Trees of Life: A Flooded Forest Duck Hunting Adventure

To kick off our brand new Classics issue, we’ll be posting all week stories about timeless adventures, iconic gear and, of course, historic guns. We hope you will enjoy it. Stay classy, ​​everyone.

We wait with the old men, each rooted in the mud, worn and furrowed. At the onset of the light, their limbs and branches above their heads are twisted and broken by the storm, like the arthritic fingers of the elders. We look at the sky together. With the first sound of wings and gunshots in the distance, we lean over each other and wait. The water only reaches my height, but it is a baptism in total immersion in one of the great rites of winter.

For many duck hunters, wood hunting is the ultimate in waterfowl. Wading deep in the flooded woods, crouching beside towering oaks, cypresses and willows, ducks sucked into a hole in the woods where every bird with folded wings is within range – such a scene is almost every hunter’s dream. serious ducks.

And when it does — the sacred smokes, there is little to compare. The Ducks whoof-whoof-whoof above the head, the hunters splash with their wading boots to simulate feeding in the wood hole. The dogs moan softly. The circle of ducks is tightening. You sink your face into the shadow of the Old Men and fight the turmoil as the herd takes a wider swing downwind. It’s a sign of something, but whether it portends birds in the way or ducks aiming at your hole in the woods, it’s hard to tell. Until the green heads rush in, and you know this time they’re coming.

A happy accident sowed the seeds of this tradition. In 1926, Verne Tindall built a 450-acre irrigation reservoir in the great woods of Nuttall oak and willow trees on his farm in Stuttgart, Arkansas. It is said to be the first of the so-called greentree reservoirs built in the Mississippi Flyway, an area in which early winter rains filled lowland deciduous trees with water reserved for nearby rice paddies. . But in the damp woods, the ducks feasted on the manna from the acorns. Over the next two decades, dikes spread across thousands of the region’s hardwood lowlands, and the timber hunting boom was born. Rice and ducks, trees and water, farmers and hunters, these are symbiotic relationships that have given birth to legendary shots.

And they still do, even if coming to hunt for wood is not an easy task. While there is a lot of naturally inundated wood along the marshes and beaver swamps, it’s the man-made elements that command attention. Unfortunately, much of classic greentree wood faces an uncertain future. Some of the world’s most famous timber hunting stands – Bayou Meto, Black River, Big Lake – have been weakened by decades of too much water being retained for too long. A new push from Arkansas officials aims to shorten flood times and improve the health of the 60,000 acres of public greenwood, an effort that may be enough to keep the Old Men on their feet for a few more generations.

Meanwhile, there are still plenty of places where the world seems to be half water, half wood, and filled to the brim with ducks. You might not be able to land a spot at famous clubs like Six Shooter or Hatchie Coon or Fighting Bayou, but there is public wood in the Lower Mississippi Flyway.

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And you can get a taste of shooting ducks in the woods far from the epicenter of Stuttgart. Finding a pocket-sized piece of wood along a low-lying river or stream can take a little extra time and sweat. You might not stand in a square mile of duck wood, but the approach is the same.

You enter before daybreak, place the decoys under a hole in the sky, and get settled. When the ducks arrive, you throw an eight-note highball through the branches. Stand in the shadows and sink your face into the shriveled coats of the Old Men. Follow the birds with the brim of your hat low, until the swirling ducks above the trees float through the branches, into the hole, into the range of the shotguns, and you barely feel the thud. gun for the thunder of your heart in the Frame.