He’s an absolute living legend. Jim Pierce has been carving decoys and hunting ducks near Havre de Grace, Maryland for 75 years of his 88 years. In a candid then-versus-now conversation in his decoy painting room, he talks about his lifetime duck hunting the Chesapeake Bay, describing the legendary watermen that taught him to hunt and to carve, the “good old days,” old shotguns, plastic versus wooden decoys, how hunting techniques and other things have changed for better or for worse. But best I can tell, the one thing that definitely has not changed is what duck hunting really means to him!
Hunting with Fabled Decoy Carvers
You were saying, you still hunt ducks at the tender age of 88 years old, you’re still mad at those ducks.
Ramsey Russell: And welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere today, have I got a special interview for you all. You all do not want to miss today’s interview. Today, I am in Havre de Grace, Maryland on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay, not too far from here is the fabled Susquehanna flats, that you all have heard and dreamed about your entire lives with rafts of canvasbacks and market hunting and all that good stuff. And joining me today is Mr. Jim Pierce decoy carver for 75 years. This man has been turning out Chesapeake Bay decoys since he was 14 years old and the stories he has got. Mr. Jim, how are you today?
Jim Pierce: I’m just fine.
Ramsey Russell: I’m glad to be here. You were saying, you still hunt ducks at the tender age of 88 years old, you’re still mad at those ducks.
Jim Pierce: Yeah. Well, look of course we got some good places to hunt because I met so many people in this business, so we got all kinds of places to go hunting in any way, all the time. So I can go hunting any time I want to, I mean, I can just get down the shore. Well, used to be when I was younger, when I work, I used to always take November, December and January save my vacation time up, let it ride over and when December the 7th or 9th when the gunning season come in, I tell my wife, I’m going hunting, see me when I get back, I might have been gone for 3 months, I call her and stuff like that. But I went hunting every damn day.
Ramsey Russell: There’s a lot of us listen that do that or want to do that today, I guarantee you.
Jim Pierce: I know, Summer didn’t go on now, but he was a hell of a hunter, we gone 3 days a week together and he never shot over the limit, but he kept a log and in that log, what the weather was, who he’s gunning with and what he killed a whole log, his whole life, he was a accountant, so he was like that. And the same way when we went trout fishing, we go trout fishing all the time up Delaware Bay before the Vietnamese, came here and all. And so, but I met them all. I knew Bob McGaw, Jim Collier, Johnny Hans –
Ramsey Russell: Those were all the fabled decoy carvers.
Jim Pierce: Right.
Ramsey Russell: Let’s back up just a minute, Mr. Jim and let’s talk about this, tell me you grew up here in Havre de Grace, born and raised?
Jim Pierce: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: What was it like? That would have been back in the -you would have started carving decoys around right after World War 2.
Jim Pierce: Right.
Ramsey Russell: And you were born and raised here in Havre de Grace on the Chesapeake Bay, what was it like growing up here back in the 40s?
Jim Pierce: Well, what it was is a fishing village, everybody fish for a living. And then when fishing was over with, they packed heron and stuff like that. And then when fishing went over with, I mean, for turtles, for turtle soup, they sold it in the market 35 cents a pound for – makers or stuff like that in New York, Philadelphia sold in their restaurants, sold turtle soup and everything. And they called a turtle and it used to be this fish house over here, now because Jeff and them built condos over there. They used to get like just coal storage over there and wait for about 3 months to have like 3500 of them. They get the party going take a stick and get, pull their head out, cut their head off, throw them in a skillet or pot shells come off and the women would cut all the meat out and put them in jars or send them the water makers and all the big time restaurants in New York, Boston everything. And of course you’re not allowed to do that anymore, because they put a restriction on catching.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. They’re not too many of those turtles anymore, is it?
Jim Pierce: No.
What Was the Duck Hunting Like Back in the ‘40s?
Oh there were so many ducks here, you could go out there and see they had a – it used to be, there was no limit until 1934 year I was born and they put a limit on them 25 birds per person.
Ramsey Russell: What was the duck hunting like back in the 40s? What was the duck hunting culture like back then?
Jim Pierce: Oh there were so many ducks here, you could go out there and see they had a – it used to be, there was no limit until 1934 year I was born and they put a limit on them 25 birds per person.
Ramsey Russell: Could you go out and shoot that many birds back then?
Jim Pierce: Oh, hell, yeah, they’re so sick. I mean, you get two darts, you have 50 birds on it because they all – well, most of them use double barrels and everybody used high brass shells but all non shot because you had more shot coming out and everything was so close. You know what I mean, when they’re coming in and so sometime they shot, they might picked up 30 ducks, next time they shot, you got 6 shots and then guys are reloading, I mean, ducks are just falling out of the air like nothing.
Ramsey Russell: What kind of ducks? Was everybody targeting those canvasbacks and blackheads, you’re talking about?
Jim Pierce: Canvasbacks, black heads and reds. They were a table and everything else was good eating. I mean, we hunted we should kill the coots, shoot like 25 coots and skin them out and throw them in a crock pot with dinner more be stew and have coot stew all the time. Because it tasted it – they all fit on wild celery, the breast were all the same. If you fried it or cooked it up in whatever way you want, barbecue, if you want, you couldn’t tell a coot from a mallard or canvasback because it fit on all the same grass that wild celery. It’s coming back now.
Ramsey Russell: How would you all hunt? Describe what hunting on the Chesapeake Bay was like when you were a little boy going out with your family, were you all body booting? Were you all layout boat hunting?
Jim Pierce: Well, most of the time there were sink boxing up to 1934, then they cut sink boxing out and they limited the birds to 25 birds per person. Well, then everybody went to bush whacking because the birds sat there –
Ramsey Russell: And what is bush whacking?
Jim Pierce: There was a scull boat, I’ll show you. Yeah, you scull it down, you put the decoys out, you put curtains up, usually had two guys in the front and the guy scull and had curtains up and you went with the wind it sail you right into the ducks and the ducks jumped, you shot and you took and most extensions on our guns back then were no wall, so by our extensions on and you got nine rounds. Three guns was 27 shots. So, shit, you go out and kill 30, 40 ducks at a time.
Ramsey Russell: How old were you when you started going out and bush whacking with your folks?
Jim Pierce: 14.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember?
Jim Pierce: Oh yeah. My family is Robert Fulton family and –
Ramsey Russell: And what does that mean?
Lives Guided by the Tides
Certain times of year it was codfish, certain times of year it was shellfish, certain times of year it was waterfowl.
Jim Pierce: Well, the Robert Fulton family was – well, the president of the United States, their whole family, Pennsylvania home places up there and my grandfather was Robert Fulton, my mother was a Fulton and then my father was from Pierce was from Nova Scotia. Well, he was working in a Quincy Massachusetts in a Ford factory, he was only 16 years old, when the first world war broke out. So his aunt signed and he was 17, so he get in the service because he wanted American citizenship. When he went in the cavalry for a year and the war was over and he got out with no work. So he went back in and he went in the Marine Corps and he was a cook, so he cooked down Washington DC. And that’s how I met my mother because we had a fellow who was an MP, he used to ride motorcycles all the time back then. And they used to right up here to Lieutenant Brown’s house in Prairieville and that’s how I met my mother. And of course, my grandfather was on both sides of the family, they had a lot of money, they were really rich but they lost during the depression. My Pierce family, my grandfather on my dad’s side, he had 127 scooters going to the grand banks for 3 weeks and catching cod fish and everything and going Dutch West Indies and bringing salt, salting them down, packing them all up and everything. And then, we put them up in the nets and dry them and all that and sell on the market in New York, Philadelphia, Boston. And then in the summer time they were just, lobster and they were always on the water doing something.
Ramsey Russell: They were water men.
Jim Pierce: They were water men, yes.
Ramsey Russell: And let the season in terms of what was coming in and out of those waters with the tides on the bottom in that gulf stream that dictated their lives. Certain times of year it was codfish, certain times of year it was shellfish, certain times of year it was waterfowl.
Jim Pierce: Right and that’s what they did for a living.
Ramsey Russell: Did you ever hear any stories from your dad or granddad about growing up duck hunting preceding the duck limits and stuff like that around here? Did they go back into market hunting at some point? I mean, were they out there shooting ducks out of sink boxes or were they bound to have been associated with those folks that were actually trading in ducks like cod fish?
Jim Pierce: Well, yes because they had decoy dealers, I mean, duck dealers that bought from the hunters, barrels of ducks or something, the barrels of them and they sent to New York, Philadelphia, Boston because the canvasback were the king of ducks between the canvasback, black head with anything you eat out here, we all fed on wild celery. So we used to shoot all the coots we want made coots stew all the time. If you fix it, it tastes just like canvasback because it all fit on the same wild celery.
Ramsey Russell: Same diet. You are what you eat. In that, back in those days with your dad and your granddad and the way they hunted, first it was sink boxes, lots of decoys out, then it was bush whacking, where sink boxes were illegal, I’m going to take this boat, I’m going to skiff up into it, kind of flat shoot them when they get up, but you all still had decoys. What kind of decoys did your father and grandfather use? Who were the carvers that made the decoys that they used?
Creating the Modern Duck Decoy
How far back, when you start looking at carvers, how far back like – like who would have been some of the people around that “invented” what became the modern decoy?
Jim Pierce: The Holly’s, Sam Barnes, Jim Holly, Jim Collier, Bob McGaw, Paul Gibson’s, Madison Mitchell all those guys.
Ramsey Russell: I remember some of those names. Because what I’m getting at is, is Havre de Grace, this region between here and Tuckerton New Jersey because of the ports because of the boat trade, the commerce related to those waterways and because of the rich duck hunting history, this is kind of sort of where decoy were born right here. This is where the conventional decoy as we all know it today was conceived. How far back, when you start looking at carvers, how far back like – like who would have been some of the people around that “invented” what became the modern decoy? Who would have – because your granddaddy probably would have known him and associated with him some. Who would they have been Mr. Pierce, some of those original carvers back then, some of the people you named?
Jim Pierce: My grandfather got them off the canal, he was in charge of the canals for Riceville, he built all the locks. He used to build all the locks all over the country. Well, he’s a multimillionaire, had an office in Philadelphia had it built locks over Europe all over, they’re 16ft wide and 60ft long with floodgate. So you can put one barge in here, flood gate and bring it out in the river and that was from Riceville all the way down here. But then what happened when the depression hit, everybody went broke, not that he still have money. But then commerce wasn’t being shipped, so they lost money, you know what I mean? So the income wasn’t coming in and you figure back then from Riceville here they saw, brought coal down the river from Pennsylvania, the coal barges would come down. Well, a lot of time they take them and build fish houses on them for fisher to live on this stuff. You know what I mean? It was cheaper to – there’s so much white pond up there, they just building 8 or 10 of them a day could have slave labor and everything like that. And when they brought them down here, they would have to take to pad and pull them back up, so it was easier. A lot of people bought them and had to live on, on the water and they all live on the water, a lot of bachelors back then, a lot of them just all they were watermen, they went out and made good money and then drank it up on Friday night and start all over.
Ramsey Russell: And the rest they just wasted.
Jim Pierce: Yeah and then start all over again.
Ramsey Russell: Your son just brought in a pair of teal decoys, what’s the provenance of these decoys?
Jim Pierce: My grandfather gave them to me. And he got them off a canal barge in 1934 a year I was born 8 years ago. We don’t know who they are or what, but he gave them to me.
Ramsey Russell: Your granddaddy did.
Jim Pierce: Yeah, and I had my uncle, he had a scalar was 29ft long, took gun and parties out and they would just take it out on a flat and anchor for the whole season out there in the summer time because people would run just to go rock fishing, stay on it from the city would come down and spend a week out on it and it was called the King Tut. And in fact, I’m making a model of it right now in there and with the books and everything in it, I take the top off and everything like that. And because when I was a kid, he end up living on them, a lot of bachelors had fishing barge, so they turn them into scows that they lived on, they lived on a river, they would jack them up, put cross underneath of them and build a cat walk out there to them and how the whole river front with marsh land. So everywhere you went there was a damn both people leaving in them, it was cheap living.
Ramsey Russell: We call them river rats back home. Water man up here, river rats just people connected to the water that live right there in the resource back in those days.
Jim Pierce: Crab season, then they went crabbing, oyster season, they went out for oysters, rockfish season, they went on rockfish perch season, they went perch fishing, well, it was just a cycle, it’s one big cycle.
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember, it is a crazy question. But do you remember your first duck that you shot? Do you remember shooting your first duck?
Jim Pierce: Yeah, right down here in the end of the island is going now, it was like an acre and a half and I used to trap on it and the power company had a metal building on to keep their decoys on it. They had two blinds on one on each end and it’s all gone now because of curse took it away and nothing there now, so rocks out there you can see on those. And he was in charge of Sears when they built a dam, they built a railroad from Havre de Grace off the Maine line all the way up to street, clean up little tracks are still there and you can go all the way up, you could come with a dam, the whole supplies up there. And back then every day a train would run a Havre de Grace and pick up kerosene, go to the grocery store because the power company and they work 24/7, so they fed them, you know what I mean? Right. And so they went to the grocery stores and bought all the groceries and the kerosene, they got coal for the coal stove. They had bunk houses and all that up there and now you go up there and you go fishing out on the catwalks and they built some ramps. So, you go out down there fishing now too because it was great for great rock fishing.
Ramsey Russell: And that’s where you shot your first duck?
Jim Pierce: Right down into this river right here.
Ramsey Russell: And what was your first duck?
Jim Pierce: Canvasback.
Ramsey Russell: Drake or hen?
Jim Pierce: Drake.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. When you were a little boy like that hunting, just getting into hunting with your folks? A duck or did you all choose drakes over hens when you could?
Jim Pierce: We shot all the drakes, we could, we want the hens to go back and lay more eggs.
A Young Start in Decoy Carving
But you all were just little boys when you started carving.
Ramsey Russell: Make more ducks. And when did you get into decoy carving? And how did you get into decoy carving?
Jim Pierce: Well, in 1954 I was 14 years old and I was born and raised downtown and I didn’t build this house, till I got married in 53 but I moved in, I was living in Havre de Grace I had a decoy shop down there.
Ramsey Russell: In 1954.
Jim Pierce: 1954, I built a shop of a backyard because my brothers work for telephone company and I just want to work for a telephone company and we got all the steel telephone poles we wanted to make decoys out of. So I would go down and turn 100 birds or Madison Mitchell free and I could take a turn a hunter from a cell and I work them up and put them together, well, Harry Jobes and I did that together and we paint them in my mother’s basement and then finally I build a shop, but –
Ramsey Russell: But you all were just little boys when you started carving. And one of your contemporaries was Harry Jobes whose son still carve in this area. So did you work for her for Madison Mitchell as a little boy?
Jim Pierce: Yeah. My sister lived right next to him, I used to go down there all the time, I used to go to the shop and watch them and one day like two days in there, he says, look, you don’t come around here and just watch you work, here’s a broom, start sweeping. So you clean up from the lathe and stuff. Next thing I know I was running the lathe spoke shaving and drawing they taught you the whole thing, taught me everything about it.
Ramsey Russell: So you showed up as a little boy interested, like young men are and you really didn’t start off saying, well, I want to be a decoy carver, it just happened. Tell me what it was like to work in Madison Mitchell shop back then.
Jim Pierce: Well, what it was Mitchell had like 10 or 15 men work for him because he put like 3600 decoys together a year. So like in the summer time, like, in November, we go to Pennsylvania and get the wood because the sap was out of the tree and have it already sawed up, they had a window company up there, he dealt with a guy’s gun and land over Pennsylvania. And we go up there and take a truck goes to white pine, clear white pine cause they made window size and all that stuff. So those guys hunted down here, so Mitchell made them decoys for the wood, yeah, there’s plenty of white pine right here, so it kind of is very valuable that white pine.
Ramsey Russell: Is that the favorite wood for decoy carvers up here is white pine. Is it because it’s abundant because it’s light?
Jim Pierce: It’s light and everything, but then paulownia.
Ramsey Russell: Royal paulownia, yeah.
Jim Pierce: And it grows big and it’s light, it grows fast and we use a lot of that now.
Ramsey Russell: Because it’s light, does it last pretty good?
Jim Pierce: It won’t rot, it won’t do nothing. And what happens is humidity don’t change it, saying they take it over China and make musical instruments out of it because so humidity don’t change the string, base or everything.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, how many decoys were you carving later in life, when you got off into your shop, how many decoys were you carving in a year?
Jim Pierce: I was making 3000, 3600.
Ramsey Russell: Were most of those decoys, gunning decoys for locals?
Jim Pierce: They were all local. Well, you really sold the doctor and lawyer, they’re the one who had the money and you are getting 35 cents a piece for a duck, that was a lot of money back then.
Ramsey Russell: 35 cents a piece, that’s what you were getting for a decoy.
Jim Pierce: Right. Then finally in 71 when inflation hit and they went up to a dollar a quarter and it just kept on going up, you know what I mean?
Ramsey Russell: Could you ever have dreamed when you were in your 20s selling decoys for 30 cents a piece, could you ever dream that they’d be selling for $200 or $300 a piece?
Jim Pierce: No, it’s unbelievable. And then see my son got out of college at the University of Maryland, 1991, of course, he’s been going to school, it was, like a Catholic school and all that and he said dad, I’m taking a year off, I’m tired of going to school, so I said, what are you going to do? He says, I’ll help you at the decoy shop, well, he’s been here ever since.
Ramsey Russell: He never left?
Jim Pierce: Never left.
Ramsey Russell: He told me a story this morning, while you were getting dressed? He told me a story, we’re looking around the shop, I went out to the – you all got some wood out there now and then we came back into where the lathing room, he kind of gave me a tour and he said at one time, you had 9 employees and when he decided to come here, he said, dad, I’ll come back, but I want to be just me and you, do you remember that?
Jim Pierce: Yeah, well see, back then, you had a lot of guys who come up here in the evening and work for a couple, 2 or 3 hours, make a few dollars, actually, beer money that’s all it was. But then when he got out of college, he said, I want to take a year off, but he said, I just want you and I, to be in a shop, I said that’s no problem. But I did keep Henry because Henry is a good Sander and Johnny help in sanding and stuff. And those boys are making decoys, I tell you some of them. And so just him and I went to it and he stayed here ever since and he made a cost of living out of it, supply and demand, we just can’t make enough of ducks.
Wood vs Plastic Decoys
Ramsey Russell: People still want these old wooden decoys and cork.
Jim Pierce: Yeah, and I know guys called me and said, look, I put my – store, your birds overboard or store plastic decoys and duck call and go to our plastic decoy, they go to your decoys.
Ramsey Russell: Why do you think that is? What is it about natural materials that plastic will never might mimic?
Jim Pierce: Because they ride on a water, right and they go with the waves, if they flip over, they flip back up where plastic ones you don’t have all that, they’re too light and they can’t overturn themselves, they get turned over, you hit with a war or whatever. But all of our were made around like that, a weight put on. So the next wave, the thing would come back up.
Ramsey Russell: Have you ever hunted over plastic decoys throughout the years? I mean, you’ve been to the wooden decoy business forever.
Jim Pierce: Yeah, I have, but I have never shot it.
Ramsey Russell: But have you ever owned a plastic decoy rig?
Jim Pierce: No. But I have friends that had them and I’ve gone over but we never killed any ducks over and most of them got rid of all our stuff and went back to wooden birds. Like now we can’t make enough of wooden birds for guys, they all want wooden birds.
Ramsey Russell: The year I got married Mr. Jim back in the 90s, I came up to my family, my wife’s family is from kind of around Washington D.C and it was duck season and I wanted to go duck hunting and I went kind of over near Chestertown, Maryland and the Mike McBride was a guy there and he had some old cork and wooden decoys that his dad had bought when he was a young man. And that’s the first time I’d ever seen them and I talked him into taking those decoys out the next morning and he put them out on the pond and he threatened to kill me if I shot a low bird over those decoys. He said this is very special, he said, sentimental, he had a very sentimental attachment to these decoys, but it was the first time I at age 30 had hunted over real decoys and I stopped by a shop over on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay and they had wooden and cork decoys for sale and I picked up a very inexpensive pair and I went home and it inspired me to kind of start trying to carve my own. And it took my hunting experience and I hunt over a lot of plastic and modern materials today. But every now and again, I go out with those homemade decoys and I hunt with friends to have their wooden decoys. And it changed my relationship with the duck, just the fact that they were coming in to my decoys. And I can remember one time on the Mississippi river, some backwater, we put out a lot of plastic decoys, I mean, a bunch, we had to have a big raft and I took my first 12 square looking completely unattractive cork decoys and I put them out in a spot over here and every duck we killed that morning came in to those 12 decoys and everybody in the boat noticed that every duck we killed out of all those plastic decoys, all the ducks we killed that morning came in because the way they rode in the water like real high, that cork ride real high. And which is all to say this, what Mike had told me that day is, he could remember as a little boy when plastic decoy started emerging on the market that all those old men, his dad, all the people in the camp, all the locals, everybody started burning those heavy ass old wooden decoy, they’ve been lugging around, it took a lot of work to get them – because if you left them out soaking all year they got heavy. He said, all of a sudden they handed him this magic little plastic decoy that was light, he said he can remember stringing plastic decoys while the man kept the bonfire going, throwing those old wooden decoys in it, to make the fire burn. But it’s so interesting how a few decades later everybody’s going back to the real deal, it’s totally different, isn’t it? Is it more than just the functionality of those wooden decoys? Do you see a lot of your clients clinging to something beyond the effectiveness? Is it something just that they like about the old ways of hunting more than the new way of hunting?
Jim Pierce: Yeah, the young generation now, well, they all got good jobs and making good money, so now they can all – with inflation the way it is. I mean, I have guys come here order 50 birds, $5000 to shoot over. But their husband and wife both working and they’re making $200,000 a year, they’re computer operators or something like that or have their own little business at home or so many people just think how much office space and money people are losing in New York and stuff except for the Chinese buying it up because everybody works out of their house now.
What Does Made American Really Mean?
Ramsey Russell: I was going to ask you also, you grew up in Havre de Grace, a fishing village, a collection of families of water men that went from clams to lobsters, to crabs, to ducks, to whatever codfish just with the seasons and they came in and you had this entire little made in America economy, where everybody was trading in commerce, what do you think – and it’s just a question that just came to my head. How did those days with American made decoys and Americans trading with each other just in that one little local economy? How is that different from today, with all of this made in China, not just in the hunting space but everywhere. What does made in America mean to you? And how does it differ from the modern economy where all this crap is coming from China.
Jim Pierce: What happened is the companies here – so workers price the companies out of business, a lot of them, you want to wage it and more wages and the company goes in business to make money, if you can’t make money to pay your employees, you’re feeding families, households and stuff like that, so it was cheap labor, so they started going to China and get stuff made. But now that’s all turned around, it’s come back this way again, more pharmaceutical companies starting up as these young kids are smart today, they are well educated and they’re starting a lot of companies of their own up and manufacture. And then because we’re one of the biggest buyers from China there is up to Europe, you know what I mean? So that’s falling off, we’re starting to make stuff here in this country. Starting to make medical equipment and stuff made in China, there’s a big place are building up like H.M Gore company. They start out with a Gore-Tex and I remember Mr. Gore he invented it, Dupont didn’t want anything to do with it. So he went in his garage, he started, I got few jackets up there with it that he made for the military and the military didn’t want them, so he sold them and hell, I just go to this plant and now that’s all they – everything is gore-tex. It’s a multimillion dollar business and they got 5 plants now up in Cherry Hill and everything and that’s the way things change. Some things people throw away, it’s just like, what do you think is the most money made off of in this country? What’s the most money made off of products in this country?
Ramsey Russell: No idea, something disposable, I’m sure like tires.
Jim Pierce: Chewing gum.
Ramsey Russell: Chewing gum. Okay, yeah, you’re kidding.
Jim Pierce: I read that on – saw that on a program, I’ll watch up there, how America was made and all that, I’ll watch all that stuff and it showed a Wrigley and spearmint and they first started making, it was 5, 6 for a penny, then I went up to 5, 6 for a nickel, I don’t know what it is now, I don’t buy gum. But anyhow, there are more money made off that gum than anything else because people all over the world that spearmint gum and stuff and they all got a flavour now, any flavor you want.
Remembering the Good Ole’ Days
And of course they’re all going to the market to feed during hunting season, I mean, people eat waterfowl, no different with a fishing season…
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. A lot of my favorite things in the world, especially in the hunting world, my granddad’s shotgun, some of my granddad’s old decoys, old clothes, waiters or gear that I have used for decades, not waiters for decades, but gear that I have used for decades, old coats, old decoys, I don’t know. It’s like, a wooden decoy sitting on a shelf has never been used, it doesn’t have a soul, like one that’s been sitting out in the water, got a few BB holes, he’s lived a life, if only he could talk, it gives him a soul, I don’t like disposable product in my life, I really don’t. I chew gum, I chew tobacco but I don’t like disposable product. I like, things that grow with me and age with me. That’s what I think about. Mr Jim, what would you say, if you think back at the age of 88, killed your first duck when you were 14, carved your first decoys when you were 14, when you think back to the “good old days” the good old days when between now and then would the good old days have been?
Jim Pierce: Well up till the 70s. When inflation hit in the 70s, things just started changing. But after the second World War up to the 70s, then they started building these housing developments, people are getting good jobs, making money and they are building developments all over and a lot of them going to work for a government, more people work for the government in this country than anywhere in the world. I mean, we’re the only country in the world that has marines stationed in every embassy in the world. We got a marine in every – and that just take the billions of dollars we don’t even know about, they didn’t even tell you about that the budgets and because we are the richest country in the world and why would China want to put their Gold in New York Stock Exchange down in the basement? Because they know it’s the safest place in the world. Because we’re a nation made up of migrants of all nationalities and we got our little Italy’s, we got our China shops, the Koreans and a lot of them, they build little towns together and they’re all good people, they want to do one thing, make a living and live and have their families.
Ramsey Russell: The American dream. But if I asked you about the good old days of duck hunting, would it have fallen in the same era between the 50s and 70s?
Jim Pierce: Yes. Between, I’ll say from 1934 what happened, you’re allowed to kill 100 birds per gunner, but then the government put a limit only 25 per gunner. Well, still, I didn’t make it hurt them, 4 of them would go gun, they killed 8 per hunter or 8 of them would go gunning, you know what I mean? So they just took people out there to go gun with, they even shoot a gun just to get their limit. And of course they’re all going to the market to feed during hunting season, I mean, people eat waterfowl, no different with a fishing season, when shad were here, everybody eat shad, shad hair and hair and roller stuff. When the rockfish were here, everybody fish for rockfish, it’s just seasonal. And then now fall, the year comes it’s oyster season. And like a good friend of mine in New York, he’ll be down next weekend, he’s a lobster man. Jim, told me he was electrician, but he lives right on the water, so he lobsters too? Well, he’ll be down for our Christmas party and he’ll bring me a 50 lobsters or how many people I’m going to have here, if you’re going to be around here, you’re welcome to call in our Christmas party.
Ramsey Russell: I won’t be around this year but I want to come back for it, I’ve heard good things about that Christmas party.
Jim Pierce: You’ll meet a lot of good people here from all walks of life. I made a lot of friends over the years –
Ramsey Russell: I bet you have.
Jim Pierce: And they became good friends and that’s why I go hunting any day I wanted to and some of the finest hunting spots there is because on my decoy business, they bought my decoys, I treat them like with respect like I would want to be treated and they all – like we’re like a family anymore. And then like next week we’re going down to Cambridge and the fellows I know and have the place, hell, you’ll come out of the house and they got flooded corn and you go out there and you stand or we got chairs for me and so we sit there in a chair, you fix your little hot totty or whatever you want and God damn, when they flush them out, you just –
Ramsey Russell: Like in heaven.
Jim Pierce: Yeah, you’ll kill 10 or 15 mallards no time, just like at each guy or sit there with your gun you’re done for the day. And then what they do is they have a place that you could take them and get them clean and frozen, so this guy takes 10, this guy takes 10 and during the season you got your freezer filled up, so you need duck all year around.
Ramsey Russell: When you talk about the good old days of duck hunting, going between the, say the mid-30s to the 70s, you started off, there was 25 ducks a man limit, but by the 70s, the limits weren’t like that, but those were still, they seemed like good old days, why were the 70s the stopping point? Because back in those days, we had point systems, I couldn’t shoot depending on what species between 2 to 10 ducks. Why were those still the good old days in your mind? Because there were still a lot of ducks?
Jim Pierce: Still a lot of ducks and there wasn’t enough game warden to keep track of guys, you know what I mean? And they would go out there body booting and they would take as many people they could, some didn’t have license just to take them to kill a bag limit, you know what I mean?
Ramsey Russell: The shooting was still very good even if you had to tow around the limit laws or whatever, it just kind of cheat the system, because the gunning was good because there were a lot of birds.
Jim Pierce: A lot of birds and there’s very few game wardens around. You know what I mean? Not like it is now there’s game wardens around everywhere.
Ramsey Russell: What changed, like you say, okay, the good old days between the 40s and 70s now, between the 70s and now what changed, why were the 70s, the end of those good old days? What changed after the 70s?
Jim Pierce: Well, what happened is industries got going. We want it back to industry, we’re dependent on China now, we got more companies building up in this country and doing away with China. And these young kids are smart kids, they start their own companies and hell they hire friends and their parents are in business with them, they have stock and stuff and they are producing stuff. I mean, just like, alcohol. Oh, good God. Just think what they made off of the alcohol actually made beer and everything just for hand cleaner stuff. They make more money, made more off the by product than they did off the goddamn whiskey and beer.
Ramsey Russell: But in terms of duck hunting, what happened in the 70s that the good old days ended. What happened in Chesapeake Bay, that the ducks weren’t there, that the hunting opportunity wasn’t there? What do you think happened that changed up here? Why the good old days of Chesapeake Bay ended?
Jim Pierce: What really happened is it took – when mosquitoes got so bad, they came around and sprayed that DDT all over down your streets had to get in and out of all the porch and it went in the water and killed the wild celery and everything. And then, for about 40 years, nothing would grow, now it’s all come back. That stuff has gotten down now, now the wild celery is back, flash is full of grass, ducks are here but the thousands, it’s a cycle, you know what I mean?
Ramsey Russell: There are more ducks now because the of habitat management and practices, the wild celery starting to come back to Susquehanna flats, okay.
Jim Pierce: And there’s so much – I mean, there’s so many birds out there, they love that wild celery and I mean, you go out there and you can kill – I mean, I know guys go out there and just take people, just take them so they kill the limit, they buy them a license just so they can kill the limit.
The Value of a Mallard
Ramsey Russell: How important were mallards to your family and to Havre de Grace when you were growing up back in the 40s and 50s. Mallard ducks weren’t as abundant, you all were targeting canvasbacks, redheads, black heads, all associated with that wild celery, I know black ducks were important to this region as a part of the bag. But when did mallard come in on the scene? Were mallards important to you all growing up as a kid?
Jim Pierce: Well, what happened is, a lot of the mallards didn’t come here. Because I guess –
Ramsey Russell: It wasn’t a historic range, they were introduced to the Atlantic Flyway at some point in time, so it just made me wonder.
Jim Pierce: They brought in mallards out of Pennsylvania that are farm raise wild ducks and never clipped their wings or anything. And what they did was like it did down the south, it took barbed wire – I mean, chicken just made big cage, he drive a deep through and started raising them quail and just keep putting corn out, next thing they’re out in the wall, had holes in fences and everything and the quail went out in the wall and cover up and everything, that’s why they got great quail hunting down there and so they started doing the same thing up here where mallards, they were building these cages and putting like 250 mallards in them and putting them away from each other in case they got sick and then killed 10,000 all like the chicken. So that’s how we end up getting the mallards here. They did that down on eastern shore because it was big money for those gunners that own the farms and stuff, they have coming in here as cornfields. So they all put money into it to make money because you figure the government sold more license, you could go in and kill yourself 5 mallards, you know what I mean? And they kept – and now you’re not to put a corn out or if they let them put corn out, hell would bring the market back. The state would make money off of the license, the guns companies would make on guns and shells, you know what I mean? But that’s the reason why.
Ramsey Russell: What about Canada geese, when you were growing up? How important were those great big old migrator Canada geese to waterfowl hunting around Havre de Grace and the Chesapeake Bay.
Jim Pierce: what happened there was when we went from – everything around here was like potato farming and truck farmer, you know what I mean? So 70s, it cost too much money to do that. So they wanted to doing big crops growing big potato fields, barley, wheat, big fields of it where it was easy to harvest and everything. Well, and then corn because of the chicken industry. Well, that used to be the old corn barn would leave 4% or 5% of it out in the field, well, now it doesn’t leave nothing out there. So these guys throw corn all out in there, because you’re out of like 4%, so bring the birds back in there, but that’s why it’s all changed. Now, they will let the farmer put 4% or 5% back, spread 4% or 5% of corn back out in the field, shit, they sell more hunting license, gun manufacturers, sell more guns, shotguns shells would be sold more of them and sell more license and give them bag limit of 5 birds and you’d have more hunting, and they make more revenue than they ever wanted. But they got people down there just don’t think right.
Ramsey Russell: I want to talk about changes then and now, and I want to ask you some questions. How are duck decoys different between then and now? Because most people up here, you have a lot of clients, more client than you can carve decoys for that want these old wooden decoys, but it’s mostly plastic. And you talked about earlier, these wooden decoys and these cork decoys, they ride better, don’t they?
Jim Pierce: They ride better and they go over when they go over on a wave, they come back up on a wave, you know what I mean? And it just floats so better in the water and doesn’t make any difference how heavy it is, it’s going to float a certain way, you know what I mean? They’re all going to float the same way, the tail is going to be right down to the water where a duck is and that’s the best part about it. And if it’s real rough weather, we make the round bottoms, one wave they’ll go over the next wave, they’ll come up.
Changes & Improvements in Duck Hunting Over the Years
Well, the old school duck hunter was out there for one reason to put food on the table, that’s what it was all about.
Ramsey Russell: And that just keeps them right where they need to be, plastic decoys will never do that. How has clothing, hunting clothing, how has hunting clothing changed between when you started duck hunting back in the 40s, 50s up until the 70s versus today? How has hunting clothing changed?
Jim Pierce: Well, hell, everything you buy now, you buy electric suits, what suits and everything guys wear. And when I gone, all we ever did was, I was always wear corduroys back in them days, pants, but then I always put the sweatpants on, I had long johns on sweatpants and then I put all 6 over top of them, I take my other pants off and the all slicks over and I was warm as a toast. And I used them cotton gloves, I used to have like 6 pair of cotton gloves kept them on a stove, because it keeps them dry all the time and I used to use rubber gloves inside of them to keep my hands from getting wet. And I’d keep them on a stove and always had dry gloves all the time and then when you went out there to wind decoys up, you took your shirts off and a t-shirt and I put a set of overhauls on and in a half hour, you were cold but you weren’t cold because you’re a worker. One, them decoys throw them in the boat, then when you went back in, you took a towel, wipe yourself off, put your clothes back on, so you’re warm in the forest. Because we had a cabin boat, we gone out off and had the gunner gone out of.
Ramsey Russell: What were your boots like? Did you wear waders back then?
Jim Pierce: Yeah, but we didn’t have, like we had these chest waders the navy had and just with zip her up and buckle up here, we have to take tape and tape the neck because water would go out on them and tape the arms, they weren’t really waterproof, until they come out with these wet suits now, now they’ve got to wear these wetsuits all the time to go hunting, put wetsuits on and go gunning.
Ramsey Russell: How have duck hunters – How are duck hunters today different than duck hunters with the men you grew up for back in the good old days? How would you say the modern duck hunter is different than those old school duck hunters you grew up with?
Jim Pierce: Well, the old school duck hunter was out there for one reason to put food on the table, that’s what it was all about. When ducks were here, they ate duck, when fishing was here, when the fishing was here and when the shad fishing was here, they packed them, sold them down mackerel the same way. Then when oyster season was here, you did the same thing with oysters, it’s seasonal. They went with a season. Now the guys that are here now are going to – they got too much money, they all gun with $2000 or $3000 Beretta guns, I shot a fox double barrel.
Ramsey Russell: Did you?
Jim Pierce: Paid $37 for it. Then I bought myself A5 for $35 and I didn’t buy it, I flipped a quarter for it and won it. And they’ve always had A5 and we put extensions on 9 rounds with no game wardens around by you, you just screwed it in. When you take it off, put the cap off 9 rounds, you get 3 of them on a boat and shooting duck going down hill, that’s 27 rounds of shots you got there and see we should use all –
Ramsey Russell: Your son Charter just handed you a pump shotgun. What shotgun is this?
Jim Pierce: That’s a model 12.
Ramsey Russell: I see, Winchester?
Jim Pierce: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: It’s got a hammer on, it must be an old gun model. Model 97. And did you hunt with that gun growing up, a model 97?
Jim Pierce: Yeah, I gunned with that.
Ramsey Russell: Just killed a few ducks in his time.
Jim Pierce: When you go hunting this weekend, you said, what gun will you shoot?
Jim Pierce: Oh, I don’t know, I got a couple 100 guns.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, you got a few of them.
Jim Pierce: I mean, I got guns, I don’t even know, I got. He tells me, I said, I had a lot of collect a lot of big guns, you know what I mean? 8s and 6s and stuff.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, it’s a Torry.
Jim Pierce: And he tells me what gun you want to use, whatever one you want to give me because I don’t know, 20 years ago, 25 years ago, a friend of mine had, I don’t know, 1200 or 1500 guns he wanted to sell because he’s afraid of his wife might use them, something happened, she’s mentally ill a little bit. So, hell, I just went and bought them and I did never know it. And every time I ask you, I wouldn’t mind buying it single barrel 410 hammers. Why, dad you got 2 of them. I don’t even know what I got, you know what I mean.
Ramsey Russell: Tell me about those old timers that duck hunted for food. During those days they weren’t hunting for just ego, it wasn’t bragging rights, they had personalities and life beyond how many ducks they killed for recreation.
Jim Pierce: What they would put in the local newspaper like Sam Barnes gunned the day with so and so Jim Holley this and that, they killed 25 ducks, 15 canvasbacks, 5 redheads, 5 black heads, you know what I mean? The local newspaper put everything in there, that was the local news, tell everyone what’s going on in town?
Ramsey Russell: Wow. You always talk about a lot of these older carvers Madison Mitchell, Jim Holley, who was your favorite old – like who most influenced you as a decoy carver?
Jim Pierce: Madison Mitchell, because I worked for him for 27 years. You know what I mean? And I even helped him after that. I mean, I wanted to get in there and help him hit ducks on and stuff, even after I started my own shop. I mean, he was like a father to me. And he wanted me to go to the funeral business and I said, no Mitchell, I go, that’s a 24/7 job, you got to be there all the time and I want to go duck hunting, I can’t be around here, I’m going duck hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s who Madison Mitchell was, just reminded me he was a funeral director. He run a funeral home and he just seasonally carved decoys.
Jim Pierce: Right. So if he didn’t have a body, a funeral or anything, he was in a decoy shop because that subsidize his income.
Ramsey Russell: How did he get into decoy carving then?
Jim Pierce: Well, see his uncle Sam Barnes was making decoys in 1922, he died but he had 1500 decoys made and needed them finished up. So Mitchell Bill Sander and sanded them and his daughter, Glenn Barnes, she was the painter and she painted them all and then she told Mitchell, said Mitchell, this is the last decoy I paint, he said, why? She said I’m getting married and going to Philadelphia, you’ll have to learn to make your own. So then Bob McGaw got mad because his father-in-law, which was Harry Moore, Captain Harry Moore and Charlie Moore, they are both decoy makers too, they live right down by Jim Collier by the decoy museum, they were all decoy makers and they made decoy cause see – a lot of them guys had rigs but they lost a lot of decoys because of the grass and stuff would haul them away. And they didn’t care because the rich man was buying them out of Philadelphia, New York, these gun clubs, so they would just order another 600 decoys. So, they just keep making decoys all around, somebody would want to buy them, you know what I mean? Because I care of a duck blinds to clean down the Cape by shooting ducks are so sick.
Favorite Duck to Eat
Ramsey Russell: Do you have a favorite duck recipe or waterfowl -these canvasbacks, I guess that’s your favorite duck to eat at a canvasback, what’s your favorite way to cook them?
Jim Pierce: Bake it.
Ramsey Russell: Just bake it. Whole plucked? Do you stuff it with anything with anything?
Jim Pierce: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: With what?
Jim Pierce: Bread stuffing celery and everything. And then oysters, I put oysters in it.
Ramsey Russell: Kind of like an oyster dressing.
Jim Pierce: Oyster dressing. You take like a dozen oysters and put them in a food processor, grind them up, mix that all in with it and then you put the regular oysters in there and you make a dressing and then you make a casserole oyster dressing, like with the bread and stuff and make a oyster pie –
Ramsey Russell: You stuff that into the cavity of the duck, put it in the oven and bake it. Who taught you that recipe?
Jim Pierce: That was my mother. That was Fulton family and that’s what they did, chicken out weigh everything out weigh, it was another side dish for you to eat.
Introducing Steel Shot to the Duck Hunting Scene
And you kill all kinds of birds, but you use number 9 shot and they sold more number nine shot at the Balmer Shot Tower than any other shot they ever made.
Ramsey Russell: Right. What did you think or do you remember when steel shot came on the scene back in the 80s and 90s, what did you think about that?
Jim Pierce: Wasn’t worth a damn.
Ramsey Russell: And I think that’s what everybody thought.
Jim Pierce: Wasn’t worth a damn and then we didn’t have enough of game wardens around here, you know what I mean? So we still used steel lead shot, we took steel with us, but we had the lead shot with us all the time and I used number 9 high brass.
Ramsey Russell: Number 9, I was going to ask you what size shot you used?
Jim Pierce: All the old timers used number 9 brush, lead shot there’s more pellets per ounce and when you shot a high brass, number 9, double load or anything or more shot and you could kill more birds because the birds were right in front of you, you weren’t shooting 40 yards out or anything like that, birds were jumping right up in front of your face, you know what I mean? And you kill all kinds of birds, but you use number 9 shot and they sold more number nine shot at the Balmer Shot Tower than any other shot they ever made.
Ramsey Russell: I did not know that. When do you think in this area, especially when did the sculling or Bush wacking you called it, first there was sink box and those birds were decoying, then there was bush wacking, you’re jumping them up. When did decoying birds become more of an art form again around here?
Jim Pierce: Well, see when we went with sink boxing, all they did was paint them a lot of them early, they would paint the ducks twice because when the ducks would come here early, we call them gray ducks, they didn’t have their plumage till January or February or hell, they would paint their ducks a light gray and then during the half a season, say plumage change, they would take that duck and put white and black on red head, they ever had to do a feather for a sink boxer, then when the bush wacking come in, the ducks had a set of feathers, so they started putting a little bit of feather on them, making them more life like, you know what I mean to hold the ducks there, that’s what happened.
Ramsey Russell: They needed them ducks sitting there with him decoy when they got close, they could get close to him and shooting with those number 9s. When did bush whacking start to phase out and it go more to conventional duck hunting with just a lot of decoys and a little pocket for the ducks to come into and get close to you, when did that catch on? Because that’s kind of how everybody hunts now.
Jim Pierce: Well, what happened there is, they changed the license, they did way a push whack license, sold a hunter’s license and really you get out of a bathtub, any God thing out there a day if you want to and a lot of guys want to bond shoot and body booting. They get these wet suits to stand in the body boots –
Ramsey Russell: Have you ever done that?
Jim Pierce: Oh yeah. And then you made a big silhouette with a sworn with a gun rack on it with a gun there on your shell, hold your gun in the shells, you stood behind them and we all put the butcher aprons on and everything like that in a white hat, everything look like ice, you know what I mean? So you look like with ice hammocks out there and you would knock the hell out of them.
The Duck that Defines
That’s your favorite duck is the canvasback, that’s the duck that most defines your duck hunting life and your carving life.
Ramsey Russell: What does duck hunting mean to you personally? What does it mean to you? Because all these years you’ve been carving decoys and duck hunting in one of the most treasured places in North America, what does it mean to you?
Jim Pierce: Well, the main thing is, it’s not the ducks you kill, it’s getting out there with nature and watch them, watching them birds and they all got different habits where they come in and where they fly, how they cut their wings, that’s the best part about it is watching the birds.
Ramsey Russell: What about the people? How important are the people you hunt with? I bet you’ve got friends you’ve hunted with a long time.
Jim Pierce: I have. In fact, next Tuesday I’m going down the shore and it’ll be like 6 of us and then we have – of course, things have changed now, a lot of these farms we have, these rich people bought them, they put corn in there, plant corn, they flood it and the mallards come in there and they raise just to shoot, you know what I mean? So, they just let them go wild, and then, we’re going down there next Wednesday and where we shoot at, there’ll be like 6 of us and we’re 18, 6 in a group –
Ramsey Russell: 3 groups.
Jim Pierce: 3 groups of us. And once they jump the mallard up out of the cornfield, standing corner, you’ll kill 10 or 15 birds at a time you’re done. So, what we do is, they got a place to take them to get them clean and frozen and this guy will take 10 of them home, this guy will take 10, this never stops.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. Yeah, it’s farm ducks, that’s what he’s saying. Yeah. How many decoys – wrapping up the episode now, how many decoys have you carved in your life would you guess? How many decoys or have you painted?
Jim Pierce: Oh, a few 1000 or better.
Ramsey Russell: 3000 a year, you’ve been carving for 75 years as many as 3000 –
Jim Pierce: I probably painted over 100,000. Because see years ago when I was a kid Mitchell taught me to paint and I used to go to people’s basements and take a cook box with a stay on my brushes and my paint, you paint canvasback, black heads and red heads, so I go to our basement and paint them 50 decoys offer 35 cents a piece that was good pocket money.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good money. What is your favorite decoy to paint?
Jim Pierce: The canvasback.
Ramsey Russell: That’s your favorite duck is the canvasback, that’s the duck that most defines your duck hunting life and your carving life.
Jim Pierce: That’s the king of the ducks, every king and queen come all over the world came here to shoot them on those Susquehanna Flats.
Ramsey Russell: Chesapeake Bay canvasbacks and they’re still the king of ducks here. They’re still one of my favorite ducks, places I hunt anymore I don’t get to see a lot of them, Mr. Jim, but I get excited when I see canvasback. I hunted up in Manitoba this year on Delta Marsh, which is where a lot of these birds come from and I just timed it right, there were quite a few canvas backs in and we just kind of ignored a lot of the species and targeted just a few canvasbacks we saw, I loved it, I love canvasback hunting. Which reminds me up there at Delta Marsh, there’s this 45 square miles of wetlands that for as long as anybody can remember, you’re not allowed during the duck season to access with a motorized boat. So you paddle or you take oars and you go at it and it makes a difference because those ducks are just a lot of times the wild ducks are swimming right there, there’s no motor to make them go away.
Jim Pierce: Right, they don’t flare off and fly away to another hole somewhere or stay in there because you’re just paddling, they’ll swim up a little here and there, yeah, it’s a big difference.
Ramsey Russell: The disturbance factor, I’m sure that’s got a lot to do with the Chesapeake Bay now is everybody’s got loud motors. Do you miss the days when you had to paddle in or use your oars to get into these areas? Do you miss it? It took a little bit more work to get there but it kept you warm.
Jim Pierce: Well, it wasn’t too bad because see, when we take that bushwhack boat, I got out there, we had curtains on a score and you’re up in the wind and all you did was steer the wind would blow with the curtains on there or blow you right down there and you have like two guys up front with 9 rounds and could have had extensions on them and you had 9 rounds in the back and then you shot all the cripples after they got done, you know what I mean? And when you got that wind, it was just like a sailboat, all you did was steer it, say it right down the ducks
Ramsey Russell: But it times were different with before the motors, motorized vehicles. Would you like to see a time, if you were still hunting a lot out on the Chesapeake Bay or some of these areas, would you like to see more places go to non-motorized access again?
Jim Pierce: I wish it all out.
Ramsey Russell: Do you think it would impact duck hunting?
Jim Pierce: A lot better. Ducks wouldn’t fly off, they would just stay there and swim down full or everything. Motors just have a noise to them and I guess he just don’t like – like a dog doesn’t want to hear a sorrow or anything. And I think, motors would have the ducks done the same goddamn thing it hurts their ears or something.
Ramsey Russell: It’s scared, they don’t like it, that’s for sure. Mr. Jim, we’ve talked about the old decoys versus the new decoys, the old clothes versus the new clothes, guns and steel shot, we’ve talked about a lot of different things from way back when, when you first started to now, what do you miss most about the good old days of duck hunting here? What is your fondest memory? What do you miss the most about then versus now?
Jim Pierce: Well, the best part about it back then is all the families you knew and you hunted with, we were going out there to do one thing, put food on the table, it was all about eating ducks when ducks were here, when rockfish were here, you eat rockfish, crabs were here, you crab, seasonal. Now, these young kids have got so much money and they got $3000 or $4000 shotguns they got there and half of them don’t even eat the meat of the ducks.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a good point, I wonder sometimes because when you talk to a lot of duck hunters today, if you ask them what their favorite recipe is, it’s something like a duck popper with jalapenos and cream cheese and a lot of duck hunters is the only way they know to eat and I do know duck hunters and say I don’t like to eat duck, but they hunt a lot, and I love to eat duck, I love to eat duck that still got the fat on it.
Jim Pierce: That’s what I too.
Ramsey Russell: I like a fat duck.
Jim Pierce: I like legs, I like to eat all them legs, I like the whole carcass, I like to pull all that meat off and eat it.
Ramsey Russell: The meat on the back, it’s all tendered it, not much of it, but it’s tender and it’s flavorful.
Jim Pierce: But the gunners todays, they give them a lot of away, but a lot of them barbecue stuff now, they get together they’ll brush it out and barbecue it on a barbecue.
Ramsey Russell: When you think about the old decoys you’re talking about that you’ve carved many thousands of painted, probably 100,000 of versus modern decoys, when you think about the old hunting industry that you were a part of hand carved decoys with all these old timers versus now. And you talk about the old school duck hunters that were out here, feeding their families season to season ducks, oysters, crabs, just the water men, seems to me and I’m leading up to a question, it’s like so many of the outdoor industries today. They’ve all got different advertising slogans, but it all says the same thing it implies substitute our technology for skill set. Do you believe that some of these young hunters you’re talking about today, do you believe that they have the skill to kill wild ducks like your people did back in the day? Do you believe that that skill has declined, that people are trying to substitute technology for just good old fashioned hard earned skill set?
Jim Pierce: They got these damn decoys that look like they’re flying wings and everything else and they got a quack, they swim and everything else, a duck doesn’t have a chance because from the day he leaves the winter ground up there, up where you’re at in Canada, they’re being shot at from there to go to South America and until they get back there.
Ramsey Russell: Every square foot of America is getting hunted if somebody can and people can access it because now we’ve got equipment that will get us to the far reaches of the marsh and habitat, whereas back in the old days you couldn’t get to some areas you couldn’t get to it. Tell me about that?
Jim Pierce: Oh, yeah. When I was a kid, see Murray Water was a grocery store, but he’s a pawn shop also. So he had rooms of guns up there, everybody after hunt season was over taking pawn or gun off and then some of them die off and they’re all kind of, I mean, I could have had a particular crop of any gun I want, so you go up there and got a gun from Murray and he lets you have the gun because you’re going to buy the shell all. Well, you see –
Ramsey Russell: The gun is free but you got to buy the shells.
Jim Pierce: Yeah. So he says take whatever gun you want, but here’s the shells, they’re 5 cents a piece and here’s a box of 20 there’s only 20 shells of box back them. And so he put it on your shelf with your name on it and you got 5 shells or a nickel piece and you took 5 shells, you killed 5 ducks because you didn’t want to waste no money because money was hard to come by, so you shot 5 ducks.
Ramsey Russell: So back in those days, you would go to the blind when you were a little boy with 5 shells, not 5 boxes.
Jim Pierce: No not like today, should we take cases? Where we dove hunt, should we got cases in the building.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, you all been listening to Mr. Jim Pierce, 75 years of decoy carving here in Havre de Grace Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay, weren’t those some great stories then versus now the things Mr. Pierce has seen. I hope you all enjoyed this episode and I hope you all enjoyed the stories like I have. Please share this episode if you liked it with your buddies, rate and comment on Instagram and Spotify. Thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.