Product: Core Sound decoys
Made in: Stella, NC
The first time Jerry Talton ever held a duck decoy, he carried it around for two weeks. “I couldn’t put it down,” he recalls of that formative moment in his mid-twenties. “I love history, and it seemed to carry so many old stories.” That was about fifteen years ago, and other than those nights at the hospital when his daughter was born, he says, “there hasn’t been a night my head has hit the pillow that I wasn’t thinking about ducks and decoys.” And perfecting a particular niche: carving and painting “contemporary antique” redheads and scaup and wigeon that look and feel as if they could have seen hard duty on a nineteenth-century hunt—beautifully wrought replicas that perform as well on a bookshelf as they do in the field.
Talton crafts the classic North Carolina Core Sound decoys from two pieces of wood hollowed out with simple tools: a bowl adze and a spoon gouge. “I want the inside to be just as pretty as the outside,” he says. “If someone busts it open a hundred years from now, I want them to go, ‘Wow, look at all the trouble this fellow went to.’” He fashions heads simply in the Core Sound style, with dainty bills and no eyes or eye channels.
Then Talton turns back time. He colors the wood with a homemade stain—he won’t divulge its ingredients—and adds details with pigments he mixes from scratch. Finally, the antiquing begins. “There are certain places and ways decoys wear when they’re hunted,” Talton says, “and I work hard to make them look greasy and used, not just aged. It’s fun when I see people arguing over which decoy is the oldest on the table when some are seventy years old and mine is a month old.”
Outdoors Category Runners-Up
Product: Tree Swings
Made in: Charleston, SC
At first glance, you may be tempted to scoff at this Tree Swing 2.0. What’s wrong with old-fashioned ropes and a board seat? Or the venerable tire swing? But then you try it. The hand-formed, -sanded, and -finished maple “swingboards” feel comfortable enough for a classic playground back-and-forth, but stand up on the curved seat and the well-placed handles allow you to carve the air like a kiteboarder. The Arkansas native and Charleston transplant Rob Bertschy didn’t set out to reinvent the backyard swing. He first built the U-shaped balance board to keep his young children busy playing on the beach while he surfed. Hanging the contraption from a tree branch just seemed like the next logical step. But buyer beware: The kids won’t be the only ones waiting in line for a turn.
BIRDSTRAP LEATHER CO.
Product: D-ring bird straps
Made in: Winnie, TX
Leather has never been just an accessory for Anthony Vaughan. The South Texan rodeoed through college, and operates a saddle shop that caters to folks for whom a broken cinch might lead to a broken back. He tools his bird straps for similar tough duty. The handsome items—designed to carry ducks and geese in from the field—are cut from American steer hides or alligator skins. Brawny six-loop drops and heavy brass hardware can handle everything from teal to big honkers. After prodding from his brother, Vaughan ponied up ten bucks for an Internet domain name, and now he ships his wares to hunters across North America. The first duck strap Vaughan remembers was his father’s. “One day it disintegrated,” he recalls. The ones Vaughan makes will, too, one day. Your great-grandkids can worry about that.
FIRST MOUNTAIN WOODCRAFT
Product: Wooden Canoes
Made in: Jasper, GA
When Carley and Shirley Abner built their home in tiny Jasper, they laid out the workshop first and planned everything else around it. “Woodworking has been an integral part of our lives for almost fifty years,” Carley says. That dedication shows in the couple’s handcrafted cedar-strip canoes, which come in three basic styles and sizes. Each hull is a near-sculptural reimagining of what a small craft can be, composed of hundreds of pieces of western red cedar joined bead-and-cove style, sans screws or nails. The Abners finish every element by hand, down to the cane seats. One canoe takes about four months to build, “and it’s hard to let them go,” Carley admits. “You put a lot of you in a canoe, then somebody takes it away. But that’s the satisfaction, too: watching somebody paddle something you loved on for so long.”
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