It’s that season

Tucked inside my copy of “The Season,” the wonderful book on Arkansas duck hunting by Steve Bowman and Mark Stallings, is a note from Wiley Meacham of Brinkley.

The note is dated Feb. 10, 2005. It was written soon after the conclusion of the 2004-05 duck season.

It says: “Sorry we could not have had a better duck season. It looks as if our place is a has-been. Don’t give up on us. We may have a few more hunts. Maybe next year.”

Obviously, Wiley didn’t consider the 2004-05 season to have been up to his standards. I laugh now as I read the note almost five years later. That’s because the “place” Wiley describes is the Piney Creek Duck Club on the Monroe County-Lee County line. And it has never been a has-been. It’s quite simply one of the finest duck hunting spots in Arkansas, meaning it’s one of the finest duck hunting spots in the world.

And Wiley, who has been hunting this land for more than 50 years, is one of the state’s most famous duck guides.

Like a football coach who knows just how good his team is, though, he likes to poormouth the place. When things are slow — and they will be slow from time to time in even the finest hunting holes — he will say, “My, aren’t we having fun?”

Or he will mutter, “This used to be a good place to hunt.”

I’ve had the honor of being invited to hunt the flooded green timber at Piney Creek for almost 15 years now, and I’ve never failed to have a good time. Yes, there have been times when the ducks weren’t flying. But the trips have always been fun.

I made my first trip of the current season on Sunday. Hunting alongside Wiley, Don Thompson, Rex Johnson and Don’s grandson Ethan, the hunting could not have been better. The ducks worked well all morning. I happen to be one of the world’s poorest shots, but I figure it gives the others a chance to rib me in their good-natured way.

Following a huge breakfast after the hunt, I departed about 11:40 a.m. By the time I reached McSwain Sports Center on the England Highway at North Little Rock to have my four mallards cleaned, the line was out the side door. Lots of people hunted Sunday. And lots of people killed ducks.

I grew up in Southwest Arkansas shooting at any duck that flew within range. My father had learned to love duck hunting when he was a coach at Newport. He maintained a passion for the sport even though he spent most of his adult life in Clark County. Around Arkadelphia, we often simply sat along the edge of various creeks and sloughs, popping at wood ducks as they flew by. I didn’t know the joys of green timber hunting in east Arkansas.

The “duck club” my dad belonged to in the Ouachita River bottoms was more of a supper club, where the members would gather once a month to eat and socialize. There were few mallards killed.

It’s fitting therefore that I’m probably one of the few people with a spoonbill (technically a shoveler) mounted in my den. I was never too proud to hunt what the purists describe as “trash ducks.” To me, a duck was a duck.

There’s a story behind that spoonbill. Several years ago, I was eating dinner with my wife and two sons in the back room of Gene’s Barbecue at Brinkley with owner and duck hunting companion Gene DePriest. Gene insisted that each of my boys take one of the duck mounts off the wall of the restaurant and carry it home. I aruged with him, but Gene was adamant that each boy take a mount home. One picked a pintail. The other picked a spoonie. Both mounts remain on the wall of our den.

As the bumper sticker on the back of Wiley’s truck says: “Spoonies have green heads too.”

In “The Season,” my friend Steve Bowman (who I’ve known since he was a college freshman at Ouachita) writes: “When it gets here and it’s so cold it chills down to the bone, duck hunters anticipate the sunrise of the next day. They look forward to the clanging of an alarm clock, the trip into the darkness to sit in the cold and wait. And when the sun washes light across the sky, anticipation is measured in increasingly smaller increments. They anticipate the next hour, when surely the next wave of migrants will be enticed by the perfect cadence of hail calls and feeding chuckles. Then it comes to minutes waiting for the clock to finally tick to 30 minutes before sunrise, and the game is on. It’s present in the thoughts of when to make the next call, when to raise the gun, seeing the next retrieve or waiting for the last duck to fill the bag. Anticipation never stops.”

Thanks, Wiley, for counting me among your duck hunting friends.

My, aren’t we having fun?

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