The Wild South

The Art of the Hand-Carved Turkey Decoy?

Though still rare as hen’s teeth, hand-carved wooden turkey decoys might just be ready for their moment

Photo: Tom Boozer

A pair of South Carolina carver Tom Boozer’s hollow-bodied wooden turkey decoys.

Where are all the hand-carved wild turkey decoys? It might not be a question that’s kept you up at night, but it has bugged Colin McNair. He grew up in Craddockville, Virginia, on the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore, the son of esteemed decoy carver Mark McNair. He’s now the decoy specialist for Copley Fine Art Auctions, the Boston-based sporting art powerhouse, and a carver himself. When he set out to carve a wild turkey decoy a few years ago, he searched for source material and earlier examples. He didn’t find much.

“Given the rich history of waterfowl decoys, it just seemed that turkey decoys should have a similar history,” he says. “But they don’t.” It could be that hunting turkeys with calls was so effective that decoys were never required. But another possible explanation is that the near-extermination of wild turkeys in the early twentieth century meant they got skipped during the decades when decoy carving was at its zenith.

photo: Colin S. McNair
McNair with a 22-pound gobbler he took last year using his own hand-carved decoy.

Undaunted, McNair in 2020 carved a two-piece hollow turkey hen from white cedar, with a head that connects to the body via a mortise-and-tenon joint, and he shot a gobbler that came to his creation in a Massachusetts farm field. He’s convinced that turkey hunting over hand-carved decoys is finally about to have its day in the sun.          

Hunting with hand-carved duck decoys is making a comeback, McNair says. “It’s a trend I really like, and I love the fact that it’s happening naturally, without a big push other than hunters being attracted to the heritage. I’ve got to believe that wooden turkey decoys could be the next thing. I sure hope so.”

The carver with what is likely the deepest modern experience carving wooden turkeys is Tom Boozer, from Yonges Island in South Carolina. I profiled Boozer in this G&G story several years ago, and his practice of carving hollow-bodied duck decoys is a natural fit for producing the larger wild turkey decoys. At the moment, he’s working on his fifty-second. Number fifty-one is owned by Burton E. Moore, the proprietor of the Audubon Gallery in Charleston. Moore has taken several wild turkeys over the two-piece decoy, which opens like a suitcase for storage of a stake and a leather carrying strap.

photo: Tom Boozer
Boozer has carved more than fifty wild turkey decoys.

“They take about the biggest log I can cut,” Boozer says of the decoys, and he looks for twenty-two-inch-wide Atlantic white cedar for the wood. He makes his turkey decoys in four patterns—an erect head jake, a “stalker” bird that looks like a gobbler on the move, a feeding hen, and a turned-head hen. “She’s sexy-lookin’,” he says with a laugh, “like she’s eyeing big boy over her shoulder.”

As with his duck decoys, Boozer will fix damaged turkey decoys for as long as he can hold a sharp knife. “The biggest problem,” he says, “is that the big toms will attack them and beat them up pretty good.” Which sounds like as good a recommendation as you’re likely to hear.

For decoy commissions, email Tom Boozer.

Follow T. Edward Nickens on Instagram @enickens.