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Visitors take in waterfowl hunting culture at Havre de Grace Decoy Festival

Visitors take in waterfowl hunting culture at Havre de Grace Decoy Festival
Visitors check out the decoys and artwork on display in the Havre de Grace Middle School gym Saturday during the 36th annual Decoy & Wildlife Art Festival. (David Anderson/Aegis staff)

Visitors to Havre de Grace could immerse themselves Saturday in all things related to hunting waterfowl along the Chesapeake Bay for the 36th annual Havre de Grace Decoy & Wildlife Art Festival, including paintings of waterfowl, tables laden with wooden decoys and demonstrations with hunting dogs.

"As you can see, they're very energetic," Abingdon resident Sean Fritzges said of his 5-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Louie, as the dog bounded about after fetching and returning a plastic training toy meant to represent a duck or a goose brought down by a hunter.

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Fritzges and his dog took part in a hunting dog demonstration on the front lawn of Havre de Grace Middle School, one of three sites for the Decoy Festival, along with the Havre de Grace Activity Center and the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum.

The festival is the primary annual fundraiser for the Decoy Museum, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in January. The festival started Friday and continues Sunday.

Visitors could take in food, children's activities, decoy carving and waterfowl calling competitions, silent auctions, as well as the dog demonstrations.

Fritzges and four other dog owners had their canines run across the field to one of two mock duck blinds, or to a group of fake geese, pick up the plastic toy and bring it back while following whistle and hand signals.

The five dogs included two Chesapeake retrievers, two Labrador retriever and one golden retriever, according to Flip Jennings, of Delta Dogs, the lead organizer.

Jennings, a Havre de Grace resident, has been running dog demonstrations at the Decoy Festival for about a dozen years.

"I would say it's well looked forward to by the attendees," he said.

A small group of people watched the demonstration Saturday under dark, cloudy skies. Jennings said it usually draws larger crowds, but he suspected the weather was keeping people away — he noted a demonstration scheduled for earlier Saturday was canceled because of poor attendance.

Fritzges took part in his third annual demonstration. He said the Chesapeake retriever is emblematic of waterfowl hunting in this region, plus it is the state dog of Maryland.

He said the Chesapeake retriever is "the pillar" among hunting dogs in the area. He obtained Louie from a breeder in Havre de Grace, a city known as the "decoy capital of the world."

"His roots are from Havre de Grace," Fritzges said.

Fritzges, who attended with his son, said he enjoys the entire festival.

"I enjoy looking at all the decoys," he said. "I've grown up around waterfowl hunting."

The love of waterfowl and decoys is what draws Michael and Paula Schwanebeck from Gettysburg, Pa. to the festival.

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They are former Fallston residents, and they still make regular trips to the Decoy Festival.

"Just a love of wildlife and waterfowl," Michael Schwanebeck said when asked what draws him.

"I love seeing the talent of people too, the carving ability," Paula Schwanebeck said.

Her husband noted the carvers' "talent, the dedication they have, the hours and hours they put into their work."

Charles Jobes, of Charles Jobes Decoys in Havre de Grace, demonstrated his carving ability in the hallway outside the middle school gym.

He carved wooden decoy heads into shape, noting "nobody really gets to see a head being made."

Jobes, whose brothers also carve decoys, is the son of Capt. Harry Jobes, a well-known local carver whose likeness can be found in the Decoy Museum.

Charles Jobes said he has been carving decoys for a living for about 40 years, and that there are few people who still carve and sell wooden decoys.

Many decoys sold today are made of plastic. Jobes said he makes about 250 wooden decoys a year for hunting.

He said wooden decoys are "more a folk art form than anything" else.

"You get a lot of interest, people wanting to see how it's done," Jobes said of his experience at the festival.

The final day of the festival is Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $10, and children 12 and younger are admitted free with an adult.

Shuttle buses will be available to take people between the three festival locations.

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