MOUNT VERNON — Marty Hanson began carving decoys when he was 10 years old.
Some 41 years later, the Hayward, Minnesota, resident is a world-class carver whose decoys are highly sought by collectors and hunters alike.
Hanson will head west for the 2016 Puget Sound Open, a festival and decoy carving contest sponsored by the Washington Brant Foundation. The event will run 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at Holiday Sports in Burlington.
This year’s duck carving can be either a drake or hen mallard. Specific divisions include brant as well as open working decoys.
Renowned carvers as well as novices will have their efforts displayed and judged.
Hanson will bring three brant and a couple of shorebirds, as well as a wood duck and decoys carved by Spencer Tinkham, a 21-year-old he is mentoring.
Hanson was 13 and working at a gun club when a member noticed his duck drawing on a scorecard and asked if he could carve it.
“I said, ‘Sure, why not?’” Hanson said. “I was willing to give it a try. The next thing I knew I had a truckload of cedar dumped in my driveway and a new band saw. My dad wasn’t pleased because he couldn’t get the car out.”
Over the next decade, Hanson carved decoys for a couple of hunting clubs.
“These guys were real purists,” he recalled. “They wanted to hunt with old-style wood decoys.”
Hanson estimates he carved 2,000 to 3,000 decoys over that span.
“They were crude, simple and very fundamental, and I carved a lot of them,” he said. “And they used them.
“I really enjoyed it and it became what I wanted to do. I eventually quit my carpentry job and was carving decoys full-time. When I was 19, I had my first gallery show with four or five ducks.”
Early on, carving was a struggle for Hanson. But he improved and his work soon became coveted.
“It was good and bad,” he said. “It’s great now. But it wasn’t always like that. It was hard. You get five or six paychecks a year.
“It’s really about getting your name out there. That is why I am bringing some of Spencer’s decoys out to the show. So people can see his work. He’s very talented.”
Hanson believes the tradition of waterfowling out west is a bit stronger than elsewhere in the country.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm about it on the West Coast,” he said. “It has really caught on. It all started out east, then moved to the Midwest, but hunting in Minnesota and Wisconsin, it’s in trouble. It’s really expensive.”
Hanson is not only an avid decoy carver, he’s also an avid duck hunter.
He’s familiar with hunting — and decoy carving — out west, having spent time at the two exclusive hunting clubs owned by the late Jay Koetje, who lived on Fir Island.
Not only did Hanson hunt there, he provided numerous decoy spreads to the local clubs, and several of his carvings are included in Koetje’s one-of-a-kind collection.
Hanson has his own recognizable style. There are nuances that set him apart.
“For me, functionality comes first,” he said. “Gunning decoys are first and foremost. I concentrate on the shape, form and paint. You really have to discover your own style.”
Hanson will be bringing his own particular style to Burlington.
“It’s great to get out to that area (Skagit Valley),” Hanson said. “The show is great. First and foremost is it’s a lot of fun. I am glad to be able to come out and help.”