Bundy Decoys Has Their Ducks in a Row
In September 2008, a huge maple tree fell over in a yard near John Bundy’s business, Bundy Decoys of Noblesville. Other large trees had fallen during the inland hurricane that ripped through the area that year, but this tree was different. The tree’s age was estimated as pre-Civil War, but that was not what made it special.
The tree that had stood 150 years was unique to Bundy because of its interior pattern. “Rather than circles that we’re used to seeing in trees, its cell structure had created a spalted, or quilted, look,” Bundy says.
As the owner of Bundy Decoys, he knew the deteriorated wood with the unusual grain could be used to create beautiful wooden objects. Bundy purchased the wood and used it to make some of his prized duck decoys.
Today, King Abdullah of Jordan owns a decoy made from the fallen tree.
Over the years, Bundy ducks have made their way to the home of Indiana native David Letterman, the White House and many points in between.
“Former Indiana governor Robert Orr used them as gifts for Asian officials,” Bundy says. “Ducks are a symbol of good luck and prosperity in the Asian culture.”
Ducks have certainly been good luck to Bundy and his family since they began making the decorative items in 1980.
At that time, Bundy owned a table rental business. While at trade shows featuring the outdoors, he noticed attendees sought old decoys as collectibles. Few were available, and those that were tended to be pricey.
Bundy calls duck decoys a true American folk art because the concept wasn’t imported from Europe, but rather is native to North America. In fact, decoys discovered in Lovelock Cave in Nevada date back roughly 2,000 years.
Noting their popularity, Bundy came up with the idea of creating prized decoys that sportsmen would treasure. After setting up shop in a former tomato-canning factory in Noblesville and purchasing a spindle carver and 1936 gunstock lathe, Bundy began styling a rough pattern for an initial carving.
This lathe had already played a part in American history.
“Italians had used it to make Mausers for Hitler’s army,” he says. Bundy built other machines if he could not find what he needed.
Bundy’s wife, Valarie, painted the ducks. Over the years, their son, Jason, learned the steps of decoy production while also learning metallurgy to make handmade knives.
Don’t ask the Bundy family for the ingredients of the high-gloss finish applied to each decoy – it is a carefully guarded family secret.
“I discovered the mixture for a finish that would not make the painted colors bleed while making Christmas presents one year,” John Bundy says. “It has been honed to what it is today.”
Bundy says his ability of spraying the finish with precision is due to a childhood accident. “I badly broke my right arm when I was young,” he says. “As it healed, I learned to use my left arm. Today, my hands can function independently of each other when needed. That talent is critical to spraying the ducks.”
Bundy’s duck decoys include two particular types: classic and country. While the country decoys started out as the most popular, today the classic collection sells more. Still, Bundy knows some people are not interested in a shiny classic.
“They prefer more of an antique or primitive look of the country collection models,” he says.
He carves the ducks from white cedar, found in the swampy areas of upper Michigan and Minnesota. He also uses unique Indiana hardwoods.
“These are not just walnut and cherry, but curly maple and curly walnut,” Bundy says.
With spalted wood, no two pieces are alike, which complicates production.
“The duck’s head and body have to come out of the same part of the log,” he says. “I keep them together during the creation process.”
Bundy has offered his decoys as fundraisers for wildlife organizations including Ducks Unlimited, Quails Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Wild Turkey Federation. In recent years, Bundy has expanded his work to include coffee tables, lamp tables, end tables, shelves and custom-made baseball bats. Bundy remains most well known for the one-of-a-kind classic and country duck decoys.
Bundy’s fame achieved new status when Bundy Grill became part of the Cabela’s store in Noblesville, which opened in August 2015. The grill portion of the outdoor recreation retailer features a deli and fudge shop that displays several Bundy ducks.
Cabela’s selected Bundy because its theme designer, Amanda Glenn, thought the locally made decoys would help the new Noblesville store stand out. The Cabela’s crew, including Mary Cabela herself, was very impressed with the results.
“No one else has the capability of making them this way,” he says. “We are possibly the nation’s last wooden decoy factory. Decoys have been around for centuries as the Native Americans used them. We’ve tried to create a 20th-century folk art based on their workmanship.”
To learn more about Bundy Ducks and find out what’s for sale, visit bundyducks.com or call 800-387-3831. You can also check out the decoys on display at Bundy Grill inside the Cabela’s located at 13725 Cabela Parkway in Noblesville.