Everything It’s “Quacked-Up” To Be

Story by Dan Nicholson

It was three days before Christmas and for nearly 20 young people who love the great outdoors, “quack- quack-quack” sounded just about as good as the big guy in the red suit sounding out “Ho-Ho-Ho.”

December 22, 2007, marked the annual Youth Waterfowl Hunt, an event sanctioned each year since 1996 by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. This year, volunteers with the River Valley Chapter of Ducks Unlimited (DU) arranged for an organized hunt in the Carden Bottoms of Yell County.

About 20 hunters, male and female ranging from ages 8 to 15, gathered at the Seven Lakes Hunting Club to test their water fowling skills on a morning that turned out to be “not too ducky.”

There are three essentials for good duck hunting: water, cold weather and ducks. So ,when we headed for the blinds in 52-degree weather, we knew we had one strike against us.

Among the kids and the DU volunteers were dads, grandfathers, uncles and family friends. After all, this hunt is a lot more about fellowship and camaraderie than getting so serious about harvesting ducks.

I was in a group headed for a flooded field selected for the hundreds of ducks noted there the late afternoon before. It seems that field was a hot spot for feeding late in the day. We just hoped the birds would still be there the next morning.

Once we arrived, we knew we were in luck. As soon as we got out of our trucks, you could hear hundreds of ducks quacking and squawking before daylight. Needless to say, that got all the kids charged-up.

The youth water fowlers in our group were Tripp, 10, and Libby Croom, 13; Wellington Kroencke, 13; Sawyer Grace, 13, and Whit Nicholson, 8. The adults on-hand included Bucky Croom, John Kroencke, event organizer Richie Lamb and myself.

“No matter how many times you head to a duck hole, it just doesn’t get much better than the anticipation you enjoy prior to shooting hours getting underway,” Lamb said.

Once daylight began to break, our worst thoughts came true. Most of the ducks roosting on that field overnight took to the sky as we walked into our hunting positions. One group hunkered down in a pit blind at the north end of the field while we took our position along a brushy levy bordering the southeast corner of the flooded area.

To be candid – we didn’t see too many ducks at all that morning, and the ones we did see certainly did not want to hit our decoy spread.

After hunting for a couple of hours watching the temperature rise toward 58-degrees, we knew it was time to head back to the Seven Lakes Lodge for a hot, country-style breakfast and a round a skeet shooting.

And, what a breakfast treat it was! Seven Lakes Hunting Club Members Ron Ownbey, Randy Barefield and his son Tyler Barefield had slaved in the kitchen for quite some time preparing sausage, bacon, eggs, and hot biscuits and gravy. It didn’t take a group of kids awakened around 4:30 that morning very long to belly- up to a hot, mid-morning meal.

The men of Seven Lakes were probably having more fun hosting and taking care of the kids than the youngsters were having.

Long-time member Wayne Jones was privileged to have his 11-year-old grandson, Chance Stines of Dover, with him that morning. Chance is no stranger to being at duck camp with his granddad, but this day was a little more special. He had invited one of his buddies, 10-year old Dalton Van Horn, along for the fun. Dalton is the son of Pam and Scott Van Horn, also of Dover.

“You know, I’m at a point in my life that I’ve been blessed to enjoy many a good days hunting, but right now – I would much rather be spending my time with my grandson and these other young people doing things just like this,” shared Jones.

“All of us guys at Seven Lakes are just happy to have a camp like this where we can host these outings that get our youth involved in conservation, hunting and learning how to be good stewards of our natural resources.”

Seven Lakes member Max Sherry was delighted to enjoy the company of his two grandsons: Mitchell, 10, and Max II, 12, of Edmond, Okla.

Jones also entertained guest from Benton, Ark. – Kevin Greb and his two daughters, Kaitlyn, 15, and Nicole, 12. Both young women participate in the Game and Fish Commission’s Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports Program (AYSSP.) The program is aimed at firearm education and safe shooting skills development and competition.

This was Richie Lamb’s first year to organize the Youth Hunt, something he readily agreed to do.

“It was events just like this, when I was younger, that helped me to learn about hunting and how to enjoy being responsible in the outdoors,” expressed Lamb.

“Jimmy Armstrong set a great example for the rest of us when he began organizing this hunt for the kids about 11 years ago, so it was not hard to say yes when asked to take-on this year’s hunt.

“Our local DU chapter owes a great deal to people like Jimmy, Steve Frick, Kiah Gardner and the rest who have done so much to promote the mission of DU in the River Valley.”

Armstrong, local businessman, water fowler and longtime DU supporter, remembers that first hunt back in 1996.

“The state Game and Fish officially put the Youth Hunt date on the calendar for December 23, so we quickly put a DU Green Wing committee together and organized a local DU Youth Hunt. It’s just been great to get both groups together – adults and kids – to enjoy duck hunting.

“Of course, from a DU standpoint, it has allowed the organization to connect with the youth as Green Wing members and make them feel like they are a special and important part of DU… and all of that helps to further conservation and water fowling for generations to come.

“There’s just nothing like being in a duck blind with a youngster… just kinda makes you feel young again. After all, they are the future of DU.”

Since the Youth Hunt, I have had the privilege to enjoy many more mornings in the duck blind with my son Whit and other young hunters. My wife Susie and daughters Katie and Abbie don’t understand why we would get up at 4:30 a.m. and slop through the mud to stand in cold water to hunt for ducks. It’s just one of those “don’t knock it ‘til you try it kinda things”.

There’s something really magical about those whistling wings overhead, and the sound of a duck quacking in the wild just about the time the sun peaks over the horizon — especially when you’re sharing the experience with your son or another youngster.

Let’s see now… how many days until the opening of Duck Season 2008?

Ducks Unlimited

Ducks Unlimited began during the “Dust Bowl” era of 1937 with a very singular mission: waterfowl habitat conservation. Thanks to decades of abiding by that single mission, DU is now the world’s largest and most effective private water fowl and wetlands conservation organization.

It is backed by more than a million supporters and has conservation projects throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as well as the areas of Latin America and the Caribbean. During fiscal year 2006, 83 percent of DU’s expenditures were converted directly to conservation work.

On the state level, DU of Arkansas ranked 10th in the nation in total members in 2006 with nearly 18,000 people involved.

And, their fund-raising efforts in The Natural State topped $1 million in 2006. With the monumental task at hand, it’s easy to see why cultivating young water fowlers is so important to the conservation, restoration and preservation of wetlands and associated habitats throughout North America and beyond.

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