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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.