By Bobby Cleveland/The Clarion-Ledger
SHUQUALAK — Shuqualak lumberman Charlie Thomas III is a life-long turkey hunter who never liked decoys.
That was until his father Charlie Thomas Jr., developed health issues that impacted their hunting trips.
“Got to be where I needed decoys to hold a tom’s attention so dad could get in position to shoot,” said the son. “But I got frustrated with what I had to deal with, especially gobbler decoys. They are just so big.
“I was already loaded down with a blind, guns and cushions … man, I didn’t have room for decoys.”
That changed, as did some of his family’s business — Shuqualak Lumber — focus, when his frustration led to an idea and a nifty invention.
“I came in from a hunt walked into the garage, unloaded all the stuff and looked over and saw a small umbrella,” Thomas said. “It hit me. I got my wife to print a big picture of a gobbler and bring it to the garage.”
The crude design of a gobbler drawn across the top of that umbrella was the start of what is now Mississippi Decoys Inc. Its gobbler and hen decoys have been a big hit at a couple of recent national outdoor shows.
“That first one in 2010 was pretty rough, but I took it to Kentucky and was using it when I killed the biggest gobbler I’ve ever taken,” said Thomas, who lives in Starkville.
While he knew he was on to something he also knew the crude original would never sell. He needed something more realistic, like a high-res image from a wildlife photographer.
Like a picture from award-winning naturalist photographer Paul Brown of Brandon. Fortunately, the two had a mutual friend that got them together on the project.
“I sent him some hi-res images and we settled on a photo of a Holmes County gobbler we called old snaggletooth because he had a tail feather missing,” Brown said. “We chose a photo of two hens for the hen decoy.”
Both photos were shot in green patches, so in the brown woods of late winter the green edges of the umbrellas don’t blend well.
“Once it greens up good, they look really good,” Thomas said. “Besides with the molded gobbler head mounted on the tip, it gives the decoy a 3D look. When a gobbler sees that head, he locks in on it and is oblivious to anything else.”
The selling point is convenience.
The gobbler (Big Daddy, $43) and hen (Double Trouble, $32) are designed on fold-down umbrellas that weigh about a pound and are as easy to carry as a flashlight. Both can be deployed in seconds, with the shaft forming a 90-degree angle to stick in the ground.
Thomas also sells the two together as the Killer Combo for $60. All can be ordered online by visiting mississippidecoys.com.
Thomas said the positive feedback already has his family working on new designs for antelope, duck and even dove decoy umbrellas.
“Image a dove decoy umbrella you could sit under on a hot day,” he said. “Perfect.”
The main spring turkey hunting season runs March 15 to May 1 statewide except for all of Quitman County and parts of Coahoma, Leflore and Sunflower counties.
The limits are one adult gobbler or gobbler with a 6-inch or longer beard per day, three per spring season.
Hunters 15 years of age and younger may kill one gobbler of choice of any age per day, three per season.