Giving Sight to a Blind Decoy
Keith Hendrickson
Dixie Decoys® Carver/Artist

      So you may have noticed that your Dixie Decoys (and for that matter most true Carolina styled decoys) do not have eyes. Why is that? Well during the market gunning days where decoys were simply tools to fool ducks, they simply were not needed. They were decorations like individually painted feathers that were just not necessary. If a duck was close enough to see there were no eyes on a block, they were certainly close enough to shoot. Even today, most Virginia and Carolina traditional style decoy carvers do not put eyes on their blocks and it is actually not allowed in some classes of carving competitions.

     During those market gunning days on into modern gunning times, a carver here and there most certainly did add eyes onto his blocks to spruce it up a bit . These were generally done for clubs and paying clients’ rigs, but the average gunner didn’t enjoy the benefits of "sight." So how did they add eyes way back when? Well, let’s start with the basics and run a few steps to add painted eyes just like they did "back in the day."

      To start with, gather up a few old spent rife cartridges. You can even use spent pistol ammo cartridges. Anything smaller than a 30-06 will work fine. (SEE DISCLAIMER) Carefully tap the primer out from the inside of the cartridge and discard the primer. For pistol cartridges, I will epoxy in a short piece of hardwood dowel to use as a punch.  

      Now you finally get to use a tiny bit of that geometry you learned back in grade school. Draw a line across the lower cheek that matches the plane of the lower bill. Then at the top of the bill, draw a parallel line across the upper cheek/eye channel.


      These two parallel lines are VERY important…they have to match the plane of the lower bill. If the bill is angled down, those 2 lines better angle up, to place the eye in the correct location
      Using a ruler, measure up from the lower bill mandible to the top of the bill. 
      Measure now from the top of the bill along the top line and mark your measured point. This point will be your eye center. As a general rule for gunning decoys, this measurement works for most species of ducks. You will have to look at the placement point and decide if it works for the species you are working with. In some instances the measured point will work for the center of the eye, and sometimes it will need to serve as the back edge of the eye. In some cases it needs to be used for the front edge of the eye. It is up to what you think and what looks right to you.
      Using two push pins of some sort, push a pin in at your measured point on one side and then the other. Look at the pins from head on. They should be pushed in on both sides at approximately the same point. 
      Look at the pin locations from the top of the head: again they should be at approximately the same location. 
      On a padded surface like a thick piece of leather, use your cartridge punch and a hammer to stamp in a round impression. The head is very hard, so it will take a good many hits. 
      Once stamped in and the head is painted, you can rub in the correct eye paint color into the impression. 
      Another option that many decoy makers used was to simply use the cartridge as a blotting stamp. Using a small amount of paint, dab the cartridge into the paint to coat the base of the cartridge thoroughly. 
      Then align the cartridge over the eye point on the head and carefully blot the paint onto the head. This step may need to be repeated a couple of times to get complete eye coverage. 
      Using a small piece of dowel or a Q-tip, dab it into some black paint and carefully center the eye for the pupil. Repeat the process on the other side of the head. 
      Now you know how to make a hunter’s decoy. The ducks don’t really care if your blocks have eyes, but the hunter does. Guess decoys are never supposed to sleep!