BRYAN and the THE OLD TIMER CHAD and JESSIE
TRIPLE CROWN AND DOUBLE DIGIT BANDS
For this old timer, it has been over two years since I have duck hunted, after having spent over 50 years doing so. I gave it up due to loss of hearing, 100 percent deaf in the left ear and 50 percent deaf in the right ear.
Like most Southern boys, I was blooded into the hunting fraternity at age 10, growing up squirrel and rabbit hunting, using a Browning Sweet Sixteen shotgun. Then I gravitated to hunting quail with Dad, my friend Dale, and our pointer “Bess,” while using the Browning.
When the family left home, if we were going to be away for hours, we leased her to a clothesline in the backyard by a snap hook where she could run or walk back and forth between the two poles. One day during a thunderstorm clap, she jumped over the nearby 4-foot cyclone fence out of fear. The length of the lease only allowed her to get over the fence without her four paws reaching the ground.
After Bess died from accidental strangulation and suffocation, my passion was waterfowl hunting, using at first a Remington Model 1100, 12 gauge, following with a Browning Model B-80, 12-gauge, and finally a Browning Gold, 12-gauge.
During my junior high and high school years, I hunted in West Tennessee in the swamps between the Big Hill Pond and the Tuscumbia River, which was located between Pocahontas and Ramer, Tennessee, some 70 miles east of Memphis. It was a roosting place, but it made no differences to us teenagers, as we arrived before dawn and stayed past dusk to shoot the roost. On a good day, two mallards and a couple of wood ducks could be taken at roost time, with foot-long flames shooting out from the muzzle.
It was here where this young lad took his love at the time, Cybil Shepard, duck hunting. When I didn’t have the duck call at my lips, I was able to slip in a few smooches. With her, there wasn’t much duck hunting going on during our hunts!
Going off to college to play football at the University of Alabama with Coach Bear Bryant coaching, I hunted in a swamp not too far outside Tuscaloosa after our bowl games were played. There, we might manage to kill a wood duck and mallard apiece.
Then this college graduate went to UT Medical School for four years. Duck hunting was done when I could, just across the Mississippi River in Arkansas on an old oxbow lake named Dacus Lake. Upon graduating from medical school and finishing one year of internship, I enlisted in the Air Force as a Flight Surgeon for a two-year assignment at the Topeka Forbes AFB. My duck hunting then consisted of hunting on a Kansas River sandbar in a make-shift camouflage blind. Hunting there was very good with mostly mallards taken.
Growing older and now married and back in my hometown of Memphis, most of my waterfowling was done in eastern Arkansas. However, after the 1982-83 season, I had gotten fed up with hunting in Arkansas due to overcrowding and sky busting, so I joined a club near Charleston, Mississippi for the 1983 season. For those who remember, that was an extremely cold winter, with everything frozen, especially up north. Everything was also frozen in the upper one-half of Mississippi, but areas were kept open by the flooding of the Tallahatchie River and Tippah Bayou where this Old Timer hunted. The open water, air, and sky ceiling were loaded with what seemed like every duck in the country. Never in my life had I or have seen so many ducks and it stayed that way throughout the season.
For three years, I hunted at the club before shifting a few miles southward where I joined a new club that was forming: Wild Wings, 1,500 acres of waterfowling paradise, with only a few bad years happening during 12 years of waterfowling there. Otherwise, it was fantastic.
It was here where I hunted with my two boys, Bryan and Chad. It was here where each shot their first duck, a mallard, on my 80 acres of flooded beans that I owned. Here we hunted quite frequently as it always had ducks. It was here also where our yellow Lab, Jessie, had her first hunt and had so many more.
During this time, there weren’t many clubs or duck hunters, with the locals being blooded to deer hunting. So, when the rivers flooded, one could hunt anywhere without getting permission, for no one cared. But over the ensuing years, this all changed, as more and more duck hunters and clubs formed. Hunting anywhere became impossible, but I still had Wild Wings and my 80 acres. I watched year after year how Mississippi changed over the 15 years to the point where it was getting to be like Arkansas, with hunters, clubs, and pumped fields everywhere, with ducks becoming scarcer and wilder each year. Nevertheless, Wild Wings and the two famous adjoining clubs, Delta Wings and Lone Cypress, remained relatively consistent, with excellent waterfowling.
There were times, as I have said, when ducks were everywhere, so much so that I was able to carry out two objectives that I hoped to achieve if ever I had the opportunity: “The Triple Crown” and “Double-Digit Bands.”
To accomplish either required many factors to happen on any given day of the season, which was rare. A Triple Crown was defined by me as getting a limit of three different species of fowl in one day: duck, goose, snipe, woodcock, dove, turkey, etc. A Double-Digit day would require me to get ten or more bands in one season.
To accomplish either required lots of ducks, and it nearly always required one to be hunting alone. For the Triple Crown, getting the duck limit would not be hard, but the limit had to be done quickly because one needed time to locate the other two species. To get a goose limit would be nearly impossible because our area was not a goose haven, only a duck haven. However, for snipe there were days, although rare, when for two or three days, snipe could be found feeding in some of our wet but not flooded fields. For doves, there were so many harvested waste fields for them to feed in that it made it impossible to find a field where one could get a limit. Nonetheless, one could find a tree grove where doves gathered from about 10:00 a.m. to 2 p.m., where, on a sunny day, they rested to soak up sun rays for warmth.
During my 15 years of duck hunting in Mississippi, I had two days during different seasons where I was able to pull off a Triple Crown. Each day, there were many ducks, so I limited out before 8:00 a.m. As I drove out of the flooded field where I hunted, I came to one of our wet, non-flooded fields, where numerous snipe were flying overhead and feeding on the wet ground. I hid the truck and just set down in the middle of the field, uncamouflaged, while shooting snipe as they flew around, circling trying to get back into the field. It was somewhat like a dove shoot; they just kept coming until I had my limit of eight, taken during an hour of shooting. This activity by snipe was most unusual as snipe hunting that I had done before was with a dog which pointed or flushed them up. Never before had I seen snipe in a field like these two days. Certainly, these were two Red-Letter Days!
Having a Double-Digit Band season would also require having many ducks, not only for days but throughout the season. Furthermore, it required sunny days, more so morning sunny days, and the sun needed to be at one’s back so the shine of the sun would pick up the leg band, and the ducks had to land very close to your blind. How close? Close enough that on one of my hunts, my inverted plastic cup firing out of the shell embedded a quarter-inch into the breast of a mallard.
No one could really plan a day for this to happen. It all had to come together by happenstance on a day when one was hunting by oneself.
Although I tried many times to accomplish this feat, I never did. However, I came close during the 1994-95 duck season, when I got eight bands from seven ducks, with one being double banded. The most bands I got in one week were four. With one week to go in the 60-day season, I needed two bands to accomplish the feat, but I just wasn’t successful. On several hunts, I hunted with my good friend Alfred and he got four that season. Certainly, this was a Red-Letter Season!
There are two more scenes of such pleasant memory I would like to share with you. About 1897, a Wild Wing member had a guest from California, there to hunt several days near the close of the season. After the first day of hunting and we had finished dinner, we slipped some Tennessee whiskey, while each told tall tales. The guy from California, when it came around to him, asked if we had heard about the rotating-wing decoy. Each member said, “No!”
He then explained the decoy, which was like a normal plastic decoy except it had wings extended out from the body which rotated. In doing so, the “Robo,” as he called it, worked its magic, drawing ducks down from the stratosphere and bringing in large groups of ducks right to the decoy.
Most of the gathered members expressed wonderment at such a device. I, myself, thought how gullible does this guy think we are?” Then the next duck season, one week into the season, I was hunting on one of the club’s 360-acre harvested rice field in a pit with three others. In a pit to the north of us was one of the members with his two young boys. As soon as the sun rose, they began banging away repeatedly, while we banged away every 15 minutes or so. After multiple volleys from the north pit, I stood up to observe. What I saw were ducks skydiving with wings folded and not slowing down until they unfolded their wing to prepare for landing over a spinning object on a pole. It wasn’t one or two ducks but a wad of ducks, one group after another, and it kept happening.
I hunkered down in the pit until I could not take it any longer, so I got on my 4-wheeler and drove to the north pit, where I observe a spinning wing decoy. I asked “Duck,” yes, that was his real last name, “where did you get that?” He replied, “I got it from the factory in California. I couldn’t find it anywhere else as every sporting goods store that I called was out or didn’t know anything about it.”
I didn’t return to our pit. Instead, I went to the clubhouse and drove my Bronco to Memphis. At home, I called all the sporting goods store in Memphis and they didn’t know about it, so I called stores nationwide and none had any in stock, the ones that knew about it. I called the factory and they were on backorder and it would be two weeks before they caught up. Finally, I reached a store in the state of Washington, which had one left, and he wanted $125.00. I told him “sold” and to send it overnight.
I received Robo the next day and hunted with it daily for nearly five weeks left in the season. As everyone knows, Robo was phenomenal, with skydivers appearing out of no where and large groups landing in your decoys, something almost unheard of—to get such large groups of 50-100 birds. By the last week of the season, the mature mallards had gotten wise and Robo was not nearly as effective, but still effective. Each year, its effectiveness declined to the point where I stopped using Robo.
The last scene occurred when Trey Crawford, three-time winner of the duck-calling contest held at Stuttgart each year, was hunting in the middle pit with three members while I and three others were hunting in the north pit. Trey, at first, got the best of me with the ducks not interested in our pit. I switched calls to a higher pitch call and blew it aggressively, which immediately attracted ducks away from his pit. Banging away, we were back at the clubhouse first with our limits. Trey took a huge dose of good-natured ribbing that afternoon and at the dinner table. Needless to say, that never happened again.
Over the years, I was fortunate enough to have hunted in some famous places and clubs—Beaver Dam near Tunica, Mississippi; in Arkansas at Big Lake, Oak Donic Club and Hatchie Coon Club on St. Francis Lake in the Sunk Lands, Crockett Bluff Club, Greenbriar Club, Wallace Claypool’s Wild Acres, Leonard Sitzer’s woods, and Chase Club.
It was in Arkansas at the Oak Donic Club on the St. Francis Lake area of the Sunk Lands that Jessie had her last hunt. On opening morning, being a slow day, we stayed in a blind until dusk when Jessie and I got into our boat and headed for the clubhouse. Once ashore, I noticed Jessie was bloated and walking wobblily and appeared to be in pain from her gestures. Planning to stay overnight, I knew I had to head for Memphis. By the time I got home, she, in the back of the Bronco, was gasping with shallow breaths, and now greatly bloated.
The wife, boys, and I immediately headed for the emergency dog clinic. The diagnosis: “torsion of her intestine.” We had two options, let her die with mercy medication or have her operated on to relieve the torsion. Doing the latter had no guarantee, as the Vet said, “At her age (12) and her present condition, she might make it but most likely she wouldn’t withstand the stress of surgery.” The boys and little lady were adamant to do the latter. So they operated. The next afternoon, we got a call from the Vet saying Jessie had died. We picked her up, and I alone took her to my hunting buddy’s homestead, 50 miles from Memphis, where he dug a grave with his backhoe under a gigantic oak tree. There she was buried.
Now, as my duck-hunting days have ended, all I can do is reflect, reminisce, and dream of the olden and golden days. I do so by resting in my recliner in front of a blazing fire, with my old trusty Browning Gold hanging above the mantle. My mind drifts back to those days often, cherishing each moment.
All my hunting days were blessed days, even when I didn’t get a limit. Although I was an emergency physician, I was always able to slip away for at least 50 days of duck hunting during a 60-day season. That was because, being an ER physician, I never had to carry a beeper nor take after-hour calls from patients. Neither did I have employees, private patients, nor an office. My office was the ER and the nurses were employed by the hospital.
Having completed my sporting reminisces for this story, I close with an old saying said so many times by Herb Parsons, a famous exhibition shooter for Winchester-Western, “Hunt with your boy today and you won’t have to hunt for him tomorrow.” I certainly lived up to Herb’s message.
I miss the days of hunting with my two boys, now grown and now consumed with making a living. Soon I will pass over the Great Divide, there to join Jessie.