It started innocently enough, in 2017, when a buddy asked Jason Patrick Chuley to turn a couple of busted mallard and dove spinning-wing decoys into buffleheads. The major manufacturers of motorized decoys had yet to produce a spinning-wing bufflehead version, so Chuley sawed off the original heads and carved and painted new bufflehead toppers. It was a funny little side gig, a quirky break from his normal routine of carving and painting award-winning decoys in his Indiana studio.
Word got out, of course, and Chuley landed another handful of what he calls “conversions”—mallards turned into canvasbacks, redheads, pintails, and other species that weren’t commercially available as spinning-wing decoys until relatively recently. But then a client asked him to create an over-the-top northern shoveler as a joke. Chuley met the challenge with a grinning spoonbill sporting a massive set of cartoon-like chompers, including a glistening gold tooth. He posted pictures of the decoy on his Instagram, and soon Chuley’s world turned upside-down.
“I got between two hundred and three hundred messages from people wanting one of those,” he says. “That would have been impossible. I probably had twenty-five hours into carving that head and putting it all together.” Still, he kept at it. He created the Top Gunner, a mallard drake with a fighter pilot’s cap and a half-burned stogie clenched in its bill. Then came the Woodie Nelson, a wood duck rocking a joint in the corner of its mouth, an American flag headband, and a very Willie-esque gray beard. A video of that creation got nearly a half-million Facebook views.
Now, after making perhaps one hundred spinning-wing decoy conversions—both straight-up and off-the-wall—Chuley is taking a bit of a hiatus to keep working on what he really enjoys, which is carving ducks. And he’s no slouch at that, either. Chuley has won a number of best-of-show awards, and just last April, a pair of his buffleheads took best-in-species at the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving competition in Easton, Maryland. That serious decoy work helps explain why the last couple of years has been “an emotional roller coaster,” Chuley says. He’s a passionate artist torn between a higher calling and, let’s be honest, some hilarious commercialism.
Chuley is now in talks with a decoy manufacturer about production models of his pimped-out spinners, and he’s begun to view his outrageous oeuvre more strategically. If his Internet fame gives him more time and resources to pour into his passion for fine decoy carving and competition, he says, he can handle the ribbing from a few pals.