Saturday, December 20, 2008

Decade-old story of duck hunting south of Stuttgart near Lodge Corner

Aubrey Shepherd's focal point for display of Labrador retrievers, natural-resource conservation, English language word use, outdoor sports, recreational sports and athletics

First printed 1/16/98 in
The Morning News
of Northwest Arkansas
Decade-old duck-hunting story from Stuttgart trip

Aubrey's Notebook:
El Nino duck season frustrating
to some but not a washout
STUTTGART – Mallards and wood ducks came sailing into Wayne Hampton's favorite flooded timber 30 minutes before sunrise. Dr. Ed Green of Baton Rouge, La., Bounty Grant's Aubunique Egg and I hadn't been there in five years; so we thought the action was wonderful.

Green and I knocked down three mallards and a woodie within 15 minutes after legal shooting time arrived in the Arkansas County bottomland a few miles south of Lodge's Corner.

Egg – a 75-pound, 7-year-old Labrador retriever who got his nickname when I first saw him at Joan Koty's Bounty Grant Farm near Beebe when he was only four weeks old and looked like a big chocolate Easter egg – retrieved happily.

My duck season was a success because of that few minutes. Missing five years of duck seasons – for three previous decades I had seldom missed five days of any duck season – made me easily pleased, I suppose. We spent most of the rest of that morning in a duck blind not far away, in one of Wayne's favorite openings in the timber. The blind wasn't there five years ago. Hampton had told us that he had allowed Henry Gray, retired former director of the Arkansas Highway Commission, to build the blind there a few years back; and, despite wearing Neoprene waders, I was as anxious as Egg to stand out of the water as much as possible. We put out eight decoys and got a few bunches of mallards in, carefully picking our shots to add three more mallard drakes and finally a single shoveler to our bag for the morning.

Then we headed to Hampton's house in Stuttgart, where his wife, Virginia, had lunch ready and duck-hunting stories filled the air. Hampton showed us a news story about congressmen from Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the season a week. And no doubt the hunting has been relatively poor in these Deep-South states. El Nino is the reason for the poor season, many people believe. Hampton's friends in the Dakotas told him the weather hadn't been cold enough to freeze up the northern water and force the ducks to head south as expected by January.

Hampton explained that hunting had been fine early in the season but that ducks that arrived early had become wise to hunters' tricks and no longer decoyed readily. Hampton said that the extremely long season exhausted him – at age 79 – and that he hadn't hunted since New Year's Day, explaining why ducks were not extremely wary in his special spot. Hampton, Green and I agreed that extending duck season might get congressmen some votes from frustrated hunters but that in the long term no good could come from the proposed extension.

Remember, Hampton and his son Rick own some 4,000 acres of Grand Prairie wetland. Their main crop is rice, attracting ducks and geese in uncountable numbers. People such as Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and the governors of both Arkansas and Oklahoma are among the many who choose to hunt with the Hamptons. The Hamptons manage the land for the benefit of waterfowl as well as deer, squirrels and other wildlife.

Wayne Hampton had hunted practically every day of the first two-thirds of the season. Green and I had hunted one day in 1998 and none in 1997. But there is no way to determine which of us loves ducks or duck hunting the most. I can't imagine either of them or anyone else loves ducks or duck hunting more than I.

But that brings out the pivotal question in the effort to extend the hunting season. Who really cares about the ducks? As much as the three of us love hunting ducks, we love the ducks more. I started hunting ducks with my father in 1948. No single activity, not even baseball, has held my imagination more since then.

The existence of healthy waterfowl and the habitat they need to continue to exist, whether hunted or not, is an extremely important aspect of life to me. The recent nesting success of waterfowl on the northern prairies has increased waterfowl numbers to a level I never saw during my childhood.

Limits are extremely generous and the 1997-98 season was exceptionally. El Nino may have saved some duck's lives by letting them stay in the northern states long after those states' seasons ended. That can only help insure the success of future seasons. Let's be grateful.

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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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