Core Sound Decoy Festival
December 5th 2015
The Core Sound Decoy Festival celebrates a rich heritage of waterfowling in Down East North Carolina.
Look at any map of North Carolina, and you’ll notice a thin ribbon of barrier islands stretching for more than a hundred miles south of the Virginia state line. For many, these Outer Banks offer the ultimate in vacation excitement and relaxation.
But follow the long curve of the island chain south of Ocracoke to Cape Lookout where it makes an abrupt turn to the west. This southern end of the Outer banks consists of a long stretch of uninhabited national seashore known as Core Banks and the once-inhabited island of Shackleford Banks.
Destructive hurricanes drove the small Shackleford maritime community off the island at the close of the nineteenth century, and the Bankers moved to nearby Harker’s Island nestled in Back Sound and protected by the barrier chain. Many of the folks now living on Harker’s Island are descendents of those hardy watermen—fishermen and boatbuilders—who first moved there more than a century ago.
Harker’s Island is at the heart of Down East Carolina—an area known for its maritime roots, rural lifestyle, and abundant waterfowl. In fact, the area has spawned a number of decoy styles developed by local carvers that are well-known to hunters and collectors alike.
In 1987, a group of nine Down East carvers came together to form the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild. Wayne Davis was the first president and he led a board consisting of David Lawrence, Gregory Lupton, Curt Salter, Norman Hancock, Carl Huff, James Gordon Salter, Roy Willis, and Gerald Davis. Two important goals of the Guild are to document the history of decoy-making and its development as a folk art form, and to increase awareness and appreciation of waterfowl and the need to protect its natural habitat. Typical of most sportsmen’s groups, the waterfowlers of Core Sound understand the importance of wildlife habitat and are prepared to give more than lip-service to the work needed to protect wild resources.
Within a year, the fledgling Guild planned its first decoy festival to be held at the Harker’s Island Elementary School on the first weekend in December. This year, the festival will mark its 20th year, still at the elementary school, still with the flavor of local waterfowlers and Down East history.
The show usually has about 90 vendors selling decoys of all types from working, to decorative, to antique. There are dekes for your mantle and dekes for your rig. There are full-bodied swans, shorebirds, miniatures, canvas birds, and root heads. You’ll also have a chance on a shotgun, decoy, art print, or quilt as a raffle prize.
Carvers compete in a number of divisions, including:
- Root Heads
- Core Sound Style
- Core Sound Head Carving
- IWCA Canvas Decoys
- IWCA Style Decoy
- IWCA Working Decoy
- IWCA Gunning Shorebirds
- Decorative Miniatures
- Decorative Life-size Floating
- Decorative Life-size Nonfloating
- Decoy Painting Contest
In addition to competitive contests for all ability levels, there are fun activities for kids such as the Kids’ Painting Contest, Retriever Demonstrations, Waterfowl Auction, and the World Famous Loon Calling Championship. Plus, the parent/teacher organization of the elementary school tempts everyone with chowder, sandwiches, and other Down East belly-stuffin’ goodies.
Other Guild Activities
The Guild is active throughout the year with a variety of programs for members and the general public. Monthly meetings are held at the Guild Building for programs and chat on carving and collecting decoys in addition to the regular business meeting. There is also a monthly raffle of donated carvings and other waterfowl merchandise to raise funds for the Guild’s projects.
Public programs are designed to share the art of decoy carving and to increase awareness of waterfowl habitat needs. The Guild holds a poster contest in February in order to select the theme poster for that year’s show in December.
In May of each year, the Guild sponsors a Loon Day—a show of its own where carvers donate their entries to the guild. While Loon Day was originally designed for Loons only, the competition now accepts Loons and puddlers one year and loons and divers the next. All entries become the property of the Guild and are auctioned to raise funds for other projects.
On the third Saturday of each month, as many as 15 youngsters age 7 through 15 gather at the Guild Building to learn carving techniques from Guild members. In this way, Guild members hope to keep the art form alive and active with new carvers.
Kids Day is a fall program for, obviously, kids! They learn about hunting and fishing safety, laws, and ethics; wildlife preservation; and decoy painting. The local fire engine and rescue squad vehicles are on display for close inspection, and the ever-popular big dirt mover puts on its annual demo for the youngsters.
When to go: First weekend in December. Check the IWCA Calendar and Upcoing Shows for current information.
How to get there:
US 70 is the main route from I-95 and Raleigh to Morehead City and Beaufort, which are the nearest cities to Harker’s Island and the best choices for lodging. From Beaufort, follow US 70 about nine miles to Harkers Island Road, then another 7.5 miles to the elementary school where the show is held.
Where to stay:
There are only a few places to stay on Harker’s Island and these might be closed at this time of year or fully booked. Beaufort and Morehead City have many lodging options. Here are just a few:
- Harkers Island Fishing Center, 1002 Island Road, Harkers Island, 252-728-3907
- Calico Jacks Inn & Marina, 1698 Island Road, Harkers Island, 252-728-3575
- Inlet Inn, 601 Front Street, Beaufort, NC 28516, (252) 728-3600
- Elizabeth Inn, 307 Front Street, Beaufort, NC 28516, (252) 728-3861
- Beaufort Inn, 101 Ann Street, Beaufort, NC 28516, (252) 728-2600
- Best Western Buccaneer, 2806 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, (252) 726-3115
- Econo Lodge, 3410 Bridges Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, (252) 247-2940
- Comfort Inn, 3100 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, (252) 247-3434
- Morehead Motor Inn, 3300 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, (252) 726-5141
- Hampton Inn, 4035 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, (252) 240-2300
- Royal Inn, 4113 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, (252) 247-4042
- Holiday Inn Express, 5063 Executive Drive, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, (252) 247-5225
Where to eat:
While you’re at the decoy show, you’ll want to eat in the cafeteria of the elementary school and watch the judging in the tank at the same time. In the evening, however, there are many fine restaurants, both local and national chains, in Beaufort and Morehead City. On Saturday night, head for Front Street in Beaufort and choose a restaurant with a view of Taylor’s Creek so you can watch the Christmas Regatta.
What else to do while you're in Down East:
Core Sound Waterfowl Museum–(252)728-1500
Most visitors to the Guild’s decoy competition also visit the waterfowl museum just a few miles further on the eastern tip of the island. The museum sponsors its own events on the same weekend, and you can enjoy learning about the maritime and waterfowling history of the area while you explore the mysteries of handmade boats and wildlife art.
Cape Lookout National Seashore–(252)728-2250
The park office and visitor center for this national seashore is located on the tip of the island beside the waterfowl museum. The visitor center has ample parking you can use while you’re at the museum, and it also has waterside picnic areas. The visitor center has a number of exhibits detailing the history, biology, and geology of the southern stretch of the Outer Banks barrier Islands that make up this national seashore.
North Carolina Maritime Museum–(252)728-7317
If you have youngsters, or if part of you is rooted in the swashbuckling sagas of pirates and life on the sea, you can’t miss the maritime museum. In addition to boats and memorabilia from the area’s past, the museum houses a significant collection of artifacts believed to have been part of Blackbeard’s ship, the Bounty.
For more information about the Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild, the Core Sound Decoy Festival, or any other questions or comments, contact the Guild:
Core Sound Decoy Carvers Guild
P.O. Box 89
Harkers Island, NC 28531