Duck Hunting On Broadwater

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.

Coach

Coach Curtis King, the legendary football coach and Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame member from Augusta was as avid a duck hunter as you could ever find. A duck blind in Black Swamp provided him the opportunity to spread his tall tales even further than the football fields. His old blind that he shared with his Augusta buddies was located about three twists and turns south of the float road on the Cache River.

Each fall on the weekend he would take me to help brush up the blind, or make additions to it. It was still dry one time we went to the swamp. I was about ten years old and he let me squirrel hunt, admonishing me not to stray very far. I learned immeditely why they call it Black Swamp. I couldn't see the blind and started walking in circles, finally hollering, Dad, Dad, Dad. From about 25 yards away he said "what do you want, boy? He knew I was scared, but didn't mention it. One hunt, Dad took my older brother Jake and I hunting in the blind. A large group of Mallards were circling and Dad, said, "Now, boys, we will shoot on the count of three. One.....Two...blam, blam, blam, Three. He had shot three times on two and turned around and laughed at us, telling us we had better learn to take care of ourselves. Dad always told us that there were two ends of a blind, one the coffee end and the other, the peeing end. To suffice, we figured that out real early in life. Back in the forties, when the limit was 20 ducks, I remember Dad, Mr. Jones Montague and Mr. Jesse Pendergist, along witha friend from Texas, J. C. Fountain, bringing 80 ducks to our house. Dad had gotten a bunch of army surplus paraffin bars from Camp Robinson and they melted it in a big washtub over a wood fire in the yard. The ducks would be dipped, allowed to cool for a few moments and then they peeled the feathers off the ducks, just like it was a banana. I bet they werent out there 30 minutes. One day, one of Dad's first period algebra students came in a few minutes late, wearing his hip boots. Dad told him, Son, l dont mind you wearing your boots to class, but if you are ever late again, there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth and you will wont be able to sit down for a month. No more tardy students! I still wear my Dad's old duck hunting hat and every day, when hunting, think of him and of all the wonderful memories of him and his friends, whom would always take time to hunt with us and to help us learn about the river and the woods.

Jerry King is a retired FBI Agent and is the proprietor, host and storyteller at Mallard Inn Bed & Breakfast, in Augusta, AR.

Duck Hunter's Daughter

Sung to the tune of Loretta Lynn's "Coal Miner's Daughter." That would be me, Ed McGill's oldest child.

EdMcGill, frequently spoken using both first name and last by friends and family alike, except children and young people who called him Mr. Ed, and his children, who reverently replied in all situations, "Yes, sir, Daddy, sir" or "No, sir, Daddy, sir," just like a good Marine.

God broke the mold when he made that one. Omnipotent knower of all things relevant, he was, and what he didn't know wasn't relevant. As my sister, Carolyn, and I often joke: Ed McGill's Rule No. 1: As long as you put your feet under my table, you'll do as I say, not as I do.

He was a man’s man and the consummate duck hunter. Johnny Dewberry told me recently that his grandfather, J. C. Fitzhugh, believed himself to be the best duck hunter in Woodruff County, with the exception of Ed McGill.

Daddy loved the sport more than anything in the world, although he also hunted quail, before all his dogs got lost or died, and deer, until he said he was “too old”. Hunting quail and deer just never satisfied his soul as duck hunting did.

He told me once (after swearing me to secrecy) that mine was the only one of his children’s birthdays he remembered, because I was born during duck season.

Not that the event is one I recall, but I have been told that he left before dawn that cold January morning to hunt ducks. During the season, he would return from the duck woods on week-days and go to work, but this particular day was Sunday. He expected to make a day of hunting, since that was before his churching days. He came home for ‘dinner’, as we used to call the noon meal, to discover Mother having labor pains. He forgot about food and sped to Dr. Dungan’s home-office to fetch him to attend the delivery. Dorothy Willis tells me Dr. Dungan was driving at a snail’s pace, and my impatient father in his truck, bulldozed the good doctor’s car all the way down the street.

In retrospect, Daddy’s efforts to rush Dr. Dungan to the house may have been aimed more towards getting back to the duck woods before dark than in getting the doctor to the house in time for the birthing.

The afternoon hunt was canceled, and I was born later that day. I’ve never been sure if he begrudged the interruption of that day in the duck woods. Could have been why I got more ‘whuppins’ than the other two.

My 19-year-old granddaughter is a duck hunter, but as Jerry Billy Pendergist says, “she gets it”; I don’t. I was just never intrigued by the idea of climbing out of a warm, snugly bed at 4 a.m. on a frigid winter morning, bedecking myself in long underwear, hunting gear, heavy socks, and hip boots for the sole purpose of wandering aimlessly in Black Swamp or the Cache River bottoms, freezing my butt off, toting a gun, which could have gone off at any moment, hence blowing off one of my feet, which would prevent me from ever wearing high heels again, and, horror of horrors, never being quite sure what kind of creature might rise up out of that murky swamp. I’d seen “Creature from the Black Lagoon” by that time and had no intention of risking such a gruesome and bizarre death.

Women didn’t hunt in those days anyway. We just cooked breakfast for the mighty hunters. I did volunteer several times to cook breakfast at 4:00 a.m. – sausage, eggs, gravy and homemade biscuits using my Grandmother McGill’s recipe – for my duck hunting brother, my cousin, Butch Angelo, and several of my teen-age hunter friends, including Jerry Billy.

Daddy lived and breathed duck hunting. The family ate his kill, it seemed at the time, breakfast, dinner and supper. Our freezer was crammed with ducks year in and year out, for Ed McGill rarely missed getting his limit, which gradually dwindled from eight to six to four through the years. We were privileged to dine on baked duck, duck salad, duck and dressing, barbecued duck as prepared by I. C. Watson, roasted duck, and to borrow a menu description from the famed Waffle House hash browns, thrown, blown, smothered, scattered, fried and fricasseed duck.

Daddy was a renowned duck caller, as all who hunted with him were aware. He reckoned he was the best in the world and rarely allowed anyone else in the boat with him to use their calls. Before each duck season opened, he would ‘practice’ various types of calls, all of which were contrived to woo those poor gullible birds in for the anticipated kill. In all honesty, I never “got it”, as Jerry Billy would say, and never did understand why family members were required to patronize his rehearsal sessions.

And then there were duck blinds, another oddity I never fathomed. Blinds belonged to renowned duck hunters: Ed McGill’s duck blind; Jack Oakes’ duck blind; Tom Stanley’s duck blind. Others had their own duck blinds, too. Sometimes even foreigners, like duck hunters from Memphis, had their own blinds.

What exactly was - or is – a duck blind? What did it look like? Did it require renovation every year? Those were not questions I asked, but a tremendous amount of work went into getting the duck blind ‘ready’, because Daddy spend a lot of time on the annual project.

I never experienced the thrill of a duck hunt, nor is it on my list of ‘things to do’ before I die. But as a duck hunter’s daughter, I know more about the sport than the average woman or non-hunter. Perhaps the knowledge will be good for extra points in Heaven. 

By Lee McGill Jones