Perspectives on duck hunting vary as much as the Arkansas weather during hunting season. A self-proclaimed duck hunting and waterfowling culture nerd, Greenhead contributing editor Brent Birch has a constant curiosity about how others hunt and view the sport’s past, present and future. He believes duck hunters sell themselves short if they see the sport from their blind only. “Not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I talk about duck hunting with someone every day,” Birch said, without exaggeration.
As one of the founders of Greenhead and author of The Grand Prairie: A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground, Birch tapped his many connections within the duck hunting history for a circular conversation that allows the experts to quiz each other about the pastime they love. Responses are edited for punctuation, style and brevity.
Rich-N-Tone Calls Inc. (Stuttgart) | Creative director and field producer RNT-V, The Sportsman Channel
BIRCH: Of all your travels with RNT-V, what’s been your top two destinations and why?
FISHER: Filming for RNT for the past 18 years and RNT-V, in its 16th season, has taken me to many incredible places in North America. From Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada to the intercoastal canals of the southern Louisiana marsh to Easton, Maryland, shores to ankle-deep waters of the Arkansas River in Colorado, and so many points in between.
That’s miles upon miles chasing waterfowl and trying to play Mother Nature’s games, but if you’re making me pick, I’m going to stay within 20 minutes of the house here in Stuttgart and say the Cache River Bottoms is top of the list. There’s a reason why it’s a top destination for hunters both in state and out of state.
When the water is right, the ducks are there, and you’re lucky enough to get to one of your spots before anyone else, it’s hard to beat. Hugged up next to a big oak tree, standing in knee-deep water, witnessing hundreds of mallards angle-wing in through a narrow gap in the woods and landing literally at your feet is something you never forget. And honestly, it’s hard to leave knowing it could happen any day, whether you are there or not.
The river bottoms will definitely give you the fear of missing out. It’s not just the “quack-quack, boom-boom” and trying to capture it on camera; it’s the boat ride, the dog work, the relationships, the time spent with your close friends eating snacks and telling stories. The fellowship. … If you know, you know. And if you don’t? Well, find somewhere else to go because we are running out of room.
My number two destination? I could easily say Sumner, Missouri, or Bill Byers Hunter Club, Greenbriar, [or] Maple Ranch, but I’m going to go with western Nebraska along the North Platte River with my good buddy Jake Latendresse. The landscape is so mesmerizing. I always feel like Clint Eastwood is going to roll up on us on horseback, flick his cigarette at me, and say “Get on. This is my huntin’ hole.”
It’s so different from hunting here at home, yet so similar at the same time. The scenery is different, no doubt, but the way you hunt these tight little warm-water sloughs means the birds are right in your face. It’s like hunting Arkansas timber without the timber.
You find out where they want to be, you make a set using a small spread of decoys, and when it works, it’s magic — lots of mallards; open, moving water, and usually super cold conditions. I absolutely love it. Hearing turkey, seeing whitetail, mule deer, pronghorn and elk during the trip only adds to it — redneck safari.
It’s one of those places I want to go back to every year. Another great thing about Nebraska trips, there are lots of opportunities between here and there — coming and going. Swing down through Kansas, kick over to Missouri, Oklahoma. Make hay while the sun is shining.
Manager, Cypress Crossing Guide Service (Humphrey)
FISHER: Colton, I know you’ve been raised in a hunting family that has been in the guide business for quite some time, and you have a passion for documenting the lifestyle with photography and video. If you had to choose between only using your shotguns or your cameras (from now on), which one would you pick? And picking your shotgun means giving up your significant presence on your social media outlets. Tough decision. What have you got?
KERR: I remember a time at a very young age where not everyone had or used social media. We went hunting, never took pictures and definitely didn’t post them anywhere.
But somehow people always knew of us and where we were hunting back when we were hunting public land. Even in the first years of operating our guide service we used social media very little as means of advertising. Yet every year from the first year on, we have been booked and blessed with amazing customers.
Even today with over 500,000 followers combined across my social media platforms, the No. 1 answer we get when we ask, “How did you hear about Cypress Crossing?” “[Is]Oh you know so-and-so that hunted with you told me about y’all.” Word of mouth, being face-to-face with someone, is a powerful thing that is becoming lost in today’s world.
My father taught me a very important lesson while building Cypress Crossing and that was to never put the cart in front of the horse. Buy the necessities first, get the jobs done that take you to the next step first, build a foundation worth building off of.
Let’s think about that. If we had focused on buying cameras or spent time making videos instead of buying decoys, building blinds, managing property, building a lodge, would we be where we are? Maybe, but I can promise you it wouldn’t be near as close to our goals.
I have a tremendous love for photography and videography. That talent that I have been given gives me so much joy when I share it with people and I can see the positive reactions or motivation they gain from it.
It’s a feeling for me that comes second to duck hunting if I had to choose though. With that said I’m choosing my old Remington 870 shotgun. Without it, the one-on-one experience with the people that hunt with me would wither away and, come on, would there really be a story to still tell on social media anyway?
Manager, Coca Cola Woods (McCrory)
KERR: In your work of property management at the Coca Cola Woods, what have you found to be the most crucial skill to obtain a successful amount of waterfowl using the property year after year? Whether it be location, food plots, bird management/resting birds, strategic hunting strategies and schedule, et cetera?
CREASEY: Definitely taking pressure off the birds has helped us more than anything I believe. We have gone about this in several different ways. The first would be to create rest areas. Day in and day out birds know they have a safe haven to go to.
Another way we take off some pressure is to only hunt one hole at a time and to never hunt in the evenings. I had rather shoot eight limits in one hole and it take an extra hour or so versus burning two holes just for four limits each hole.
This just gives the birds more areas to get down for the day. Once our birds settle into the woods they are there for the day. This helps attract any new birds that may fly over that day as well.
A little known trick of the trade that most folks overlook is to not shoot into the birds at first shooting light, when the sky is full. It’s simply not worth it to spook so many ducks and potentially run them out of the area. We like to just sit back and enjoy the show.
It’s, in my opinion, the best part of the hunt is when you land a couple thousand at your feet. I totally understand public hunters not being able to do this and have the utmost respect for anyone who chases them on public [land]. Kudos to you.
But if you are blessed to have a tract that you can manage, by all means let them set down. Add in a few food plots in and around your hunting holes and rest areas [and] you have a pretty good combination for success.
DAVID ST. JOHN
CREASEY: Since you are an accomplished duck caller and past world champion, what is more important, how you sound on a call or knowing the whens and when-nots of reading ducks while calling?
ST. JOHN: The importance of the sound of a duck call versus knowing when or when not to call could go hand in hand.
I have heard a lot of hunters who are not that good [at] blowing on a duck call, but they know when to call at the ducks and can get the ducks to turn. I have also heard hunters that know how to blow a duck call with great hail calls, cadences and feed calls and not blow at the right time or the right cadence and not even get a response from the ducks.
With this said, it also really depends on the time of the duck season.
If you actually listen to ducks (mallard hens) you can hear [callers] make mistakes and even cut their cadences short or even just stop after a couple notes. During the early season, calling at ducks, you can be pretty aggressive (in Arkansas) but you still have to pay attention to the ducks and try not to overdo it with the call. The callers who are less experienced can get by with a lot early in the season.
The midseason ducks get a little harder so you have to pay more attention to what they want to hear and really read their body language. So knowing when to call at them and sound more like a duck is an advantage.
The late season gets even harder. Here is where knowing when to call at them, what cadence to use, and being able to make the call sound like real ducks to me is a big advantage. These ducks have been hunted all the way south and [are] making their way back north. They are pairing up, which makes it a little more difficult to call them in and get them to work.
Here is where the differences are — being able to read the ducks and sounding as real … as you can or [to sound] like multiple ducks with your duck call.
Editor, Greenhead | Author, The Grand Prairie: A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground
ST. JOHN: With all the research that you have done on waterfowl hunting and the Grand Prairie book, what has been the most interesting information that you have discovered and who was the most interesting person you talked to or hunted with to obtain this research?
BIRCH: That’s a tough question, but a really good one. How to narrow to the most interesting is a challenge. The Grand Prairie of Arkansas is the epicenter of duck hunting culture. Waterfowling is a way of life in the region, not just a hobby or sport. I attempted to have the book encapsulate everything about the area and that led to so many interesting interviews and places.
[The] most interesting research would probably have to be learning about how some of the duck clubs/camps were formed and how they have survived to this day. Believe it or not, there are places on the Grand Prairie where ducks were as thick as summer mosquitos in the early to mid-1900s and you are lucky to find a coot on the property today. Those places that have stood the test of time are truly a treasure.
Undoubtedly, the most interesting, most unique club I’ve had the good fortune to research and hunt is the Tuf-Nut Hunting Club, aka Tent Camp or simply “The Tents,” near Gillett along Mill Bayou. I cannot imagine another duck camp making as much effort to keep things “like the good ole days” as Tent Camp. The club started in 1919 with some additional ground added in 1925. All for the paltry sum of $1.40 per acre.
But what the original membership purchased the property for doesn’t make it unique. The camp itself doesn’t have an elaborate clubhouse stocked with modern amenities. Actually quite far from it.
Since its inception and to this very day, the members and their guests sleep in 27 by 17-foot canvas army tents. The tents are heated by a potbelly stove that must be stoked a few times a night to keep things warm. Electricity and plumbing weren’t added until 1972 and are still quite minimal on the site.
Live decoys, retired Army transport vehicles, a 2.5-mile horsepower limit on Jacob’s Lake and colorful caretakers and cooks only add to the legendary status of this duck camp. And of course, Tent Camp has fantastic duck hunting in Big Willow and the Thorn Thicket blinds. [It is] a truly unrivaled place in terms of its rich history and staying true to that heritage all this time.