Built on Honoring Traditions, Focused on Conservation
By Nick Green
Engagement with conservation can take many forms — whether you are buying a hunting license, banding ducks and geese, planting mast-producing trees, building small game habitat or donating money for habitat projects, there are a million ways to solidify your place as a conservationist in Michigan.
Your engagement with the wild places and wild things around you can be as hands-off or hands-on as you make it. And for most of us, conservation, including hunting and fishing, is probably more of a hobby rather than a lifestyle.
Not for Corey Lucas, though. Working on farms in Southern Michigan since he was eight, Corey learned the value of sweat equity, hard work and problem-solving at an early age. Like most folks working for family-run farms, Corey’s days were filled with back-breaking work, dirt under his fingernails and a sense of accomplishment when the job was done.
Corey’s childhood and farming experiences taught him something special; something he would never forget — the value of conservation and how the interplay between wildlife and habitat relies on humans to be stewards for our environment.
When Corey left home, he landed at Western Michigan University where he graduated with a degree in biology. From there, he worked at an engineering firm and completed several seasonal stints with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources before landing a job at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute as stewardship manager.
Something was missing for Corey, though, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was destined for more.
After five years working for Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, Corey decided to leave the nine-to-five grind, hang up his gloves and chaps and pursue his passion for carving duck decoys full time. Cedar Run Decoy Company was born.
Passion meets conservation
For Corey and his business partner, Boyd Culver, the model couldn’t just include profit margins, advertising, marketing and growth — it needed to include something deeper and more tangible to the world they operate in. The business not only needed to thrive and grow, but it also needed to give back.
So, as Corey had done throughout his career, he decided that the resource, wildlife and conservation were worthy recipients of his hard-earned profits and time.
Since its founding in 2019, Cedar Run Decoy Company has donated five percent of its profits each year to North American waterfowl conservation. This money has been used to conduct research, plant and maintain wild rice and put up nesting tubes and boxes for ducks, among many other things.
When asked if he thought his five-percent donation would make an impact, Corey shrugged and said that folks should give what they can and lead by example.
“My five percent might be small potatoes, but if I can get others to support conservation and donate money or time, there’s no telling where the snowball effect might end,” Corey said. “The conservation community holds the keys to better habitat and more wildlife in their hands; they just need to figure out how to unlock the potential.”
Cedar Run Decoys’ conservation ethic doesn’t end with donating money to worthy waterfowl causes, though. Corey and friends strive to use sustainable practices and materials such as cork, non-toxic paint and small-batch production methods.
“We aren’t and never plan to be a full-scale production facility,” Corey said. “My sweat and energy is poured into each one of these decoys, and I hope people understand that each decoy is bettering Michigan’s conservation landscape.”
Many of Cedar Run Decoys products are also WILDwood certified — meaning that the wood is sourced from wildlife habitat restoration projects. In fact, some trees Corey fell himself have been used for various decoys.
“We are all connected to our natural resources, Michigan’s outdoor heritage and the species that share these spaces,” Corey said. “Knowing where our wood comes from is just one more part of this connectivity that keeps the conservation wheel turning.”
While many hand-carved decoys nowadays serve as mantle mainstays, that was never Corey’s intention for Cedar Run blocks.
“These are gunning decoys,” Corey said. “They are meant to be thrown around, used, shot, repainted and passed down through generations.”
At $165 to $200 apiece, these aren’t your standard production line plastics that so many of us use for a season or two and pitch. These decoys are meant to be treasured and used season after season for a lifetime.
Corey purposefully doesn’t use elaborate paint schemes sometimes donning decorative collector decoys.
“I want folks to be able to repaint these decoys themselves and service them for the life of their hunting career,” Corey said. “Purposefully not using intricate painting techniques helps the customer feel like they are a part of the process when they need to spruce up their Cedar Run decoy.”
Each decoy takes Corey two and a half to three hours to carve. The process starts with a sheet of cork about four inches thick. The sheet is then divided and cut into blocks before the magic begins.
The cork blocks begin to take shape as Corey starts with a band saw removing the corners and big chunks of material. From there, draw knives and rasps with different grits are used to help shape the decoy and make the gentle curvatures.
The ordered process by which Corey works is methodical and calculated. Each tool serves a little different purpose and is meant for altering the cork in a different way. Certain rasps are tapped before others because of their grit, and Corey uses small tools to fine-tune the details like a surgeon with a scalpel.
At the end of the day, each of these decoys are different and unique. Corey said there is starting to be some interest among collectors about his decoys but that he is steadfast to his commitment to produce top-tier, usable, gunning decoys — the kind only true fowlers can appreciate.
Much of Cedar Run Decoys business has been built on the backs of one- or two-decoy orders. That doesn’t mean Corey and friends can’t handle bulk orders, though.
In the last few months, Corey has shipped out a rig of 40 decoys to the East Coast. And he was working on an order of 115 destined for the marshes of Ohio in June. Small orders are common, Corey said, but there seems to be more and more demand for larger orders as the business grows.
From black ducks to wood ducks to divers, Cedar Run Decoys span the gamut of duck species you will see in Michigan. They also sell charcuterie boards and an assortment of swag to help support the small, locally-owned company and conservation in Michigan.
Corey hopes that Cedar Run Decoy Company continues to grow and that the next generation of waterfowlers will continue to place an emphasis on the heritage of hand-carved gunning decoys.
When this all started, the company outlined five- and 10-year plans. As of June 2021, Corey said the company is almost where they had hoped to be in five years — three years ahead of schedule.
“The future is a tough thing for anyone or any business to predict, but I think if we remain true to who we are and continue to turn out a quality product rooted in conservation, we will be just fine,” Corey said. “At the end of the day, this is all about the resource, the habitat and the fowl that drives me to want to leave the state of conservation a little better than I found it.”