In previous Decoy Corner articles I have focused on many factory decoy manufacturers as well as those individual carvers that have had an impact on the wood decoy industry historically. I am changing directions a little and writing about Ron Koch, who has been carving decoys since 1955 and continues to carve today at 79 years of age.
Ron Koch was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1939. His family moved to the small town of Reighmoor on the shores of Lake Butte des Mortes in 1947. Ron has been an avid duck hunter since 1954, rarely missing a day of hunting until 2014. Ron carved his first decoy in 1955 with the help of a neighbor. He routinely visited the decoy carving shop of Gus Nelow (See previous Decoy Corner article) near Oshkosh and used Nelow decoys early for much of his duck hunting.
Ron is married to his wife Connie and raised their four girls at Rivermoor, near the confluence of the Wolf and Fox rivers in Winnebago County. Ron began carving wooden hunting decoys in large numbers in the 1970’s and has completed thousands of them. His carving was influenced by the decoys of Gus Nelow who lived near him in Rivermoor but also learned a lot from carvers Les Beattie and Charley Brisky who also lived in the area. Ron has been an avid antique decoy collector for some time and is highly respected for his knowledge of most of the Wisconsin carvers.
Ron is not only a very respected carver, but also a highly successful book writer. He penned the book “Decoys of the Winnebago Lakes” in 1988 after he was frustrated with the lack of published material about the area’s historic carvers. During the early 1990’s he was a contributing writer for “Decoys Magazine” which many thought brought Winnebago decoys to the national stage. In 1997 he wrote his second book, “Whispering Wings and Wooden blocks”. In 2000 he was named field editor of the “Hunting and Fishing Collectibles Magazine” (HFCM) and penned a back page article titled the “Back Shelf”. His third book was titled “Back Shelf”, a collection of his articles in HFCM.
In 2007, Ron was selected for inclusion in the book, “Sixty Living and Outstanding Carvers of North America” by Loy Harrell. I am happy to say that I have signed copies of all of Ron’s books and still enjoy reading his Back Shelf columns in Hunting and Fishing collectibles magazine.
Ron carves wooden decoys almost exclusively from cedar and pine. He almost always paints with acrylics and has painted thousands of decoys, including geese, mallards, teal, canvasbacks, scaup, coot and pintail in majority. His style is influenced by Nelow, with a flair of his own. Most of his decoys were carved as working decoys. Most, if not all, of Koch’s decoys are stamped with his name and location (Koch Decoys, Rivermoor, Omro, Wis). Ron is still carving, although you may be waiting a while for one of his decoys if you ordered one today. However, there are still a number of his decoys on the secondary market. I was fortunate recently to pick up a Ron Koch, hen, Blue wing teal on a Michigan decoy auction. His decoys have been selling for the $200-300 range in recent guides (Collector Guides to Decoys, book 2 by Huxford), but are available locally in the $100-200 range.
Ron’s coot decoys are probably the most sought after examples of his work to date. Ron is another example of a Wisconsin Original! You can meet Ron at the Wisconsin Decoy Collector Show in Oshkosh at the Hilton Inn in March. He has been a routine vendor at that show for many years.
As always consult a reputable decoy collector or dealer to confirm condition and carver before you purchase.