Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a treasure trove of waterfowl hunting history. The Market Hunting days that ended about 1920 continued a tradition of carving wooden duck, swan and goose decoys that has become stronger as the years progress. For some, it is a family tradition.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a treasure trove of waterfowl hunting history. The Market Hunting days that ended about 1920 continued a tradition of carving wooden duck, swan and goose decoys that has become stronger as the years progress. For some, it is a family tradition.

Joey Jobes, of Havre De Grace, Md., inherited his father’s ability to carve out wooden decoys. He started carving decoys in 1973 at age 7. This talent is second nature for the entire family.

Jobes recently sat in the beautiful Havre De Grace Decoy Museum and carved out about 50 duck decoy heads from wooden blocks in two hours. He worked with the ease of someone peeling potatoes, finishing perfectly formed decoys heads. The heads will be refined before being polished on a belt sander.

“Carving a duck head from a block is not difficult,” Jobes said. “You just cut everything off that doesn’t look like a duck. My family wakes up and starts carving half asleep. This is what we have done all of our lives. Occasionally someone walks in our shop and says they would like to be like us. That always makes us feel good to hear that here. There have been many excellent decoy carvers from Maryland.”

The late Steve and Lem Ward of Crisfield, Md., were likely the first to take decoy carving to unheard dollar levels. Both were barbers by trade who needed extra money in hard times. The brothers started carving wooden decoys for hunting and eventually started collecting in 1916 and stopped in the 1960s. Many of both the untrained artists’ decoys are worth more than $100,000 and occasionally two or three times that.

This tradition has carried through the years, and some compete in carving competitions while others, like Jobes, only sell decoys for hunting or decorative displays. His remarkable artwork on each duck may very well make his decoys highly collectible in future years – like the Ward brothers.

“I carve decoys and have established my own touch, including the paint and how the head and body are shaped,” Jobes said. “We make gunning decoys. A hunter in Texas recently bought seven gadwald decoys for his hunting set.”

Collectors throughout the world own Jobes decoys too, including as far away as Indonesia, England, France and many other countries, including the United States.

“Decoys never depreciate in value,” Jobes said. “Buying custom decoys is better than putting money in the stock market. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I feel I have no competition.”

Top decoy collectors can determine certain decoy carvers from the Havre De Grace area or other regions through certain paint patterns and other details. Every artist has his own style, like a signature. Hunters love Jobes decoys while many collect them because of their unique paint patterns.

Jobes and company make their own brushes and design brushes for other carvers too. He may take a $50 brush and cut most of the hair off, allowing the creation of their feathering pattern on each decoy. He has at least $20,000 in brushes and makes his own carving or draw knives too.

“Most of the knives are made out of old-fashioned German steel straight razors,” Jobes said. “We use a buffing wheel to sharpen our knives with a fine buffing compound.”

Jobes, his father and two brothers occasionally work on decoy projects together, creating a special design or special edition version. The family prefers to only work on special projects while maintaining their own shops.

Today, Jobes decoys sell for $70 to $100. But prices will soon go up because of rising costs in paint and other materials. He once paid $1.50 for a gallon of paint thinner. The price is now $9. Japan colors in burnt sienna and yellows have all gone up in prices. He buys five or six gallons of paint each month. But Jobes is not trying to make a lot of money, just enough to survive.

“I never want to become millionaire. I want to die with no money and do what I want to do,” Jobes said. “This sometimes becomes a job, and I try to avoid that. I like setting my own hours and working when I want to. Sometimes I get up at 4 a.m. to fish and crab with my family, and sometimes I sleep until 11 a.m. I like the freedom that decoy carving provides.”

For more information about Joey Jobes decoys, check his website at: www.joeyjobesdecoys.com or call: 410-939-1807 or 410-688-9832.