An orange glow creeps across the marshy field as the sun rises on a crisp, cold morning. The geese are plentiful among the nubs of corn stalks that remain after the harvest. Some stretch with the occasional flapping of wings. Others swim in the adjacent lake. A few bob up and down, feeding below the surface, occasionally spraying water into the air. It is a typical, late November day in rural Kentucky. At least that's the way it appears. But not all is as it seems.
This gaggle of geese is manmade. Nearby is a group of hunters, fully camouflaged beneath an array of native foliage. They control the simulated motions of their decoys, patiently waiting for the arrival of the real thing. Their geese are on the forefront of decoy technology, proudly provided by two brothers in Paducah.
"It started with my dad, Mark, back in 1994," says Ben Higdon. "The idea was to create a goose decoy with a motion head. It ended up being the first motion decoy concept for retail purposes. He began manufacturing on an old glove factory in Metropolis, Illinois, growing his decoy line to twelve items." A major fire destroyed the facility, however, in 2002, threatening to end the future of Higdon Outdoors.
"My brother John and I had gotten more involved at that time," says Ben, "and we had to figure out how to move forward after the fire. The decoy molds were still intact, fortunately, so we had a starting point."
Ben and John researched manufacturing possibilities but couldn't find any that were viable, sustainable, and allowed for future growth. They turned their sights to China.
"We shipped the molds then headed off to China to meet them there." The brothers then discovered something they never imagined; something that let them know they were on the right track.
"The owner of the factory we chose was from Ballard County!" says Ben. "We had no idea. His grandfather and mine went to school together!" On the other side of the world, the two, western Kentucky boys felt fate intervene in an unlikely reunion.
"We worked with him, replicating the Metropolis plant. From there, we grew the product line slowly. By 2007, we were seeing some success in the market share."
Higdon Outdoors expanded, producing duck and goose decoys of varying species along with accessories, becoming the only decoy company with a full line of motion decoys.
"We do it differently in that we are coming from a manufacturing background," says Ben. "We watch the birds, watch what they are doing, then sit down with an engineer and figure out how to create that. We'll 3D print an idea and go from there. Being at the top requires the latest technology. We're immersed in making the best, innovative products on the market."
Their approach paid off. Retail outlets took notice, seeking out the brothers in order to sell Higdon Outdoors products. Gander Mountain, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, and many others now carry their products in stores across the country and in Canada. From their home office in Paducah, the Higdons ship daily to places around the world. They've even secured the approval of Ducks Unlimited, becoming the official licensed product of the organization beginning this year.
A few years ago, John and Ben began working with a Canadian production company and sponsored a hunting show on television. Before long, they wanted to bring their own take on waterfowl sports to American TV.
"After we thought about it for a while, we jumped into the creative side of things," says Ben. "We worked with Curt Stewart at EMP and developed something that we thought would appeal to the audience." On July 4, 2015, friends and family gathered to watch the premiere of Higdon Outdoors on the Sportsman's Channel. Branded as "a new breed of waterfowl TV," the show features host Corey Cook who produced the highest rated waterfowl show in Canada. Higdon Outdoors provides the viewer with high action, multiple camera angles, and unique points of view. "We've produced something that has a lot of character," adds Ben.
As Ben reflects on Higdon Outdoor's history, he is amazed at where it has come from the humble beginnings. "When my wife first introduced me to her family, one of her uncles asked what I did," he says. "I told him I made decoys. He said, 'Yeah, but what do you do for a living?' But now I can finally pay my bills with my job! This is what I've always done. I started with dad when I was 19, and we've had some really tough times. But we've worked hard, very hard to get here. We've certainly put our hearts and souls into it. It is amazing to think of where we are now. Sometimes you just never know where something will go!"