There had been twenty years of pointing dogs and upland birds before I had the great fortune to join on a flooded timber duck hunt. This hunt was a first-class affair at the Five Oaks Lodge near Stuttgart, Arkansas. Hunting ducks instead of quail means trading walnut for plastic, pointing shorthairs for retrieving labs, lead 7 1/2s for steel 2s, leather boots for waders, blaze orange for camouflage, and dry ground for shin-deep water. This truly was an amazing experience. I now understand the deep enthusiasm so many have for hunting ducks and how one can be smitten by the culture that goes with it.
The day begins early, 5:00 am for us on this hunt. We suit up in camo everything – booted waders, shirts, coats, hats, neck gaiters, gloves, and some even use face paint. As with most hunting prep time, there is a palpable excitement, an anticipation of what the day may hold. The guides arrive, and we grab our camo or black autoloading, 12 gauge shotguns for a short drive to a levee that borders a section of flooded land. We follow the guide and his dog into the water and slosh our way to a “hole,” which is a small clearing, where we set up to ambush the incoming ducks.
The guide sets the decoys in the clearing, and you pick a tree to stand next to. It needs to be big enough to hide you from the ducks that will soon be dropping in from the sky and keep your face in the shadows, so it does not shine in the rising sun. Then you stand there, in the water, gun in hand and wait. It is still dark, but you can start to make things out as your eyes adjust and the dim glow from the coming sunrise starts to lighten things up. This is a very peaceful time, punctuated by a hooting owl, and then the far off booms of gunfire from other hunters. The trees must filter out the higher-pitched sound because the distant shots sound like artillery or rolling thunder. Very cool, very exciting!
Then a bird comes darting by in the pre-dawn light. You can tell it is a duck. My fellow hunter, who has been here before and knows what he is doing, fires and downs a wood duck. Melly, the guide’s sweet black labrador retriever, dives from her perch and retrieves the duck. The wood duck is a beautiful-gaudy bird and a bit of a prize, ensuring an afternoon trip to the local taxidermist. Melly is back on her platform, and the guide starts to work his duck call – an art in itself.
Soon, the first squadron of mallards come dropping into the clearing, cupping their wings to land, and the guide yells “TAKE ‘EM!” The shooting is fast and exciting, over in a few seconds. Melly is back in the water, fetching the downed ducks back to the guide. Five birds are now hanging in the game carrier straps. This is repeated for an hour or so until the limits are filled. It is like a roller-coaster ride, super exciting action, but over all too soon.
Hunting at this club stops at 9:00 am, which leaves 9:01 am to 11:00 pm for drinking, eating, and napping! There is a nice Skeet / 5-stand for clays, and a lot of time for comradery or maybe an afternoon goose hunt. The food at this joint is insane. Southern breakfast after the hunt, unbelievable appetizers (mostly creative uses of duck), and astoundingly good gourmet dinners, not to mention a full bar. I gained 8 lbs on a two-day hunt.
Here are the pictures from our hunt. I will say this was tough from a picture-taking standpoint. Not so much worry about dropping an expensive camera into the water, though that crosses your mind, but that a large part of the hunt happens with little light. Low light results in slow shutter speeds (blurry images) and high ISO (grainy images). I did the best I could, and happy to not put the camera into the drink!
Melly scans the skies for the next group of ducks.