Kuca carving a niche for himself with duck decoys

Published 12:32 am Friday, February 10, 2012

Tim Kuca paints a merganser decoy. Kuca brings his decoy-carving talent and waterfowling memorabilia to Washington this weekend. (Contributed Photo/Ken Perrotte)

Decoy carver Tim Kuca wants to share the pleasure he derives from his avocation, which developed from a passion for waterfowl hunting.

Kuca, who lives in Fredericksburg, Va., will be among the decoy carvers at the 17th-annual East Carolina Wildlife Arts Festival and North Carolina Decoy Carving Championships set for this weekend in Washington. Kuca is a retired federal narcotics agent and a former Illinois game warden.

Kuca explains why he’s making his first visit to the Washington festival this weekend.

“I make it a point to attend two or three or four festivals a year. I try to find three good ones a year. Some of the other exhibitors from that show had contacted me, saying it’s a very nice show, a prestigious show,” Kuca said. “It’s one where my display of new decoys, old decoys and historic duck-hunting items would fit in nicely.”

Kuca, 59, used to show his decoys at just two waterfowl shows a year: at Whitestone, Va., in February and Havre de Grace, Md., in May. In September 2009, he had a display at the banquet of the Fredericksburg chapter of Ducks Unlimited.

Kuca takes no shortcuts with his decoys, some of which fetch prices surpassing $1,000 at some Eastern Shore galleries and online auction sites. Because Kuca does things by hand, from drawing sketches to creating patterns, he produces a modest number of decorative decoys a year.

“All my decoys are hand-cut, hand-chopped, versus many of the Chesapeake birds, which are mostly turned on a lathe. Each is unique,” Kuca told the Free Lance-Star newspaper in Fredericksburg about two years ago.

With Kuca’s decoys, it’s quality, not quantity – he puts in about 200 hours on each decorative decoy. A gunning decoy requires about 15 hours, he said. Decorative decoys have much more detail than gunning decoys, but Kuca said he’s putting more detail in his gunning decoys these days than he did several years ago.

“I don’t take orders because certain birds, I think, are more appealing to people than others. If I took orders, I would be carving the same bird, essentially, over and over,” Kuca said. “So, I don’t do that. I carve birds that please me. If somebody likes them, fine. If they want one, then I tell them the next time I carve one of that species I’ll get in touch with them. If they like it, fine. If they don’t, that’s OK, too. It doesn’t hurt my feelings.”

Kuca said he began carving in the 1970s, improving bit by bit as he sharpened his skills.

“There are several different aspects,” Kuca said when asked why decoy carving appeals to him. “It’s always pleasing to create something. You’re preserving a piece of history. Wooden decoys are a thing of the past. It’s kind of an art form.

It’s become a folk art form. Every carver out there sees the same bird, but they reproduce it differently. That’s always pretty amazing to me. We all see a mallard. We all have an idea what a mallard looks like, but everyone of us that tries to create a decoy or carving — they all come out different.”

Kuca is a collector as well as a carver.

“As far as the collecting goes, it makes me smile. I like to collect things that make me smile,” he said.

Kuca’s passion for hunting ducks led to his decoy-carving activities.

“I’ve been chasing them around for about 50 years, almost,” Kuca said about hunting ducks.

Kuca collects antique duck decoys and waterfowling-related memorabilia. He will display some of those items at his booth at the festival.

“I collect old duck guns. I collect old duck-hunting stuff. At one corner of the table, I’ll have a 12-guage double, a 10-guage double, and 8-guage double and a 6-guage double gun. In the middle of the table, I’ll have a 9-foot-long punt gun off the Chesapeake Bay. It actually came from Chincoteague. … Along with a lot of other cool stuff.”

The punt gun (an extremely large shotgun) dates to the market-hunter days when large numbers of waterfowl were shot for commercial use.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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