I killed my first duck on Broadwater. That's what we called the wide place on the Cache River where my dad and some of his hunting buddies had a duck blind. I will never forget it.
My dad was an avid hunter.....deer, duck, quail, squirrel, dove, you name it. If it was game in Western Woodruff County, Arkansas, in the 50's, my dad hunted it. And, his favorite, mine too, was mallard hunting on the Cache River at a place we called Broadwater, where he and his buddies had built a real fine duck blind on floating logs. They had managed to tie onto four good logs that they found in the area and drag them by boat to the exact choice spot on the east side of Broadwater where they just knew the ducks would work.
These seasoned duck hunters just knew, of course, everything that there was to know about locating, building and camouflagingagood duck blind. To an eight year old, looking to bag his first greenhead is was all a great mystery and a grand experience just being there with those men.
Once I turned eight, my dad started getting me ready to go on my first duck hunt. He had a 20 Gauge, Remington Model 11 shotgun that he used primarily for quail hunting. That was to become my duck gun. I recall that it had a Cutts Compensator on the end of the barrel and he put the modified full choke on for me to shoot at ducks with. My, my how I loved that gun. It was a semi-automatic, but for the first year, Dad would only let me put one shell in the barrel and none in the magazine, thereby turning it into a single shot. And, that was fine with me.
The only problem that I had during those days was with boots. I never could keep my feet warm. This was before insulated boots and I hunted in some black leather lace up boots that were just about the coldest things you can imagine. You're not going to believe this, but at about the age of ten or so, I wrote a letter to the editor of some sporting magazine ("Argosy", maybe) and suggested that some company ought to invent ELECTRIC SOCKS, powered by flashlight batteries. Well, I never heard back from that magazine editor, but about ten or fifteen years later, there they were....electric hunting socks. That was my first really good marketing idea!
Broadwater was a stretch of the Cache River, in what we always called Black Swamp and that is now a part of the Rex Hancock/Black Swamp Wildlife Management Area. It was unique and particularly good for duck hunting in that it was a good fifty yards wide and, perhaps a quarter mile long, running north to south. Access to Broadwater was from our home town of Gregory east to an old road that locals referred to as "the road to Fred Lee's place". (Fred Lee was an old hunter, trapper and fisherman who lived alone on a floating cabin on the Cache back in the late ‘40's and early 50's.) Usually, we'd have to walk or boat the half mile from the edge of the bottoms to the river and then cross by boat to the blind, which was located on the south end of Broadwater on the east side, in an area that ducks just seemed to really like.
The blind had a pretty snug warming shack and a front porch for shooting that would safely accommodate five shooters. They had really done a great job of "decorating" it with new cut oak branches so that it really looked just like a big brush pile....to a duck. Inside the shack they had a propane stove, a food locker and cookware. A week before each season, dad would manage somehow to get a large cylinder of propane brought in by boat so we would be "cooking with gas" for the entire duck season. One of my fondest memories of a meal is dad cooking me a fried egg and spiced ham sandwich right there in that duck blind. I might give a lot of money for one of those sandwiches right about now. I also fondly recall "Rule # 1: "Dip the coffee water up from the north side (upstream) and take a leak on the south side (downstream)." Pretty practical rule, huh?
In the blind with us the day of my first duck kill were a couple of dad's buddies, one of whom had a reputation as a "quick shot", or one who frequently would take his first shot before the caller yelled "Take ‘em." The plan that day was for the caller to work the ducks all the way to the water, right in front of the blind and then Billy (that's would be me) would get the first shot....a green head sitting on the water, no less! Well, the first couple of times they had ducks working, Mister Quickshot never let the ducks get close to the water before he started blasting. That's when my dad told him that if he did that one more time before Billy can kill his duck, "I'm throwing you and that damn gun of yours in the Cache River." I got my first duck about ten minutes later!
We also fished from our blind. Yes, crappie fished right off the front porch. Some days, there would not be many ducks flying and dad would get out his crappie poles, bait a couple of hooks and we'd try to catch a mess of crappie between flights of mallards. Occasionally, we'd take our crappie home to eat the next day, but usually, if we could only catch three or four, we'd clean them and cook them right there in the duck blind for a late lunch of fried fish and light bread.
Another fond, and amusing, memory is the occasional "Red Wasp Invasion". Dad had a real good buddy whom he hunted with often and the two of themenjoyedtaking a nip together about mid-afternoon when the ducks had almost quit flying. But, they didn't just pull out the bottle and start drinking. They had a ritual or a program that they invariably used. One of them would suddenly slap a leg and complain out loud that he's been "stung by a big ole red wasp". Well, that pretty well mandated that some alcohol be applied to the "sting"....the bourbon type of alcohol. Then, one of them would fetch a bottle of Seagram's 7 or Yellowstone (their two favorites back then) and they'd begin to doctor each other, even the one who had not gotten stung. The one who had been stung would start it off by taking a long slug, chased with a Coke, in order to "ward off infection and swelling". Then, the other would take his slug, as a preventive against the red wasps swarming. This routine might go on for the rest of the afternoon and I'd have to drive the boat back over to the launch and get those two Happy Hunters out of the woods and back home safely....without any swelling or infections from red wasp stings. This routine may have been one of those presence things.... you had to be there to see it and appreciate it. But, it was funny and I loved it and have never forgotten it. And, though I never did actually see a red wasp in that duck blind, I've been known to resort to the "red wasp antidote" a few times myself after I got old enough to appreciate the medicinal properties of good bourbon whiskey.
Over the course of the few years between my first duck hunt and years later when I moved away to Little Rock, I enjoyed many a day inthe Cache River bottoms and the beautiful Black Swamp. And, in the process, I observed both hunting and hunters at their very best. Some of my fondest memories still emanate from that Broadwater duck blind on the Cache. I learned a lot about hunting....the building of a blind, the setting of a spread of decoys, the calling (my favorite part), the living by the rules and the actual hunts themselves. And, I learned a lot about life and being a sportsman and a good guy. But, most of all, I enjoyed, and still cherish, my time there with my dad and his buddies, all great men and all gone now....to that big duck blind in the sky, where I suspect the mallards are still working and the red wasps are still swarming, on a beautiful and mild winter afternoon, on a stretch of water much like the Broadwater.