boom. Boom, done. Let’s go home. It was just like poetry. I was, like, tickled pink. But I accomplished that goal. And so you don’t think I have some – I learned all that history in preparation for that trip. And I have a lot of emotional attachments to that place. I’ve met friends. I met Russell Ward when I was there. I met a lot of the Ward family. Miles Ward, Kevin Ward. I got to put that canvasback hen in Kevin Ward’s hands. Kevin Ward’s dad painted that decoy back in 1955. And I just got a picture of him holding it. So add that all up and I’m just telling you, that’s at 65 years old Ramsey. That’s where I’m at with my waterfowling.

Ramsey Russell: What about the late Winnipegosis logbook?

Pat Gregory: The log book was when I was collecting –

Ramsey Russell: Is that from Manitoba?

Pat Gregory: It is.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Pat Gregory: Like Winnipegosis is north of the Delta Marsh. It’s technically considered part of the Delta Marsh, but the Gaylords had a lodge up on Lake Winnipegosis. So when I went to do the history, I bought the decoy and Joe says, hey, come on. Come on upstairs. I want to show you something. So we go up in his attic and I’m telling you, I don’t know where this guy gets this stuff. He’s had it for years. Takes me in his attic. There’s a walk in attic, an old 2 story. We walk in there and he’s got tubs. It looked like somebody’s desk. And what happened was, is in 1993, when he bought those decoys off the Gaylords, they had these big tubs of all this paperwork and Joe goes, what’s that? And they go, well, that’s just dad’s desk and he said, what are you going to do with it? And they said, we’re just going to throw it away. You want it? And he took it. Well, what? It was Robert Gaylord, the patriarch of the Gaylord family that owned this lodge. He bought that lodge sight unseen in 1953. And in there, it wasn’t just one. There was 4 logbooks. So I got 3 logbooks that were for the Gaylord Lodge. And then I got – They also had a quail camp down in South Carolina, okay. So I got that as well. And as a waterfowl history nerd, I’m going through these logbooks and I’m just reliving it. I mean, I saw people in those logbooks, like Jimmy Doolittle. You know these guys, there were other duck clubs up there. Gentleman by name of Troy Hunter, he was the head of the Waterhen Lodge. But here’s the point, though, in that, in those logbooks was pictures back from 1953. The original. They did conservation work there. I mean, Al Hochbaum and Peter Ward from Delta would go up there and hunt with those guys. The DU guys would go in, they’d let them trap ducks. Robert Ward, the patriarch and Edson. I’m sorry, Robert Gaylord and his son, Edson Gaylord, they were president of DU at one time. Robert Gaylord was on the board for Delta. And so these guys were not only hunters, but they were conservationists. And here I am, just this kid reading all this history and I’m just eating it up. And so the end of the story with the logbooks, I’ve got. I went into those log books and I pulled out that history for people like you to read, to enjoy. Yeah, that’s the thing. I’m not going to write a book, but with social media and stuff, like, I can write a couple paragraphs. I’ll give you a quick story. In those photos, nobody saw that logbook but the duck club. There’s a photo in there, a guy by the name of Frank Ward. He was Edward’s brother. Edward was the caretaker. He was James Ford Bell’s original caretaker for the Delta, for the Bell property up there at Delta. Well, his brother Frank Ward was – They call him Mr. DU up in Canada, staunch conservationist and all that. So I get these pictures, I scan them all, I post them on my facebook page and all of a sudden I’m getting contacted by these families up in Canada saying, hey, that’s my dad. I’ve never seen that picture of him. Can I get a copy of that? And so, I had some of the guides, like the Lavallee family, the Chartrain family, they’re contacting me and saying, hey, I’ve never seen that picture of my dad. Can I get a copy of it? So it’s just kind of, just for that little effort of kind of digging into those history books, digging in those logbooks, sharing with people, inspiring them with people. I mean, yeah, I get people that contact me that have never seen that. And so it’s just kind of a network to really pull together relationships, meet people. And now a lot of these people I’ve gotten be friends with, when I go to Canada, I’m going to go see Tory Ward, her dad, Tory, that. That’s her dad right there. That’s Tory Ward, her dad. Tory was one of the sons of Edward. And they were all decoy carvers. They were artists, the whole Ward family’s story, let me tell you. So, it’s enriched me as a person, as a waterfowler, as a decoy carver. I mean, it’s like a college degree, just because, I’ve taken the time to kind of learn this stuff. And, hey, man, we’re writing our story, write it well.

Ramsey Russell: Who was the light Jim Schmiedlin.

Pat Gregory: Yeah. He was a friend. He was a mentor to me. So I got to tell you this confession. I live in mallard country. I live in honker hunt country. But deep down, I’m a diver hunter. Man, I love – dude divers –

Ramsey Russell: Couldn’t tell talking about Lake Winnipegosis.

Pat Gregory: Divers make my blood boil. I’m telling you. So here I am in Illinois. And in 2000, I went to a decoy show and I saw a wigeon decoy Ramsey. That rocked my world. I’m like, I got to find out who made it. And it was Jim. It was a Jim Schmiedlin wigeon. So I tracked this guy down. He’s kind of a recluse. He does his own thing. He built his own rigs. Jim was the purest gunner. He was arguably the best layout gunner of all time. Probably –

Ramsey Russell: Illinois.

Pat Gregory: Countrywide.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Pat Gregory: Countrywide. He started in 1974. He was like an old battery gunner, back in the day. Arguably one of the finest decoy carvers that ever lived. If you follow his decoys. Today, people are just getting crazy about his decoy. $5000, $6000, $7000, $8,000, I just saw a pair of canvasback sell for $22,000.

Pat Gregory: Here’s the thing. He was a purist. He was a layout gunner, but he was a friend. I wrote a letter to him. So here I am, this kid from Illinois. I like – I understand you, layout gun. I would love to do that. And we pen pal, I never thought I’d get a letter back and all of a sudden I get a letter and this man could write his letters, his penmanship, I still have them all, they’re beautiful. And so we started this relationship, I got to meet him and one year he invites me to go. In 2004, he invited me to go hunt Lake Erie up at Kelly’s island. And it was my first time in a layout boat. I’m telling you, man, I was like a little kid in the candy store. I was nervous because I’ve got a quarter million dollars of decoys sitting in front of me, I don’t want to hit the decoys. But he became a friend, he became a mentor to me, there’s 3 of us that myself and goes by name Vic and Jeff Morrison. We were his last gunning crew. With layout gunning, you need a crew. You need at least 3 people. We were the last of the people – Jim had been since 1974, Jim was sure a lot of crews. We were his last. He developed ALS and I was with him on his last time. I’m going to tell you, it’s hard to talk about, but I just love that man, like a brother. Layout gunning is a brotherhood. And if my wife came to me tomorrow, Ramsey said, all right, Pat, you got to pick only one style hunting. I’m in a layout boat. I’m just saying, I’m in a layout boat. I love it. It’s like laying in the decoys. It’s like laying in the decoys and all of a sudden you’ll never – I had a goal my hand about take my head off one time. You want to get close to ducks, get in a layout boat. It’s an amazing experience. So my goal was, is to meet Jim, to learn and then to come back to Illinois. Because nobody did it in Illinois. I mean, you’d never see a layout, though. Everybody’s out in the field shooting mallards. So, I came back. I got my buddies, there’s 4 of us, 3 buddies and myself. We bought a layout boat. We bought an old 18 foot starcraft and restored it as our first under boat. The rest is history, man. I mean, we layout gun heavy and hard. We love it.

Ramsey Russell: I could tell when I asked about him that you got sentimental, kind of. What did he ever say or how did he influence your decoy car from beyond that relationship?

Pat Gregory: Yeah, well, he taught me to build sturdier decoys, because when you get out, it’s a bit, I was talking about grandpa was in flooded timber. We’re more in sloughs and backwater. Now you go to the big water. Oh, my lord. It’s a different game. Hey, you’re hunting Lake Erie. We’ve hunted Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario. That’s big water and you got to respect it and you got to build decoys that can actually survive in that. So Jim talk helped me build a better quality decoy, more rugged decoy. And he encouraged me as a young carver. I always thought it was an honor to be able to put some of my decoys. He always let me bring some of my decoys and put them in his rig. I was humbled. I mean first time we ever went I brought these little buffalo heads. They were like miniatures. I mean, his buffalo heads were, like, that big. And so then I sold those off and I made. I made a bigger. I made bigger buffalo head decoys because I was embarrassed but they suck in buffalo heads. But it was just an honor that I could even float my decoys in. And this guy, he was old school to the core. If you ever read any stories, like in Joel Barber’s book Wildfire decoys, there’s a great story about a old battery gunner. If you haven’t read it, you should read it, because a guy by name Mister Moore. Mister Moore was in this layout boat. It was actually maybe more of a sink box, but he had 2 hammer guns. He had 2 double barrel shotguns. And they’re writing a story and they’re coming in so fast. The barrels got so hot, he dipped the barrel into water to cool the barrel and then he reload and shoot again. Well, that was Jim. He was so totally old school and it filled my niche, my desire, my appetite for divers, for diver hunting. He taught me a lot about divers. Jim knew ducks and you can see it in his decoys. And then, a lot of things that I do today with my crews where I layout gun are all from Jim. But he can’t be, became a friend. He became a mentor and we had a lot of laughs. He had a great sense of humor. We just miss him there. We’re actually in the midst of, they’re wanting to write a book on him. And so hopefully in the future, more people, duck hunters will be able to learn about Jim and benefit from his story because it’s a good one. It’s a good one to tell. It’s inspiration.

Ramsey Russell: Pat, last question. What do your decoys say about you as a carver, as a hunter and as a human being?

Pat Gregory: Well, I think they’re personal. I really do. They’re personal to me. It’s kind of like your hunting dog. Hey, I got people coming to me and asking me to put their dogs ashes in decoys. It’s personal and for me, it’s personal. It’s not only personal, but I get to share it with others. Even if you don’t plan to carve decoys, this entire weekend here we have people stop by and they just stop and they watch and they learn and maybe they get inspired. So, I had a lot of this handed to me. You had it handed. So if I can turn around and hand it somebody else, I’m going to do that. If I can help somebody carve their first decoy, I’ve got friends, Ramsey, a couple buddies, we got a lot of teal done by us and they wanted to carve some blue winged teal and so I helped them carve their first half dozen and then we went on that teal hunt. Amazing. I mean, that’s personal. It’ll enrich your life. It’ll make you a better person. And if you use it wisely, it’s like anything else. Hey, you can help people. You can better people, you can inspire people. You can encourage people. And lord knows, hey, man, this is a tough world, man. Work, family, whatever. People need encouragement. They need a boost. And for me, no better place to do that than a duck blind. It’s like, I want to go out, I want to laugh with you, I want to have a big, greasy breakfast and maybe we’ll even shoot a duck.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you, Pat.

Pat Gregory: Yes, sir.

Ramsey Russell: Thank you very much. Folks You all been listening to my buddy Pat Gregory from Illinois, where he is continuing true Illinois river decoy carving traditions. Thank you for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.

[End of Audio]

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