Duck Decoys

Ron Koch


Ronald Mathew Koch was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1939.  In 1947, the family moved to Reighmoor on the south shore of Lake Butte des Morts, the heart of one of the richest waterfowling areas on the state.  He has been an avid duck hunter since 1954, rarely missing a day on the water through 2014, and has hunted all the lakes and rivers in the Winnebago area as well as other parts of Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.

      He carved his first decoy in 1955 with the help of neighbor Orv Flater and at age 17 made his first decoy buy, four geese for $10, from the famed carver Gus Nelow.  Today those geese grace shelves in the homes of his four daughters.

      Ron and his wife, Connie, raised their four girls at Rivermoor, at the confluence of the Fox and Wolf Rivers, near the site of one of the first French-Indian trading posts on the upper Fox River.

      In the 1970s, Ron began carving wooden hunting decoys in earnest, crafting several thousand of them.  Over the years, he was influenced by the decoys of Gus Nelow who had also lived at Rivermoor but learned a lot of his carving techniques by many talented carvers including Les Beattie and his good friend, Charlie Brisky.

      About the same time, he began collecting antique hunting decoys and built up an enviable collection.  When he began collecting, he was dismayed with the lack of published material about the area’s historic decoys and in 1988 took matters into his own hands.  With much help from his wife, he wrote and published the highly successful book, Decoys of the Winnebago Lakes. During the 1990s he was a contributing writer for Decoys Magazine, bringing Winnebago decoys to the national stage.  In 1997 he wrote his second book, Whispering Wings & Wooden Blocks , a semi-autobiographical tribute to his father, Wilbert, who was his first tutor in the art of duck hunting and decoys.  Three years later he authored Crazy, a tongue-in-cheek look at the sport he loves.

      In 2000 he was named a Field Editor for the fledgling Hunting & Fishing Magazine which in a few years became the bible for all sporting collectibles.  For five years he wrote a column entitled “From a River Rat’s Rig” which was the leadoff feature in the magazine.  For the next ten years, besides contributing several educational articles a year, he held a place on the last page of the magazine with his humorous column entitled “The Back Shelf.”

      In 2012 the “Back Shelf” columns from 2006-2012 were collected in a book entitled Behind the Back Shelf  which included the columns and the story behind each one.

      In 2007, Ron was selected for inclusion in the book Sixty Living and Outstanding Carvers o North America.  In 2013, he was contacted by Cabelas and asked if he would make available some of his hunting decoys and other waterfowling memorabilia for a permanent exhibit in their new Green Bay store.  After some tough negotiation he let some of his prized items go and they are on display there.

      Ron is a long-time member of Ducks Unlimited, Wisconsin Decoy Collectors Association, Midwest Decoy Collectors Association, National Rural Letter Carriers Association, National Rifle Association, Minnesota Decoy Collectors, and Berlin Conservation Club.   He is a former member of the Fox Valley Gun Club, the Amateur Trap Shooting Association and Butte des Morts Conservation Club.