Painting Gadwall Gunners

Changing species in mid-stream

These six decoys began life as L. L. Bean Coastal Decoys – the much-admired gunning decoys originally created by George Soule from black cork (aka refrigerator cork). I do not know if these were Mallards or Black ducks.  When I got them – from Indiana – the current owner had repaired, re-sealed and primed them – I believe with Rustoleum Flat Black – a good oil-based paint for both priming and finish coats. He asked me to finish paint them as Gadwalls – 4 Drakes and 2 Hens.  I have long been meaning to make a pair for my own rig.  Although we never see them where I live (and mostly hunt) now – in Upstate New York dairy country – I would shoot a few each year when I lived on Long Island.  They have certainly become much more common over my lifetime – and are always a treat to see and hear.  The fact remains, though, that these are the first Gadwalls I have ever painted.  My innocence – ignorance? – did not stop me from accepting the challenge.  I really enjoy painting gunners because I get to exercise my Impressionism. (I wonder if Monet and Renoir began by painting gunning stool…..)

Here is the finished rig – on the floor in my shop.  I had wanted to photograph them afloat in natural light – but the weather did not cooperate and I wanted to get them back to their rightful owner post haste.

1 All Six

I will finish gunning decoys in either oils or acrylics but I usually use the latter.  Acrylic latex house paint is easy to use because it thins and cleans up with water and because it is inexpensive, available in almost any color, and comes in small containers.  I use Behr paints from Home Depot.  They are dead flat, cover well and available in 8-ounce sample jars.  So, I don’t mind buying  even “odd” colors – as for bills and speculums – because at $3 or $4 per jar, it’s quite reasonable.  On the other hand, because these are acrylics, I can always just use some tube acrylics for the smaller accents.

Here are (most of) the colors I used for these Gadwalls.

3 Paints - all

If you paint many different species, you will find that some colors can be used on more than one species – and some – like Black and White, of course – on most.  On the other hand, it is worth being a bit fussy and parsing out the subtle differences among hues.  For example, here are three different Greys I used in the Drakes – Graceful Grey, Elephant Skin and Intellectual.  Each has its own “personality” and use – but are also used on Mallards, Broadbill, Canvasback, Whistlers, Woodies, Teal,  et cetera.

4 Greys


I use just a few brushes – nothing fancy.  I like the square-edged “flats” because I can push paint around as well as pull it.  And – probably most important – flats are great for stippling, especially when they are a bit shopworn.

2 Brushes


The Drakes


The Hens



Hope this is helpful!


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