Saturday, January 21, 2012

Iron Decoy

Every now and then a visitor to Ocracoke will notice a cast iron decoy in an islander's outbuilding, yard, or porch. Most people think that is a curiosity. Why would anyone want an iron decoy? they might ask. After all, an iron decoy won't float. Decoys should be made of wood (the old fashioned kind), canvas over a wire frame (another traditional decoy design), or hollow plastic (like more recent decoys).
Here is a photo of a traditional Ocracoke Island cast iron decoy. These were not decorative items. They were actually used for hunting waterfowl. Scroll down to read how these decoys were used.

Cast iron decoys were employed on sinkboxes (weighted, partially submerged, floating hunting blinds). Sinkboxes were camouflaged with reeds and branches. Floating decoys were arranged in the vicinity of the sinkbox. When the hunter entered the sinkbox, and placed his cast iron decoys on the deck of the blind, the box would sink until it floated almost level with the water, affording the hunter with a relatively dry enclosure that kept him hidden from ducks and geese.

Use of sinkboxes was banned in the United States with the passage of the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. Some Ocracoke hunting guides use a legal modification of the floating sinkbox -- a stationary "curtain blind" whose sides can be raised and lowered according to the ebb and flow of the tide in order to keep the hunter dry, but well concealed just at the water level. Cast iron decoys are not used on curtain blinds.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Ocracoke Joe Bell Flowers. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous10:56 AM

    Thank you for taking the time to publish photos with the blog of late. It certainly adds to the experience.

  2. Anonymous10:57 AM

    Does anyone still use live decoys?

  3. It is illegal to use live decoys. If I am not mistaken, the federal government banned the use of live decoys in 1935. If I learn differently I will update here.

  4. Anonymous1:36 PM

    Thanks Philip--Very glad to hear that!