I was on winter break from college, and had traveled to southeast Arkansas to see my girlfriend and her family. While I was there, I was graciously invited to help out at a local duck club. In return, I would be allowed to hunt the property.
The day I arrived, a cold front pushed through, dropping the overnight temperatures into the low teens.
The club’s land was all standing water and nearly all of it was frozen over by morning. We did our best to break away the ice around the hunting holes, and actually managed a decent hunt for the clients. We were back at the lodge by 9:45 for breakfast. A few of the guides and I opted out of breakfast; this was our time to hunt.
These guys seemed to know exactly where they wanted to go, and with hardly any words spoken we were on our way. Riding the four wheelers towards the properties edge I noticed both had grins ear to ear. They obviously had something in mind. We soon arrived at a small creek that was the border between the club’s land and that of a public WMA. I was beginning to see the method to the madness.
This WMA would have overflowing creeks and streams that though flowing very slowing would have kept the water from freezing. We ferried across the creek on an old 12 foot flat bottom boat. Once across, the hike began. We marched straight into the brush for a half mile before we hit damp ground. Soon after, the thick underbrush broke and we found ourselves in prime green timber and eight inches of water.
Now that we had found the water our eyes turned upward, looking for an opening in the trees above. We settled into an area where a few of the bigger cypress trees had fallen over and created a good sized hole in the canopy of limbs. The three of us picked a few trees on the upwind side of the hole and hunkered down in their shadows.
Staring up through the tree tops we began seeing ducks circling the area in search of open water. We began calling, sending up an array of quacks, contentment chuckles, feed chatter, and cadences. We kicked our feet to muddy the water and sound like wallering ducks.
The first group that showed interest was 35 mallards. They were lead by one boss hen staring into the trees shouting deep raspy quacks at us. After about five passes her curiosity got the best of her. She led the entire group through the hole and into our faces. As they fell through the limbs there was an echoing of wing beats and quacks off the trees coupled with the sound of the ducks splashing upon the water as they landed. The shot was called and four greenheads lay floating.
A few quick congratulatory hoots and hollers were exchanged and before we knew it we were calling at another group. This group was much larger, probably 50 birds. They made many passes and on their last they skimmed over our opening and fell in about 50 yards behind us. Seeing this we decided to follow. All we had with us were our guns and calls, so we just walked over to that opening, picked out a few new trees and started our routine again. Ten minutes later and we had another 15 mallards falling in on us. The shot was called and through a flurry of falling feathers three more greenheads lay floating.
Being in public waters our mallard limit was 12 and we had until noon to hunt. We reminded each other of the time and how many more we could take. I got the go ahead to take a double if I could; being it was my first hunt with the guys. I wasn’t complaining.
Ten minutes later there were whistling wings overhead once again. Staring up through the trees I saw a wave of birds that seemed to go on forever. One of the biggest groups of mallards I had seen, 100 or more in the group. Their green heads glistening in the sun as they moved side to side peering through the tree tops. Lost in the moment, I caught myself leaning out into the sunlight to get a better look. I quickly retreated back into the shadows and began calling.
The group worked back and forth over the trees for what seemed like an hour. Many different hens from the group were calling back at us, each with their own unique voice. On three of the passes, the group slowed just enough for the front 15 birds to commit and drop into the trees, only to pick back up and rejoin the flock. Finally the group took a long sweeping turn into the wind, slowing enough to allow the birds to fall through the hole. The first birds hit the water 40 yards in front of us, the rest funneled in closer and closer. The same echo as before came over us, but louder much louder. The birds were knocking into the trees and into each other, actually fighting to be the first on the water.
Watching the show, we didn’t call the shot until the birds were almost too close. I picked out a drake, seven yards in front of me, settled the bead and pulled the trigger. Immediately moved to the next drake and pulled the trigger again. Ducks were still getting off the water as I lowered my gun and watched them make the vertical exit.
We erupted with emotion, hollering out our side of the story. Explaining what we saw, as if the others hadn’t seen what he had. We laughed as we picked up the birds, replaying the scene in our heads. It was nearly noon and we needed to get out of the WMA. Walking back I was overcome with that feeling you only get after a good hunt. The cold air, the sound of the water sloshing beneath your waders, your gun on your shoulder, good friends at your at your side, and a heavy strap of birds. There’s nothing like it.