by Matt Young
Waves pound against the bow of the 16-foot johnboat as we run the main channel of the Mississippi River before dawn. A towboat pushing a huge barge just roared past us in the darkness, plowing high waves that jostle our craft like a piece of driftwood. There are certain times, I muse, that you have to trust others with your personal safety. One such time is when you are a passenger on an airplane. Another is when you are taken in a small boat on North America's largest river in January.
Fortunately, in this instance, I'm in good hands. Manning the outboard is Tim Byrd, chief waterfowl guide for Tara Wildlife, Inc. In the bow, Sidney Montgomery, Tara's marketing director, is directing a spotlight, searching the roiling waters ahead of us for downed trees and other floating debris. For obvious reasons, we've all donned life preservers. Both of my companions have spent countless hours hunting, fishing, and touring the more than 20 miles of river bordering Tara's extensive landholdings.
Owned by Magalen O. (Maggie) Bryant and her son John C. O. Bryant, Tara encompasses more than 20,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest and swamp along the river north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Bryants have recently donated conservation easements to Ducks Unlimited that will permanently protect the ecological health of the land, which has been in their family since the early 1800s.
We launched the boat a few miles upstream on Chotard Lake, a tranquil, cypress-lined oxbow adjoining the river, where, the previous morning, Tim and I enjoyed a classic flooded timber duck hunt on Tara's Willow Point property. Our destination on this unseasonably warm morning is a small, unnamed island in a historically significant stretch of river known as Millikens Bend.