Those outside our community of duck hunters have a hard time understanding why in the world a person would get up at 4 a.m. to stand in freezing water and battle sleet, snow and ice in hopes of maybe, just maybe, getting to shoot a duck or two. It’s understandable for those lacking the experience of a sunrise on the Grand Prairie or the fellowship shared in the duck blind during the slow times. But duck hunting is so much more than the kill itself.
Don’t get me wrong — everything related to duck hunting is better when the hunt is successful. High quality duck hunts somehow offset falling in and dipping your waders, poor shooting, bad coffee and other unfortunate events waterfowlers experience.
And the measurement of success varies as well. You are in this sport for the wrong reasons if full limits equal success. Some days I’ve felt really good about the six or eight we scratched out because of poor conditions or population. That enjoyment likely had to do with my hunting partners, what we witnessed that day or just a chance to get away from the day-to-day rat race.
Sharing the experience with family and friends, connecting with Arkansas’ remarkable outdoors and honoring the tradition of our duck-hunting heritage are all significant factors in why I duck hunt. Personally, there is a competitive element to duck hunting as well. Me versus the ducks. Hunter versus prey. Some days they win, some days I win. There is a definite rush that comes from settling on a plan for where to hunt, how to set up and seeing it all work. These same feelings align with those of most of my good friends who are as eaten up with duck hunting as I am.
I’m afraid the younger generations are losing sight of some of these traditional experiences. If it’s not promising to be a good hunt, they aren’t going. I’ve seen this with my own boys as priorities shift in those teenage years. I will give my younger son Fuller quite a bit of credit because he has evolved into a grinder. The “instant satisfaction” generation is missing out on a lot if they only experience the productive hunts. I’m convinced the good days are that much better because of the bad days, and that nuance is being missed.
While thinking about why I duck hunt, I began to also think it would be interesting to reach out to members of various demographics to get their personal insights and ask them to share their stories. My hope is that some of those who like to brag about how many limits they killed in how many minutes will read this and appreciate the quality and variety of reasons that make this sport what it is.
Congressman French Hill
Second Congressional District
U.S. House of Representatives
“I love the chase. I love watching the dogs work. I love watching a young person at the range making their first bull’s-eye or breaking their first skeet. I love the sound of the call and the response. I love watching the sunrise and sunset. I love the camaraderie of the duck blind and the contemplative peace of the deer stand. Ever since boyhood I have been drawn to the outdoors and to adventure. Whenever I seek rest and refreshment, I find it outdoors in a forest, high on a mountain ridge, or in a cold, frozen rice field. Thoreau was asked once about whether or not sons [and we must add our girls] should be allowed to roam in the woods and hunt. His response was that ‘a boy not allowed to hunt is a boy whose education has been sadly neglected … .’ Our ever complex and urbanizing world has a strong counterbalance: a day with family and friends in the field closing a strenuous chase, a successful hunt with a great evening around table and hearth sharing the stories of the day — and of yesterday. That’s why I hunt.”
“The question seemed simple enough. Why do you duck hunt? As I contemplated my response, I discovered the answer is quite complex. My first duck hunt was in 1957, so the 2016-2017 season will be my 60th. Duck hunting took on a more serious note when my boys became old enough to go with me. I can clearly remember each of their first ducks … a redhead for Greg and a wood duck for John. My responsibility to mentor them, and then watching them grow into respectful sportsmen added a wonderful new dimension to the sport. Now I have had the pleasure of watching them pass it along to their sons. The overall spectrum of duck hunting has truly become a way of life for our family. We have a kennel full of faithful Labrador retrievers. We hone our shooting skills during the off-season on the sporting clays course. I could go on and on. I have been quoted as saying ‘There are only two seasons … duck season and getting ready for duck season. One is too short and the other is too long.’ ”
Field activities coordinator
The Nature Conservancy
“Hunting is one of my passions. Hunting started for me when I was a little girl with my dad and his cousins on the back waters of the Mississippi River near Eudora, Arkansas. My dad hunted like this when he was a kid and he taught me the same way. It was quite a show, probably because there are a lot of cousins and they all have big personalities, but mainly because it is a way of life and one of the strongest bonds I have ever known.
“One of my favorite memories is sitting on a deer stand with my dad. I dropped my first buck like a ‘sack of potatoes’ when I was 16 years old at 150 yards away with my Winchester .270 bolt action, the first gun my dad owned and had given to me. Hunting and the outdoors has been a shared passion for my dad and me my entire life. My dad is a great hunter and taught me the value of being in the woods, the art of hunting and, most importantly, how to do it safely.
“There is nothing like preparing for a hunt. Driving to the duck club the night before, settling in with friends and family over dinner and drinks, laughing about old hunting stories. Speculating on the weather and what hole or stand you should claim in the morning. Maybe cleaning your guns or taking a game drive at night in the Honda, with the light bar (it’s really bright). Waking up early, making coffee, heating up a biscuit, throwing on your camo from head to toe, jumping in something motorized then walking a short (or long) distance to the duck hole through waist high water, or breaking ice to get to the blind, or climbing up the ladder of the stand or hiding in the grass waiting on turkeys to wake up and fly down from their roost. Then you are on red alert, just waiting in the quiet, still morning before the sun comes up. Ready for something to move. Some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I have ever seen have been in the woods while I was hunting. Then, after the hunt, you celebrate. Even if you are skunked.
“I have worked at The Nature Conservancy for six and a half years and I could not have found a more perfect job. I organize field trips for our members. I am outside all of the time with a lot of awesome people. I am also able to share my passion for hunting while protecting Arkansas. The best job ever!”
“I like Duck Hunting for the sport but also for the fun you have with friends, clients or co-workers. Think of it like this: when you deer hunt it is more like solitary confinement. Normally [you are] on the stand by yourself and if you do take someone you can’t talk as you are trying to be as quiet as possible. When duck hunting, all the members of your hunting party can talk and have a good time up to the point of the ducks circling, then [you] remain quiet until the shot opportunity has passed. Another thing is you don’t get many chances to pull the trigger deer hunting. With ducks you have many more chances to shoot, especially if you take the occasional opportunity to ‘skybust.’ And if you miss, especially an easy shot, you can give each other some lip about how they could have missed that shot. So the social aspect of duck hunting is much more fun due to the interaction among the [members of the] hunting group and multiple shot opportunities. And lastly if you kill a deer you created a lot of work with the cleaning and processing of the animal and with ducks they are much easier to clean.”
High school student
“The reason I hunt goes beyond the thrill of the kill. I began hunting as a five-year-old with my grandpa in Sherrill, Arkansas, and my brother followed after me. We still to this day, 11 years later, hunt in the same spots. The reasons I continued hunting stem from the environment you are in; whether you are in the duck blind, the clubhouse, or the car driving down to your favorite hunting spot you can always have fun as long as you are surrounded by good stories and friends. We all have the hunts every now and then where you may have only killed just one duck yet have the most fond memory you keep from hunting, and that is because of the people you were with not because of the amount of ducks you killed.”
“My name is Carter Stapleton and I am 10 years old. I live in Conway, Arkansas, and I love to hunt ducks. I have been hunting for a few years now and every time I get to go, I enjoy it more and more. There is nothing I love more than getting up before daylight and wading through the muck and dark waters to finding a group of trees to stand beside before shooting hour starts.
“The first time I went duck hunting was with my dad and my third-grade teacher, Mr. Dow. It was awesome; we were hunting some flooded fields in eastern Arkansas. It was a bright sunshiny day; the birds were not moving much early in the day but by mid-morning we had a few groups of birds working. My dad started calling at them and one group moved close. I was really excited and really nervous. I waited for Mr. Dow to tell me when to shoot; all of a sudden he yelled ‘Take ’em.’ I raised my .410 shotgun and pulled the trigger. All of a sudden I saw a splash; I had just killed my first duck. It was a Gadwall hen. I was so excited I jumped and took off to go get my duck, my feet got tangled up and I fell face first in the mud. It was awesome. I have been hooked ever since that day. I would go every day if I could.
“There is just something really cool about being out in nature early in the morning. It is peaceful but I love it when I hear someone start blowing on a duck call. That means there are some ducks getting close. I got my first duck call a few days after I killed my first duck. I got to go to Echo calls and Mr. David St. John helped me pick out my very own call. This was really neat because he is the Duck Calling Champion of the World. Now I just have to learn how to blow it.
“This off-season my dad and I have started training a yellow Labrador named Wrangler. This is a lot of fun because it feels like I’m getting ready for duck season even though it is really hot right now. He is coming along good but we have to work with him pretty much every day. My dad calls me his bird boy because I have to go hide and throw training dummies when we are training with Wrangler. I cannot wait to get him out in the blind this season so we can see all of our hard work pay off. I love to shoot guns and work with my dog and seeing ducks come down through the trees, but I think it’s fun just hanging out with my dad and his friends when we are hunting.
“It’s just a few months until duck season will start back up and I can’t wait to get back out in the cold water and start working ducks, and maybe my dad will let me work the jerk string this year.”