Old duck decoys for me are a symbol of our waterfowl hunting heritage and represent where we have been as duck hunters. For younger generations it is hard for them to believe that someone could shoot ducks over old wood or foam blocks. With the advances in equipment and technology, today's decoys are extremely realistic compared to those of the past. However, these old blocks are very effective in luring ducks to the call and gun, and for me old habits die hard, even though I use a number of modern decoys for field and pothole hunting. I still use a number of Herters decoys today for waterfowl hunting I do with a boat, and every once in awhile some of them need to be touched up.
One of my hobbies in the summer is to take these older beat up decoys and turn them into something that is useful again as a display piece for someone's home, or better yet, to actually use again to hunt ducks! Herters went out of business a number of years ago and are no longer made but can still be found at garage sales or auctions if you're thrifty or on ebay if you are willing to spend a little bit more. These decoys last a long time and if you are willing to refurbish them, they will last even longer. I still hunt some of the same decoys I purchased almost 20 years ago, and they will continue to be hunted for many years to come.
There are 2 ways to refinish these blocks and both are very effective and will last a very long time as long as the decoys aren't left in a boat filling with rain water over the summer. Burlap is the first method, and involves using a combination of tile Mastic and burlap to wrap the decoy and basically encapsulate it. The end result is a very stout coating that is extremely tough and stands up to lots of abuse. The second way is called restle coat, which involves covering the decoy in Titebond waterproof wood glue and covering the decoy with hardwood saw dust. The end result for restle coat is something that is very tough and can be sanded easily creating a smooth surface to paint the decoy, versus the burlap that has lines of the burlap that can show and aren't as smooth making it a little more challenging to paint. Either process is effective in restoring these older blocks and there is lots of information on both processes that can be found online by doing some homework.
The end product after refinishing and painting is a decoy that looks great, rides the water in rough conditions exceptionally well and will last a very long time. When these decoys are retired, they can make great display pieces in your home that not only look great, but also are a piece of waterfowling history within your family or hunting group. This is a fun project that I have done with our son the last couple of years and he has gained an appreciation not only for the decoys that he is working on, but our heritage as waterfowl hunters as well. There's nothing more enjoyable in the fall than decoying a big group of mallards on a flight day over an old spread of decoys!