Photograph by Travis Rothbone
A hundred bucks will get you one high-end custom goose decoy. For about the same price and a couple of hours’ effort, you can hunt over the real thing in the form of a taxidermied decoy. Guide Brian Mehlenbacher relies on a spread of handmade stuffer geese to consistently finish heavily pressured honkers. Here’s how he builds them.
What You’ll Need
—Large Canada goose (federal tagging and transportation laws apply)
—Medium foam goose manikin ($18; rmi-online.com)
—4-lb. box of borax
—No. 9 steel utility wire
1⁄2″ foam backer rod ($4; homedepot.com)
8″ x 8″ square of 1⁄2″ plywood
—X-Acto knife or scalpel
—Small saw blade
—4″ curved upholstery needle
1. Start by making a cut down the middle of the breast from the wishbone to the vent. Peel the skin back from the body, working around the legs and out to the second joint in both wings. Disjoint the legs by cutting around the knees, but leave them attached to the skin. Skin out the neck, and use the diagonal cutters to cut through the neck bone as close to the head as possible.
2. Lay the hide feather-side down, scrape away any remaining flesh, and then thoroughly work plenty of borax into the skin.
3. Make an incision underneath the bill and cut rearward, to access and expose the back of the skull. Remove the back of the skull with a hacksaw blade, and scoop out the contents, eyeballs included. Grab the back of the tongue, and it will pull right out. Re-form the back of the skull with clay.
4. Form a new neck with No. 9 wire and the foam backer rod. Stick the neck into the manikin. Once it’s in place, fit the skin over everything. Stitch up the opening with dental floss.
5. Set the stuffer in a standing position by running wire up both legs and into the foam body. Bend the bottom of the wire at a 90-degree angle and staple it and the feet to the plywood. Pin the wings against the body with two short pieces of wire bent into hooks. The last step is to form the neck into whatever position you want, and then let everything dry for a day or two before taking the decoy out to hunt.