A former Victorian police officer is making and selling lifelike duck decoys and calls.

Story and Photo Martin Auldist 

John Byers is known around his local town of Stratford, Vic, as ‘the decoy man’. That isn’t surprising when you discover he has found a way to intertwine his loves of duck hunting and woodworking into a thriving business making duck decoys and calls.

Not only that, John has amassed one of the largest collections of duck decoys in Australia. With more than 300 decoys gathered over several decades, his collection includes a specimen of nearly every commercially available duck decoy ever marketed in Australia, as well as many homemade decoys, some very old and primitive. “My main interest is in putting together a collection of all the commercial decoys relevant to the history of duck hunting in Australia,” he says. John is also keenly interested in the history of duck hunting by Australia’s Indigenous people. “We know that the Aboriginals used to throw discs of red gum bark into the air to herd ducks into nets,” he says. “At the same time, they would whistle like the hawks the discs were designed to imitate, which would help drive the ducks into dense flocks.

“I also understand that Aboriginal hunters used to scrape little piles of mud and sticks together to replicate ducks, to get real ducks to fly within range. Several early documents detail the use of duck decoys in this way.” 

John lives with his wife Glenda on a 22ha beef farm just to the east of Stratford, and during the Victorian duck-hunting season hunts five or six days each week. He has co-written 20,000 years of Duck Decoys: the Australian Reference Book to Australian Decoys with Queensland-based waterfowl researcher Dr Hugh Lavery. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #136

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2021