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William Ethington
Sculling the river with handmade lures

by Allen Linkchorst

William M. Ethington II, one of three sons by William and Betty Ethington, was born on July 27, 1954 in Glendale, Arizona. His father was an Army officer and the family relocated often, living abroad for many years. In the early 1960s his father retired and the family settled in Bordentown, New Jersey. Ethington graduated from Bordentown High School in 1972 and in January 1977 joined the Air Force, serving until March 1, 2001 when he retired as a Chief Master Sergeant. While in the military he continued his education, acquiring a Masters from the University of Oklahoma. He is married with two children.

Ethington learned the joys of boating, fishing and hunting as a teenager. And his years in the military didn’t deter from this sport. An avid duck hunter, he often scheduled his allotted vacation time for this pursuit. Over the years he sculled for redheads and wigeon on Lake Meade, Nevada, gunned for ring necks on Lake Catahoula, Louisiana and shot pintails, wigeon and gadwalls in Choke Canyon, Texas.

Ethington made his first decoys in Bordentown in the early 1980s. Before he started making his own he often bought well-used rigs, which he repaired and repainted and carved a few replacement heads for those that needed it. Unable to purchase wooden decoys to add to the rig, and disliking the plastic ones available, he decided to try his hand at carving his own. Ethington appreciated the Delaware River style and incorporated it into his decoys. As his skills increased, others sought his birds for inclusion in their rigs or a spot on their shelf. He often traded them for vintage decoys.

After roughing out the blocks on a bandsaw, the bodies are mounted on a vise for finish carving. Ethington uses traditional tools – drawknife, rasps and knives – to execute the finely carved details that distinguish Delaware River decoys. They exhibit a high level of skill and sophistication and represent the evolvement of the traditional Delaware River style.

The bodies, hollow-carved from Jersey cedar, are round and streamlined with nicely carved, raised primaries. Waterproof glue and nails hold the body together with the seam designed to ride above the waterline. The slightly curved tails are well carved with long graceful flutes and uniform feathers.

Ethington uses only a carving knife and sandpaper to complete his heads, all portraying good lifelike attitudes and glass eyes that accurately portray the species. The bills have carved nostrils, lower mandibles and a nail at the end of the bill. A lead rectangular pad weight with an embossed "E" in the middle serves as the ballast. The leather anchor loop is attached with brass screws and a washer.

Ethington uses oil paints to showcase his skills with a brush, a sophisticated use of wet on wet blending, shading and combing. The speculums are uniquely painted in detail, blending light to dark. The hens and black ducks receive fine hand-painted ticking.

An old-fashioned duck hunter, Ethington now produces nearly all his own gear, including the decoys, anchors, scull oars and duck boats. He guns nearly every day of the season and truly believes that the worse the weather the better the hunt. Often his best days require him to break through the ice to reach his favorite spots. He brings along two shotguns and sets up a rig of approximately 30 decoys, just like that first day at the Bordentown dock.

When hunting season is closed, Bill Ethington, now retired, concentrates on carving gunning decoys. Collectors in growing numbers appreciate the crisp clean lines of his graceful lures, whether resting on a shelf or riding the choppy waters of the Delaware. They portray all that is good in a Delaware River decoy. And as you watch his decoy rig ride the early-morning currents, it’s as though they’ve always been there.

For the complete story, please see the July/Aug. 2001 issue of Decoy Magazine.

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