For father-son championship waterfowl decoy carvers, Mark and Luke Costilow, duck hunting is a year-round hands-on tradition. Following a huge supper of Canada goose Italian soup and freshly harvested, pan-seared mallards at their Coffee Creek Marsh Hunting Club, Ramsey and they settle in front of wood burning stove, visiting about Ohio duck hunting. What are their duck hunting origins? How’d they get into decoy carving and what were their influences? Do they ever hunt over plastics, and what’s the difference? How’d they turn a neglected stretch of creek into a nice hunting area, is it true that if you build it they’ll come, and why are family camp traditions important to them? As this episode demonstrates, hand-on anything makes it personal.

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Hands-On Ohio Duck Hunting Traditions: World-Champion Decoy Carvers Mark and Luke Costilow Talk About Carving Waterfowl Decoys and Creating Waterfowl  Habitat Together


Ramsey Russell:  Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere. Today it is duck season in Ohio. Wow! Northeast Ohio. Forrest and I have been on the road five or six days, and it’s been a tough grind. Indiana, the weather was tough. Y’all have seen it on Instagram. We went to the Great Lakes, and we tried the resident birds that decided, because it warmed up, they wanted to feed on grass instead of the corn they’ve been sitting in for two weeks. We got kicked in the cojones good and hard on that.

Then we drove over here to Ohio, walked into Coffee Creek Marsh Hunting Camp last night. A bunch of familiar faces I’ve known for a long time—a decade, maybe. I know those boys are very fortunate, and feel very lucky, to have known me for that long. They introduced me to a couple of their hunting buddies, the Costilow’s—today’s guests, Mark and Luke Costilow—and we went out to this little, three quarter-acre loafing pond. You ever heard that saying “build it and they’ll come”? That’s where we hunted today, and they came. Right before my first cup of coffee started getting cold in the mug. Very, very epic hunt. These are a couple of interesting guys, beyond just having a fun place they built to hunt. Y’all hang on. Y’all are going to enjoy this. Luke and Mark, introduce yourselves. Mark, you go first.



World Champion Waterfowl Decoy Carvers Mark Costilow and Luke Costilow


And I just fell in love—the very first time I saw a duck come into the decoys, I just fell in love with it. Just the anticipation of the hunt, the enjoyment of being with other people. – Mark Costilow


Mark Costilow: I’m Mark Costilow. I am the manager and owner here at our family marsh here in northeast Ohio. We call it Coffee Creek Marsh. I’m a mayor of Amherst Ohio, where I live. I used to own a movie theater, but I’m not part of that anymore. Our interests are ducks, marshes, wildlife restorations, decoy carving, and family.

Ramsey Russell: It’s funny, Mark, because that’s how I know you and Luke. That’s how I know y’all from social media, is your decoy carving. I’ve kept up with y’all for a long time, and I know, from talking in the shop last night, you’ve been carving quite a while.


How’d start duck hunting? What was your first duck?


Ramsey Russell: What got you into duck hunting?

Mark Costilow: Duck hunting. I grew up on a farm when I was a kid, and I know during the hunting season—started out with squirrels, started out with deer—but, for some reason, in the spring I started seeing these ducks come into these little marshes that we had, little natural marshes on our property. Every now and then, in the fall, I would get out, I’d be able to shoot one or two of them. My dad, he was a Ford worker, and he had a bunch of friends that worked with him at Ford.

He had a charter captain buddy that duck hunted, and he set me up, when I was about thirteen years old, to hunt with one of these fellows that he worked with. And I just fell in love—the very first time I saw a duck come into the decoys, I just fell in love with it. Just the anticipation of the hunt, the enjoyment of being with other people. All these gentlemen were older than I was, but I became really good friends with them all. We were out on Lake Erie. We were on some big water, on a breakwall, and that first flock of bluebills that came in just bought the decoys better than you ever would imagine, and we shot through the hole in the blind. There was nothing like it.

Ramsey Russell: Your first duck was a bluebill?

Mark Costilow: That was my first flock of duck shooting. That was a flock of bluebills. Back then, there was a lot of bluebills, and they actually had a special bluebill season, back then, on Lake Erie.

Ramsey Russell: Wow. What was the nature of that special blue-bill season?

Mark Costilow: Late in the year, after all the regular duck season would close, we had five extra bluebills we could shoot. It was bluebills only, and it was about a two-week season. It was so fun for us. That was later on, when I was older, that wasn’t when I was thirteen years old. But you’d get to see all these other ducks that would come into the decoys, you wouldn’t shoot them, and that was a big part of the hunt, when you’d see a big flock of bluebills come in.

Ramsey Russell: That’s what intrigues me about coming up to the Northern tier—the Great Lakes areas, especially—bluebills, scaup, are a big deal. Then, down South, they’re really not. They’re an off duck, they’re a duck you pick up after you get your other ducks to fill your strap, to fill your limit. But that’s a big deal up here.

Mark Costilow: Back in the late 70’s, the skies were just full of bluebills. You’d shoot at one flock of bluebills, and it was all you could do to load your shotgun before the next flock would come in. Ice was everywhere. Waves were crashing over behind you on the breakwalls. Especially when you had the muzzleloader, it was always fun. You’d have three or four of us lined up on the breakwall with a muzzleloader. You’d hope you were the first one to shoot because, back then, it was black powder, and you just kind of poked a hole in the sky with all the smoke out in front of you.

Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that crazy. Luke, what’s your story?

Luke Costilow: I’m Luke. I graduated from West Virginia University, a couple years ago, with a bachelor’s in wildlife management. Started off at Hocking College, down in southeast Ohio, I was kind of dealing with wildlife management and fisheries. I work for a private firm now, and we do a lot of wetland and habitat restoration work all around Ohio. Dad got me started duck hunting and carving when I was nine, around 2004, which is around the time that we started buying property out here. Just kind of grew up managing out here and building things and hunting and carving.

Ramsey Russell: Tell us about your first duck hunt. Was it also Lake Erie?

Luke Costilow: It was. That was before we started buying the marsh out here.

Mark Costilow: We didn’t have marshland back then. It was during a new season.

Luke Costilow: It was on the breakwall in Lorain Harbor.

Ramsey Russell: Also a bluebill?

Luke Costilow: Mallard.

Mark Costilow: Pair of Mallards.

Luke Costilow: They’re still mounted in my apartment.

Ramsey Russell: Man, that’s awesome.

Mark Costilow: I bought him a 20-gauge, and we sat on the rocks that day. We had the place to ourselves, and the first pair of birds came in. He ended up killing the first duck he shot at.


How did Mark Costilow and Luke Costilow begin carving decoys?


Ramsey Russell: Wow. That’s fantastic. How did y’all get into carving world-class waterfowl decoys?

Mark Costilow: Had a fellow when I was younger, growing up—he was a charter captain on Lake Erie. He was a charter fisherman for walleye and smallmouth bass, but he was also a carver. I grew up watching him. I’d get ready. We would get the boat ready. I’d be standing over his shoulder, watching these things, and it was always in awe but I never really thought about doing it. About the time Luke was born, I was a taxidermist, and I was thinking about getting another business or another sideline. The chemicals of the taxidermy and the kids, I didn’t think, went together good.

I started to get interested in decoy carving and wanted to learn carving from Bob—Bob Frano was his name—also another big duck hunter, back then. Bob was working construction, fell ill, and just died real suddenly. I knew very little about carving, but I bought all these carving supplies. Got a lot of his patterns just by watching him and remembering what he did. I started doing it about the same time I lost my job through a big layoff where I worked, and started carving out necessity.

Ramsey Russell: When you say you got his patterns—did he draw out and make those patterns?

Mark Costilow: He started carving before there was all this—right now, there’s just so much reference material. There’s so many books, there’s so many videos, there’s so many teachers. Bob would crawl out on the ice—and I remember him doing it before I even started carving—he’d crawl out on the ice, take pictures of the ducks, try to get as close as he could. Constantly, when we were out hunting, you’d see him—even if we weren’t the same blind, you’d know what he was doing. You’d see him at the dock. He’d have a pair of calipers. He was measuring from the end of the bill to a nostril. He was measuring the distance between their eyes. He was measuring their wings. Had duck parts all over the place. He started a lot of this, so I ended up with a few of his patterns and a lot of his knowledge. Whether I really knew I was gaining his knowledge just by watching, I gained a lot of it.

Ramsey Russell: When would Bob have been carving? When would he have been in his heyday?

Mark Costilow: Early 70’s, up till 80’s, and then he was really competing a lot when Luke was born. He died about that time Luke was born, and I think about him a lot. But he was one of the pioneers.

Ramsey Russell: Was he carving strictly for competition, or was he making gunning rigs, also?

Mark Costilow: Both. But it was all about the dollars. He was doing it to make a living. He charter fished and carved. That’s how he made his money. So he did real decorative stuff, he did gunning stuff. He hunted over his own hand-carved decoys.

Ramsey Russell: He did hunt over his own hand-carved decoys, but, to make a living, he would carve anything you wanted.

Mark Costilow: He carved so many things. He carved pheasants. I’ve got a couple of his real decorative birds that he spent months and months on and carved all the little wood burnings and the quills and the detail. They look like a live duck.

Ramsey Russell: So you got laid off from a steady job—you’d been doing taxidermy, you had a real job, you got laid off—you’d been looking for something anyway, so you picked up carving.

Mark Costilow: I picked up. I was second shift supervisor at the Parker-Hannifin, we made aircraft—wheel and brakes—and it just so happened, it was about three days before duck season, they came in, they called all the supervisors in there. Of course, they said, “Hey, we’re going to have to lay one of you fellows off.” My hand went up just about as quick as I could, and I knew I’d get in some good duck hunting. Didn’t think it would be a permanent thing. But that’s back when, in Ohio, we had a three duck limit there for quite a while.

I hunted just about every day of that 45 day season, and it was about three or four days before the end of season. They called me one day and said, “Hey, can you come back to work tomorrow?” I said, “Any way I can get three more days? Duck season is not quite over yet.” They said, “Yeah, go ahead, take three more days.” Somehow, within that three days, they figured out they didn’t need to keep three shifts going. Never worked for another company. I ended up buying a movie theater, eventually, but, for three years, that’s how I supported a lot of our family, paid our mortgage. My wife worked. My wife, Cheryl—

Ramsey Russell: By carving?

Mark Costilow: Thank goodness, my wife, Cheryl, had a job. She brought home the health insurance, had a pretty good living, but I helped pay the mortgage. I paid bills. I supported all my bad habits, my hunting. Bought bullets with decoy carving, for about three years.

Ramsey Russell: That’s incredible. How long did it take you, from the time you got laid off and decided you were going to start carving to the time you were profitable? How many decoys had you carved at that point?

Mark Costilow: I carved about eight hundred decoys a year for those three years. Started out right away. I knew I was going to like it. People started buying them real quick. Found a couple of retail places—Herter’s retail stores was buying some of my decoys. There was a couple of mail-order catalogs that bought my decoys. I sold them real cheap. It was Wingset.

Ramsey Russell: Wingset, I remember.

Mark Costilow: He would buy him by the box full, and I’d sell them real reasonable. I was happy with what I made, and then he would make his money, and, you know, they’re all over the country. I made him a lot of decoys, and I never kept one of them. It wasn’t until probably the last couple of years—we’d been seeing a few of them on the internet—paid about five times more for them to get a couple of them back than what I actually made them for. They’re kind of one of my treasures now. Luke found them and helped me buy a couple of those back.

Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that crazy. They’ve appreciated in value just because of inflation? Or some kind of collectible value?

Mark Costilow: A little bit of both, maybe. It’s probably because I wanted them more than anybody else.

Ramsey Russell: Were most of the decoys you carved hunting rigs, or collectibles?

Mark Costilow: I did both. I found I could make real simple decoys and sell them real inexpensive better, by the hour, than really spending a lot of time and making the real highly decoratives.


What Woods or Materials Used to Carve Waterfowl Decoys?


Availability. What you can get in your area. All these decoys’ styles, you look at all these different decoys. You can tell if they’re New Jersey-style decoys. You can tell if they’re Ohio or Michigan decoys, or Louisiana decoys, solely by the type of wood and materials that they had available. – Mark Costilow


Ramsey Russell: You know what gets me about decoy carving is, it’s a big deal. It’s a folk art, and some of the old decoys cost a mint. But the guys that made them were just making them, as I understand it, with materials they had on hand. Some cheap, some free. Something they can go out and kill ducks over. It’s a very practical pursuit.

Mark Costilow: That’s what I started with. I went out to all these factories and tore apart pallets for head material. I was getting cork wherever I could. I was cutting down my own trees and sawing it up and putting it in the attic to dry it. The material is a big expense of it, so the better—

Ramsey Russell: What woods were you using?

Mark Costilow: I was using just about anything I could carve. Cottonwood was popular with pallet material. Basswood was big in Ohio. Now we like something lighter. We use a lot of tupelo for the heads. Tupelo is a real light wood.

Ramsey Russell: Are those woods coming out of the South?

Mark Costilow: Louisiana. We have a lot of friends that, some of them I knew cut it for us. Some, you’d buy it from some of the suppliers.


Does Ohio have a history of decoy carving?


Ramsey Russell: Does Ohio have a history of decoy carving? How far back? Is it a big deal?

Mark Costilow: There’s some—and I don’t know names, I should know more of the history—but there’s an old lighthouse keeper in Lorain Harbor, from the early 1900’s, that carved some decoys. The 50’s and 60’s is a pretty good—the Lake Erie style of decoy. Big, clunky, wide decoys. You don’t want to use very many of them because it’s hard to pull them. Getting them in and out of the water, you want to be quick, so—

Ramsey Russell: You’re talking long lines?

Mark Costilow: Long lines, so you don’t want to put so many of them out. So the guys figured out: you make them bigger, and you don’t need quite so many of them.

Ramsey Russell: Historically, the Great Lakes were the dominant influence of waterfowling up in, particularly, northern Ohio.

Mark Costilow: That harbor we hunt in a lot, in our hometown, there’s a pretty big waterfowling history. We got blinds on the breakwalls that—hardly anywhere else in the country allows that. We’ve got some history with the ordinances within that community. That’s where a lot of the—the anchor on both ends of the line chains, from your decoy to your line, to get the line to sink so that, if you got in trouble with your boat, you could drive through your decoys. It’s a real unique way, and not a lot of people, I don’t think, in the country hunt like they do there.


Regional Waterfowl Decoy Materials and Styles


Ramsey Russell: I know you use cork, you use wood. What would be the different applications? Why would someone that’s going to build a hunting rig decide wood versus cork?

Mark Costilow: Availability. What you can get in your area. All these decoys’ styles, you look at all these different decoys. You can tell if they’re New Jersey-style decoys. You can tell if they’re Ohio or Michigan decoys, or Louisiana decoys, solely by the type of wood and materials that they had available.

Ramsey Russell: And maybe the style?

Mark Costilow: And a lot of the style, because of where they hunt. Guys hunting the tidal flats, they need a rounded-bottom decoy. When the tide goes down, they want them to sit on the mud. Lake Erie, like I said, you want big, clunky—I mean, you’re riding in two and three feet waves sometimes. You don’t want them flipping over.


Third Generation Family Tradition: Luke Costilow Began Carving Duck Decoys in His Father’s Footsteps


Costilow Duck Decoys
father-son World Champion waterfowl decoy carvers Luke Costilow and Mark Costilow at their Ohio duck camp.

Ramsey Russell: I’m assuming, Luke, you grew up watching your dad. Maybe watching the back of his head, or standing by the bench watching him carve, and that encouraged you. It just seemed natural.

Luke Costilow: Oh, yeah. I was always out there since I was a kid, be it painting on little pieces of scrap wood or whittling on a little scrap wood, whatever. Watching Dad. Or, he’d have waterfowl decoys or blanks that he would carve, and then I’d go and paint them like a rainbow or something. One thing, when I was a little kid—I still have this huge, it was like a bluebill or something he carved, and I painted it like a green-winged teal. So I had this huge, awful green-winged teal that I painted back then. So I was just always kind of piddling around out in the shop with him.

Ramsey Russell: How old were you when you carved your first decoy?

Luke Costilow: Nine. That was a bufflehead. That drake bufflehead I showed you.

Mark Costilow: And Luke, somewhat, he’s a third-generation carver. My dad carved some decoys, for necessity, when he duck hunted. He liked to carve, as a hobby, Santa Claus’s boots. Just anything he could carved and make a few extra dollars. But when I took the interest, my dad took more interest in it. So the three of us carved a lot together. Some of the decoys we hunted over today were carved by the three of us. Some of those black duck decoys. We all three had a hand on. Those are really special to us.

Ramsey Russell: How special is that family tradition to you, Mark?

Mark Costilow: Oh, my gosh. My dad, especially—it was really great, when I was carving all those decoys for a living, I’d go spend weekends with my dad in West Virginia. We lived a state apart. He would help sand. He would do all the dirty work. It was really special times for me. A lot of those decoys I signed differently.  Dad had a hand on it. My name is Mark Lloyd, so I sign them “M. L. C.” My dad helped me with some of those decoys. A lot of them, you might find some of them initialed “M. D. C.” for Mark and Don Costilow. So my patterns, my creative—but Dad would sand, he would help me paint, do some of the grunt work.


Why Carve Waterfowl Decoys?


Ramsey Russell: Why do y’all carve now? I want to ask both of y’all that. Because you’ve got jobs. You’ve got careers. It’s not feeding your family anymore, Mark. Luke, you’ve got a vibrant career, and y’all have got—we’re going to talk about your duck club, but you’ve got a lot going on out here. Why do you carve?

Mark Costilow: My last carving—I can really probably relate with that. It’s a release, with all this COVID and everything else going on. In March, I got the urge to carve something. So I actually carved a turkey decoy, and in those hours in the shop, you just lose track of where you are, what’s around you. You’re in your own little world. It really is my time—when I can’t be at the marsh or out in the woods—that time with the decoys, you can forget about everything bad in the world. It’s just a wonderful time. To be with that piece of wood, and watching it come to life.

Ramsey Russell: When I carved decoys—and I’m not near your artistic level—I can remember I took a junior college course, art appreciation, and probably would have made more than a C if I ever showed up. But I do remember one time he said, “I think, therefore I art.” And I kind of got into it from a practical standpoint. I liked the idea of maybe carving a few old decoys and hunting over them. Even though they were atrocities, they killed ducks.

But I can remember spending hours in the shop carving them. I would really just take a block of cork, and I might spend a night just running all the top patterns, inside patterns, and then take another night or two in shaping them up. I had buckets that had cut heads, top cut heads, shaped heads, finished heads. I’d kind of just piece them together. Is that how y’all do it? Do you just start with a block of wood and make a duck?

Mark Costilow: That’s where I started. It was out of necessity, and you tried to get as many of them done for as quick a time as you could. You were selling them, so you had to do it somewhat proficiently. So I would carve twenty heads, I’d make twenty bodies, I’d paint all the gray on the side pocket, I’d paint all the heads green. But now, there’s just something to be said about starting one and finishing one.

Ramsey Russell: So you’ll go to your shop, say, “I’m going to make—” I’m just making this up.

Mark Costilow: I make gadwalls and loons.

Ramsey Russell: You’re going to make a gadwall. A beautiful gadwall. I love the shape of that gadwall head. So you’ll usually go to your shop and say, “I’m going to take this block of wood, and I’m going to make a gadwall and he’s going to be semi-tucked or he’s going to be doing this or that.” You just go through until you got that bird ready to float.

Mark Costilow: Luke does his a little differently than I. He really has come into his own.

Luke Costilow Decoys Ohio Duck Hunting
Luke Costilow’s decoys displayed at Coffee Creek Marsh duck camp. “My biggest drive is competitions,” says Luke Costilow.

Luke Costilow: Yeah, I don’t carve nearly as much as Dad did back when he was doing them for a living. My biggest drive is the competitions. I’ll maybe carve twenty or thirty decoys a year. For me, I like to start in one and finish in one. So I’ll be in a carving mood—and I know it’s the least efficient way to do things—but I’ll carve a decoy from start to finish. Then I’ll stop. Then I’ll cut another one out, and then I’ll carve that one from start to finish. Then I’ll stop, and I’ll cut another one out, right?

Instead of cutting them all at the same time, or whatever. Then I’ll get in a painting mood like, “Well, I’m done with carvings.” Then I’ll go paint. They’re all different species, so I’ll sit down one night and, like, I painted that shoveler the one night, and I painted that red-breasted merganser over a couple nights. Just kind of take them one at a time. That’s just kind of how I get in my zone. Not efficient, at all, but that’s the way I like to do it.

Mark Costilow: I yell at him a lot. He’s got this horrible habit of waiting to paint the bottom of the decoy last.

Luke Costilow: That’s just your opinion.

Mark Costilow: And that’s the first thing I paint. I paint the bottoms first, that way you never have to touch it again. I really honestly think there’s some science behind it. If you paint that bottom, wrap the paint up around the side of the decoy, and then you paint the sides and wrap that paint back around the bottom—to me, it’s just sealing that decoy off better. Then you never have to touch the bottom again. I’m always worried about, if you’re painting the bottom black, I don’t want to get any of that black on that real pretty gadwall head, or whatever. You’re just taking a chance. It’s just a big ongoing argument with him.

Ramsey Russell: It’s kind of like getting dressed. Do you put on your socks first, or your blue jeans?

Mark Costilow: Exactly. But I yell at him all the time when he does, and I think he does it on purpose. Just to prove that he doesn’t have to do it that way.


Favorite duck decoy to carve?


Ramsey Russell: What is your favorite duck to carve?

Luke Costilow: I like the mallards. Probably the hen mallard. I like painting the hen puddle ducks. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of it, and trying to get the flow, and the shades. People look at a hen, and they just see kind of a brown bird, right? But once you break it down, and you look at that feather, and you start painting it—there’s so many different shades and colors and siennas and nutmegs. It’s just great. Then trying just to have everything flow, and have your feather flow right, and painting every feather. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge.


Competitive Decoy Carving


Ramsey Russell: So is decoy carving mostly for competitive reasons?

Luke Costilow: Yeah, mostly.

Ramsey Russell: Not to go out and hunt over your own blocks. Do you hunt with your own spread?

Luke Costilow: I have some, but the biggest driver for me has always been the competition. So back in middle school, high school, I never did any sports or anything. I was a competitive person, but I always did the carvings. So that kind of always drove me to try and be more anatomical, and just try and be better. Obviously, when you’re carving things strictly for hunting, you don’t have to go crazy over the top like I do with my fancier gunning decoys, right?

But for the competitions, it just kind of drives you to be better than the next person. For me, that was always a great way to learn, because you always get your ass kicked in contest, and that’s the best way to learn. “Well, that guy beat me, so what do I have to do?” So I can look at that guy’s bird and see what I need to do to improve my next one.

Ramsey Russell: What do they judge on in competition? I imagine them out there looking at feather detail, and using calipers.

Luke Costilow: Well, it just kind of depends on what contest you enter. The ones I do—it’s a gunning style contest. So, on the simple end of things, they’re supposed to project really well. Sometimes they look at them up close, but a lot of times they judge them from a distance. So they have to project really well from a distance, and have the essence of the species project from a long ways away. Usually about thirty feet or so. Floating is a big deal. They got to float right. So not only do they look right, they got to float right. They usually put them in the water upside down and they have to self-right. So it kind of imitates a hunting situation. If you’re chucking birds out there, and he just ends up sitting on his back and staying there, that’s pretty useless. So it’s a lot. It’s aesthetics and floating.

Mark Costilow: And rules. Some people don’t like rules, but all these different contests have different rules. So there are some specific regions, and decoy carving contests, you have to specifically carve for.

Ramsey Russell: What would be a difference in regional rules?

Mark Costilow: Between Ohio and, say, Louisiana. The pool contest in Ohio, it’s simplicity. You can block paint, you can blend and do a little bit of lower mandible bill detail. But, say, Louisiana, they go a little bit farther, and they say, “No blending. Hard lines only.” So you got to try to make some of those softer transitions, even though you can’t paint them that way. You got to fake them into thinking, from a distance, that it’s soft, even though you have to make a hard transition. Louisiana, for a long time, wouldn’t even let you carve the lower mandible in a decoy. I used to carve for that contest. I love going down there and competing, and always did well, but they were never finished. So I would actually take a kind of decoy down there; probably win, sometimes; come home, finish carving it, and paint it for another contest.


Gunning Decoy Rigs


Mark Costilow and Luke Costilow Lake Erie Rig
The Costilow’s Lake Erie consists of huge, decades-old burlap-covered black ducks for conspicuousness. “It’s pretty shameful,” he says.

Ramsey Russell: Really. Wow. Well, I noticed you do hunt over a gunning rig.

Mark Costilow: We’ve got some here that we use on special occasions. We don’t hunt with them all the time. They’re heavier, a little bit harder to carry from place to place. But when we really want to have a good, special hunt, we’ve brought them out quite a bit this year.

Luke Costilow: Yeah, for being the carvers like we are, we’re bad salesmen when it comes to the hunting. We usually over really bad plastic birds.

Mark Costilow: Our Lake Erie rig is pretty bad. It’s shameful. They’re thirty year-old burlap-wrapped decoys. I did make the original for the head. It was a Toledo Decoy Company black hen. I carved him a head for it, and he made all these plastic models. But we just paint them black.

Ramsey Russell: The old commercial decoy industry was pretty significant in this part of Ohio, wasn’t it? Restle Decoy Company?

Mark Costilow: There’s a lot of individual decoy companies that, some are still around, some aren’t.

Luke Costilow: Northwest Ohio, especially.

Mark Costilow: Northwest Ohio, for Lake Erie-style decoys.


Ohio Duck Hunting


Ramsey Russell: One thing I do like about Ohio duck hunting, primarily—especially this time of year—mallards, black ducks, and Canada geese. How can you argue with that? How can you argue about having that combination of birds out there?

Luke Costilow: You can always have more.

Mark Costilow: That’s what keeps you bringing back. We get a lot of those, but earlier in the year—the green-winged teal that we get, a few chances of pintails, a very small amount of wigeons—those are our trophies, when they come in. I don’t want to say we take the mallards and Canada geese for granted, but we do sometimes. Because they are plentiful, and it’s our number one birds that we get here. I know other people, all over the country, they’re trophies. The black duck, especially, and they’re one of our staples.

Ohio duck hunting Forrest Russell and Ramsey Russell
Nevermind the black duck that left unscathed. Forrest and Ramsey Russell had great time hunting over the Costilow’s hand-made decoys and labor-of-love duck habitat while duck hunting in Ohio.

Ramsey Russell: That’s amazing. I’ve shot plenty of them, but, for some reason, I guess because I don’t see them at home, I love black ducks. This morning was such a great hunt. We got to talk about that, Luke: “The one that got away.” It was right off the bat. I’m just fixing to pour a cup of coffee because it was “ding ding ding,” it was shooting time. And a four pack comes right in. Right freaking in the decoys. It was so perfect, the way we were kind of hunting towards the corner of that little three quarter-acre loafing pond. The wind was cutting from that corner out to the open to the opposing corner, and shoved the decoys up that bank to our right, kind of out this way with the wind. And they just come right in.

But that one flock of mallards that just kind of got above, for whatever reason decided they didn’t want to come in. Every other mallard we saw today—when I saw them they were just over your grandparents’ house, the wing tips touching, right into the kill zone. We’ve talked about a lot since then, this morning, but we had this flock of seven mallards come in. It’s like a big, splayed-out rose bouquet, and all I saw was those emerald green heads just going all which ways. Being a Mississippi hunter, I just focused on greenheads. Forrest did, too. It was, “Boom!” Mallard. “Boom!” Mallard. One of the last survivors—because everybody was booming—one of the last surviving ducks escaped, was coming right over the left wing of the decoys. It was a big black duck drake. I choked. I was like, “Bam!” It was just right there at 25 yards, flying for his life, and he got away.

Luke Costilow: It’s just funny, with perspective—the black duck was the very first thing I saw, immediately, so I didn’t think to say anything. I’m like, “Of course everyone else is going to see that,” so I passed on it because I knew either you or Forrest would like to get a shot at it.

Ramsey Russell: I guarantee you Forrest was thinking the same thing I was: “Greenheads.”

Luke Costilow: I think with the mallards being so common here, we’re constantly picking through the big flocks of mallards, sometimes, looking for that odd duck. We’re looking for the black duck. We’re looking for that wigeon. We’re looking for anything else in that flock, because that’s your extra ducks. You get your four mallards, and you’re done. It’s always nice to have some of them bonus ducks, and those are harder to come by here than in most parts of the country.


Coffee Creek Marsh Duck Club: Build It and They’ll Come?


Ramsey Russell: Tell us about y’all starting to put together Coffee Creek. Because we’re not just in miles and miles in the middle of nowhere country. We’re just right on the outskirts of town. And relative to Mississippi, which has 3.2 million people total state-wide, there’s a lot of people in Ohio. I feel like I’m always in civilization up here, running up and down I-90 and stuff. But, wow, this is an incredible property.

Mark Costilow: This started probably earlier than we actually started here, but we were looking for a piece of property near where we live. We live about ninety miles west of here. My wife was on the internet, my wife Cheryl—and I wonder if she, for a second, thinks what she did that day—but she was on the internet and says, “Mark, there’s this piece of property in Ashtabula,” and it was fairly reasonable in price. It was 63 acres. She says, “You ought to go look at it. This really might be what we’re looking for.”

Back then, I barely had a cell phone. I had one. I get on the road, I try to start calling this realtor. I finally get a hold of this fellow, and he says, “Yeah, I’ve got that property listed, but you probably don’t want it.” He says, “You’re coming from west of Cleveland.” I said, “Well, why wouldn’t I want it?” He says, “Well, it’s full of swamps and all kinds of crappy brush, and it’s got beavers on it. It’s useless land. You’d never want that.” I just kept rubbing my hands together and thinking, “Why would this guy try to talk me out of it?” It was just funny that he didn’t see the beauty in what I was about ready to see.

Ramsey Russell: He obviously wasn’t a duck hunter.

Mark Costilow: He wasn’t a duck hunter. I pulled into this place. It only had about a 25 foot frontage. It was like a flag lot, and that’s why it was somewhat undesirable. When the highway came through here, it cut off a lot of these pieces of property from the owners, so a lot of these became lots that were unusable. When I came here, there was a couple old abandoned oil wells here, and the phragmites were just so high and everywhere. I finally found my way back to the creek, that’s called Coffee Creek, and just fell in love with the place. We made an offer, and so started Coffee Creek. Now it’s real close to five hundred acres. We’ve done a lot of dike work with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Ramsey Russell: But you pieced it together from 63 acres at five acres, ten acres, twenty acres, forty acres.

Mark Costilow: Some small pieces, some bigger pieces, but there are probably about twelve different parcels that we bought from people. Some of them landlocked, some of them I just kept pestering the farmers until they finally sold it to me. It’s all connecting. Got somewhat of a jagged outside edge, but to find five hundred acres in northeast Ohio, all connected in one spot is somewhat unusual. And it’s flat. We’ve only got about, maybe 25-foot elevation in some of the highest spots. There’s a lot of good places to build wetlands.


Waterfowl Habitat Management


It led to my career. Just like Dad said, I started off just wanting to shoot more ducks, but now it has turned into, the waterfowl habitat restoration end of things here is almost more important to me than the duck hunting itself…It’s addicting, just like the decoy carving. – Luke Costilow


Ramsey Russell: What all improvements have you made here?

Mark Costilow: We’ve got about a dozen different impoundments. About three miles of dike. Started out with the Department of Natural Resources, and there was this fellow, Dan McMillan, where—he’s retired now—and he was one of my first phone calls. I’m just looking for help. I’m just an average guy, thinking, “I want to build some wetlands,” and I read somewhere the Department of Natural Resources was there to help you. So I called, and this fellow, Dan, met me out here, and we walked through all this phragmite. I had a little jon boat, by then, and me and him punt-poled down this creek, probably half a mile down it. Because it’s a long skinny lot, and we punt-poled down the end, and he looked at it and he just kept shaking his head. This property was just abused—red brush and crappy bushes all over the place. You could hardly walk through it, and we finally get back to where I had parked the boat. We started walking out.

Me and Luke had built a little bridge across the creek out of wood, and we’d sit there. The one day, we’d bought some Mr Hero sandwiches, and we sat there after we got completed and just sat there and enjoyed the thing, just reminiscing. I remember it was foggy, and a big old swan came through that day and flew through and just loved the place. But anyway, Dan, he’s standing on this little bridge with me, and he’s shaking his head no and looking. Went, “Yeah, we got some money, but I just don’t know how you’re going to do anything here. Just to even engineer it and figure out the elevations and get equipment in here—” And I just promised Dan, I said, “Dan, you give me some kind of grant money, I’ll figure it out.” He said, “Okay.” He said, “We got a program.” He’d give me like $1,200 an acre for this fifteen acre wetland that I thought I could make.

I tried to find an engineer, and, of course, nobody wanted to come in and engineer the thing. So I got me a pad of paper, and I bought an optical transit. My uncle Dave, me, and Luke, we brought hatchets and pruners ,and we pruned a path all the way around this wetland. I made a benchmark every fifty feet, and we designed it ourselves. I finally found a guy with a bulldozer that felt sorry enough for me to come in and help me build this thing, and that’s the start. We’ve bought some of our own equipment, now. We’ve got our own bulldozer and a small excavator. We’ve got some other duck hunting friends that we found that have equipment, and we’ve gotten enough grants and stuff through Natural Resources, NRCS. Ducks Unlimited helps with partnerships with ODNR for money. ODNR actually did a little video out here, about how to build wetlands.

Ramsey Russell: For anybody listening that wants to go down that path: if you do the legwork, there are opportunities out there.

Mark Costilow: They’re on ODNR’s website. There’s a little video. It talks about building these things. It’s amazing how much help you can get, out there.

Ramsey Russell: Now, I know we talked a little bit in the blind today, there’s a lot of state and federal and private resources that—because of wetlands, because of different environmental concerns, because of wildlife conservation—there are some dollars out there. And, if not dollars, some technical expertise to help build the dream.

Mark Costilow: Northern Ohio, all the way from here up to the islands, was all a big swamp, one day, way back when and then.

Ramsey Russell: You were talking about this morning, weren’t you?

Mark Costilow: The Great Black Swamp. I don’t know if it comes this far east, but this is a target area. It’s good for the water clarity and chemicals and phosphorus, and it’s just a great filter. When we started this—really, honestly, it was selfishly all about the ducks. I said, “I want to build some ponds. I’m going to make some wetlands, and we’re going to shoot a lot of ducks.” But once I started doing this—and we would go out there and we’d see a turtle, or we’d see some sort of butterfly, or we’d see some kind of bird nested—and then Luke growing up and going to college and learning a lot of things about nature, it’s turned into a lot more than just shooting ducks.

Luke Costilow: I mean, it led to my career. Just like Dad said, I started off just wanting to shoot more ducks, but now it has turned into, the waterfowl habitat restoration end of things here is almost more important to me than the duck hunting itself. I wouldn’t say “almost.”

Mark Costilow: It’s addicting, just like the decoy carving. We can manipulate this land and continue to make it better. Even the wetlands that we built to start with, we’re constantly trying to do things to improve those. That spot you hunted today was a dry field, July of last year. We brought the bulldozer in. I had that fellow Nathaniel, who’s a duck hunter, and he borrowed equipment from his employer. We paid him to help us, and I had my equipment.

We built the holding pond up top to hold water supply, you know, we don’t have a creek there. It’s just kind of a place that holds water, and we built two lower units that drains to it. Put a standpipe, and we planted millet, and it matured just perfectly this year. We got real fortunate that we planted it in time, and had millet in those two units.

A week before season, we all went out there. We took the four-wheelers, we lowered that pipe and watched it go down the ditch line, through the fence roll, and started filling up that one unit. The next day, we come back, and it was up to that pipe. It started filling up the second unit. A week later, we shot a limit of ducks out of there. That’s the first time we hunted that spot you were at today. I think the ice helped that. Pretty much everything else around us was frozen.

Ramsey Russell: Luke, did acquisition of this property inspire you to do wildlife management?

Luke Costilow: Oh, 100%. Growing up here—it’s been my entire life, since 2004. I spend every summer out here, every weekend out here. Either designing new wetlands, working in the wetlands—there’s always something to do. Always management to be done. Invasive plant control, trying to control phragmites or canary grass or buckthorn or narrow-leaved cattail. Always something. The better the habitat you have, the better duck habitat you got.


Before-and-After Waterfowl Habitat Management


Ramsey Russell: What was the waterfowl utilization like on this property when you bought it, versus now?

Mark Costilow: Not a lot. There was the ditch. The creek, Coffee Creek, went through it. Actually, one of our most productive units, now, is the first wet spot that was here. We’ve manipulated it to be better. My Uncle Dave was one of the fellows that started coming out here, early on, with us. My dad’s second to youngest brother, and that’s the first place he had ever duck hunted. He wasn’t a duck hunter until he started coming out here. We went out there, and we actually call that Uncle Dave’s Marsh, now. Wasn’t much bigger than this little pond out here in front. You could have thrown a rock across that entire wet spot. We shot wood ducks and geese and pintails off of that, before we even did any of the manipulation of any of the other spots.

Luke Costilow: From 2004 until now, we probably went from a couple acres of water in the beginning to now—if we have all of our wetland units filled—it’s probably about 150 acres of water, I think, when everything’s like full to capacity.

Mark Costilow: About, like you said, about three miles of dike.

Ramsey Russell: Y’all see a continuous uptick in waterfowl utilization. Like you were saying today, y’all have got practically a month left to go in duck season, and you’re three away from your mallard record.

Luke Costilow: Technically, this is the best year I’ve ever had. Out here. Every year it’s getting better.

Ramsey Russell: The ducks are starting to imprint. They’re starting to find it. It’s in the right location. You’ve got the right habitat. How far away from Lake Erie? Not far?

Mark Costilow: A couple miles. Six, seven miles. We really don’t see a lot of influx. We’re in a weird spot, here. This wasn’t a big duck mecca. It was really one of those things, you build it and they’ll start coming. Because there’s not a lot of duck hunters around this area. I got a buddy, lives a couple roads over, that does some duck hunting, and I helped him build a couple wetlands, now, on his property. It’s not a big flyway. I don’t think the big North winds blows ducks off Lake Erie to here. Not a lot of agriculture. So it’s just a really unique spot.

Ramsey Russell: That’s very interesting. How do you think that y’all’s background in detailed, anatomically-correct decoy carving reconciles with your habitat management? And also your vision for this property?

Mark Costilow: It helped a lot. I’m fanatic at coming up with things. The decoys are the same. I want to always envision a new way of carving a duck, or a different pose, and it’s the same thing here. We see this blank piece of ground, and you think, “It’s a blank canvas. What can we do to improve that?” We’ve got into a government program. It’s called Miscanthus Grass, and back when gas was almost $4 a gallon, it was a big deal to try to make ethanol out of grass.

We got into this, we grew about 120 acres of it, and the program’s over now. The ethanol idea went away when gas prices came down, and thank goodness for the gas prices, but that’s going to be turned into hay fields now. But we’ve got an opportunity to start turning some of the miscanthus fields into other wetland units, and that one today—that was all miscanthus. That would have been fourteen foot of grass, last year at this time. Miscanthus is a lot like phragmites, but it’s not invasive. Doesn’t have pollen. It doesn’t have seeds.

Ramsey Russell: It’s not a native plant. I can see why you want to get rid of it in some of those areas around your farm, but, whew, it sure makes some good blind cover.

Mark Costilow: It does. So we’re going to keep some of it. I know they’re starting to sell it for deer management, and barriers between food plots and traveling areas. Becoming a big wildlife management tool. So we’ve got a bunch of it here. We’re going to be able to utilize it.

Ramsey Russell: So y’all still have a lot of plans for increasing the impoundments. Y’all have still got a lot of ideas, a lot to go. I guess every time you come by here, you look at it and say, “Oh, I need a duck hole over here. I see this topography.”

Luke Costilow: Even though this has been our best year ever, it could always be better. There’s always something more we can do.

Mark Costilow: We found ourselves last week in a bind—

Luke Costilow: We had one slow weekend. Then we’re like, “Well, what can we fix? What can we do more? What went wrong?”

Mark Costilow: It’s our addiction.


Does managing duck hunting pressure improve duck hunting quality?


Ramsey Russell: You were talking about conservation value, the benefits, and stuff like that. I’ve got a question: how often do y’all hunt this property? I know you’ve got some members, and some close friends, that hunt with you. I’m assuming Ohio has got about a sixty-day season. How many mornings, or days, does this property get hunted?

Mark Costilow: Generally weekends. We learned resting it is a big deal. We really do rest it as often as we can. So it’s typically weekends. Sometimes Friday through Sunday. I don’t think I’ve missed the weekend—if season’s open, and I’m not somewhere else, if I’m not in Canada or Alaska or somewhere else hunting—we have not missed a weekend here in years. This is what we do.

Ramsey Russell: So, say there’s seven weekends. You hunted Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. That’s 21 days out of a 60 day season. That gives the ducks 40 days, nearly, just to enjoy this. During duck season, to have this property to utilize and benefit from.

Luke Costilow: And that’s just during the duck season. The springs here are phenomenal. The amount of ducks that use this in the spring—it’s like the cover of any magazine you could ever imagine. The spring migration is, I don’t even know how many fold, of what the fall migration’s like. The spring is special here.


Private-Lands Habitat Management for Duck Hunting Also Benefits Society


Ramsey Russell: My point being—just for anybody listening that’s hunting public land and might have an axe to grind over a private landowner—is the wildlife benefit that private landowners bring to the equation. Digging in their time and money, into their pockets, to produce quality hunting experiences for 21 days, 22 days out of the year. But how the waterfowl benefit for the rest of the entire year. That’s my point. Hunters as conservationists.

Private land ownership, especially when you’re doing wetland development and habitat management improvement—as your hunting increases, the value to the resource also increases. And the value beyond the boundaries. These ducks we shot today weren’t coming off of your property, they were coming from elsewhere. That means they’re going elsewhere. The more ducks y’all would have in this little nucleus right here, the more the surrounding area would benefit. That’s kind of my point. It’s hunters as conservationists, and I think it’s a good point.

Luke Costilow: We have a couple of small impoundments that we drain every year and go in and plant some sort of crop in, but the vast majority of what we have is all natural. Then we go in and manipulate water levels and try and promote native vegetation, and stuff like that. While this was built and constructed for duck hunting, since we’re not completely draining everything every year we’ve made a ton of duck habitat for nestings and songbirds and things. We don’t just have five acres of corn that we flood and then, once season’s over, water’s out, and then there’s no more use for that, for ducks.

Ramsey Russell: You were telling me today in the blind something about the wetland loss in Ohio, and it was amazing. Especially over in northwestern Ohio, where that historical—the Great Black Swamp. Describe that a little bit, if you can?

Luke Costilow: So, Ohio—I believe the number is 98% wetland loss across the entire state. The Great Black Swamp was in northwest Ohio, and that was about a million acres.

Ramsey Russell: Put me on a map, in terms of a city.

Luke Costilow: Toledo. Port Clinton.

Ramsey Russell: Drove right through there yesterday, Port Clinton.

Luke Costilow: That area is very historic for duck hunting. A lot of the big clubs in Ohio are all in northwest Ohio, but, of course, as wetlands for farmers and stuff aren’t very useful—and especially as the settlers started moving through—they started draining that, and found out that it’s incredible farming area. A lot of that land has converted to farming and has kind of led to—I don’t know if you’ve heard of the algae blooms in Lake Erie. You get a lot of sediment now, and fertilizers and nitrogen going in the lake because we’ve lost all that great, natural-essentially kidney-that wetlands are. That help water quality.

Ramsey Russell: We actually had a guy on our podcast recently, Bruce Kania, from Montana, that invented a BioHaven Floating Island that is amazing for a lot of applications—practical, like floating duck blinds— but it’s an environmental solution for problems like that. And it’s scalable for the Gulf of Mexico and other oceans. It’s pretty phenomenal.

Luke Costilow: I first learned about those a couple weeks ago. They’re actually doing some sort of testing with them up in northwest Ohio somewhere, and I think that’s so cool.

Ramsey Russell: And he’s a duck hunter. That’s what I was telling you this morning, in the blind. He came up with that idea while he was duck hunting. He had a black lab climbing out of the water and turning red, and it had something to do with that water quality. Just, the way his mind thinks, he started thinking, “What can be done?” But it all started in a duck blind. That’s what’s so amazing.


Waterfowl Decoy Carving Goals


Ramsey Russell: I’ve got a question for you, Luke. Where do you want to go with your carving? What next? You’re a young man. Where do you go from here?

Luke Costilow: I can always get better. I’ve kind of brought it all back home, and I’m starting to focus on it more for myself. I’d like to start carving more for myself. With COVID-19, a lot of the contests have been getting cancelled. That has always been my drive, so I’d like to start carving more just for me. I don’t have very many of my own that I’ve kept. People always give me a lot of heck because I don’t like getting my stuff dirty, but I need to learn to get it dirty and just go hunting on it more. I have some that I’ve carved, strictly for hunting, but I’ve always liked just making really pretty birds and floating them in the tank and then putting them on the mantle.

I have a whole collection of hunting decoys from my friends, and I hunted a couple of them in the water the one day, and I always regret it. Because there’s a little bit of mud that can’t come out of it, and I always like them looking pretty. But, boy, I get a lot of heck from people because “I don’t use hunting decoys the way that you’re supposed to.”

Ramsey Russell: In all these years, you’ve never aspired to just have a dozen and a half, two dozen decoys just to go out and let get dirty?

Luke Costilow: Of course.

Mark Costilow: He’s got his dad’s to still get dirty.

Luke Costilow: No, I would love to. But I just can’t, I can’t keep them. I got to pay off college, got to pay bills, pay for all my bad habits with duck hunting and things. Luckily, the decoys have always been that for me. It pays for all my duck hunting stuff.

Ramsey Russell: You keep saying, getting better and getting better. What is the top of the mountain for someone like yourself?

Mark Costilow: He’s been there. He’s probably not going to brag about himself. He’s won the championship, World Gunning Pair. It’s in the Champion Division.

Luke Costilow: I have eight Best of Show’s at the World Championships. Four of those are in the youth, and then four are in the Gunning Pair contest, which is, one entry is one pair, and they go and float them—it’s in Ocean City, Maryland, and they float them out in the Assateague Bay. Assawoman Bay. Yeah. I don’t know.

Mark Costilow: He’s got to try to beat his dad, yet. I think that’s his next goal. For some reason, he hasn’t been able to do that one yet. But I think he’s better than I am. He really does make a nicer decoy than I do. But for some reason, when we compete together, I always seem to get lucky.

Ramsey Russell: Well, it must make you proud that he followed in your decoy carving footsteps.

Mark Costilow: Oh, my God. He’s my best friend, and I’m just so proud.


World Champion Waterfowl Decoy Carver Recognition


I guess I just don’t go out with that business card and label myself a world champion, or even a champion of any sort. I just enjoy doing it and enjoy promoting the art. – Mark Costilow


Ramsey Russell: Tell me this. In all the years you’ve been carving, Mark, does the community recognize you as a world champion?

Mark Costilow: Maybe. Probably not, but I think that’s probably my own fault. I’m not a very good self-promoter. I don’t drive on that. I like the plaques, I like the contest, but I don’t go out there patting myself on the back. I’ve written a book (Traditional Hunting Decoys, Wildfowl Carving magazine Workshop Projects). I helped a lot of young people, or new people, carving things, but I guess I just don’t go out with that business card and label myself a world champion, or even a champion of any sort. I just enjoy doing it and enjoy promoting the art.

Ramsey Russell: From your earlier description of that, it just sounds like the ritual and the escape into that—the art of it is what compels you, more than fancy titles or anything else.

Mark Costilow: Exactly. Decoy carving started out as a necessity. It really did. I needed to carve. My first decoys were probably because I didn’t have money to go out and buy a rig of decoys to hunt with, and then it turned into making money to support the family. A big part of my need to carve was necessity, and even though I enjoyed it, it was because I had to.


Ohio Duck Hunting Camp Hospitality


That’s part of why I do this. Today, I gave up the best spot, and it’s not about shooting all the ducks myself. It’s about sharing the place and the stories and the breakfast.


Ramsey Russell Ohio Duck Hunting podcast
Plentiful food to include Mark Costilow’s bountiful pre-gaming breakfast, friends-forever camaraderie, and warm hospitality are traditional hallmarks of Coffee Creek Marsh duck camp.

Ramsey Russell: Well, I’ve sure enjoyed being here. I sure am very thankful for your hospitality and for the great duck hunt. I look forward to finishing up, maybe shooting another duck in the morning. I go to a lot of hunting camps throughout the United States, and it’s rare—I mean, it shocked me, this morning. You said, “We’re getting up at such-and-such time. Coffee would be going.” And I woke up this morning. I smelled biscuits in the oven, and I smelled sausage cooking, and I heard laughter and chatter. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a camp that kicks off with a full breakfast before the hunt.

Mark Costilow: That’s me. I like getting up early enough. I like getting the coffee ready. That’s part of why I do this. Today, I gave up the best spot, and it’s not about shooting all the ducks myself. It’s about sharing the place and the stories and the breakfast. I love my breakfast.

Ramsey Russell: After the last four or five days, we needed that. Really and truly, after those first four came in—and they didn’t just come in, they came just right here, saying, “Shoot me,” right there where they’re supposed to be—I poured a cup of coffee, and I was happy right then. It was awesome. It was just the way the duck presented himself. That was what was so awesome.

Mark Costilow: There’s just nothing like it. That’s why we do it. You asked that question early on. That’s why we do it. No matter how many times you see it. No matter how many times I’m driving down the road, and my wife’s in the car, and I see a set of ducks cupping into a little pond as you’re driving by and you almost wreck doing it. She wonders, “How many times you got to see that?” and it’s never enough.

Duck Season Somewhere Podcast Costilow decoy carving
Ramsey Russell recording Duck Season Somewhere podcast episode with Luke and Mark Costilow after perfect day duck hunting in Ohio.

Ramsey Russell: There’s so much to be said for the social sports of food and camaraderie. Speaking of which, that’s enough. We started with a great breakfast this morning. We came in, and there was corned beef sandwiches for lunch, and the recliner was super comfortable. It’s like I told you, I only take  five minute naps. Today I took about twelve of them consecutively. We got out, we plucked some ducks, we had a great dinner. Rance Gamblin made some incredible soup from Italian sausage made from Canada geese, and we had those little mallard breasts. Man, what a great way to finish just another perfect day at camp.

Mark Costilow: Absolutely.

Ramsey Russell: Thank y’all for your hospitality.

Mark Costilow: Thanks for coming. It’s been a pleasure.

Ramsey Russell: Folks, connect with Luke Costilow’s decoy carving on Instagram @costilowdecoys.  Thank y’all for joining us at Duck Season Somewhere. We look forward to seeing you next time. Stay tuned. Forrest and I are headed to New York, tomorrow. Bye.


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GunDog Outdoors. Sit means sit and stay until it doesn’t. No matter how well or how often trained, retrievers want those ducks as badly as we do. Maybe even more. Char Dawg might be titled, but she’s still just a dog. I’m over 50 years old and I still do dumb stuff, trust me. Retrievers are family. I wouldn’t endanger my children near heavy traffic, and I’m not going to risk my dog jumping in front of blazing guns either. GunDog Outdoor’s patented, quick -release safety system is fully adjustable, tethers to any blind or stand, has titanium stakes for frozen ground, and a quick-release marine-grade shackle to quickly release Fido when the smoke clears. Visit, connect with them on Instagram @gundogoutdoors to see their growing line of gun dog safety and performance products. Enter #getducks to receive 15% discount off of your first order.

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.

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.

It really is Duck Season Somewhere for 365 days. Ducks Season Somewhere takes me year-round to worldwide destinations where I meet the most interesting people. I’m your host Ramsey Russell. Join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome to Duck Season Somewhere podcast.

Podcast Sponsors:, your proven source for the very best waterfowl hunting adventures. Argentina, Mexico, 6 whole continents worth. For two decades, we’ve delivered real duck hunts for real duck hunters. because the next great hunt is closer than you think. Search our database of proven US and Canadian outfits. Contact them directly with confidence.

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 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