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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Duck Towns

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"Three of the oldest duck clubs in Illinois-Princeton, Senachwine, and Swan Lake-are our neighbors," Resetich says. "They've all been there for over a hundred years and they are still going. It doesn't get much more historic than that."

No, not unless one considers the decoy carvers, call makers, and boat builders who once called this region home. Three of the state's finest carvers-Charles Perdew, Robert Elliston, and Charles Walker-all lived within 15 miles of Hennepin. But local legend does not stop there.

"I remember we had 26 or 28 kids in our school, mostly boys," Sulmonetti, 69, says. "One year, when opening day of duck season came, nobody was at school. At least the boys weren't there. The next year, school was closed on opening day." Schools no longer lock their doors on opening day. But a few miles downriver, in a neighboring district, every once in a while someone will wail on a duck call when the Henry-Senachwine High School basketball team takes the floor. And that only seems right. The gym, for generations, has served as the home of the Mallards.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

No one can be certain, but the rumor persists that Jean Laffite may have been a duck hunter, at least on occasion. When the smuggler/pirate found time for such activity while making a living looting Gulf Coast ships is in question. In 1815, however, when Laffite joined Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, he was reinvented as a patriot and received a full pardon. The good citizens of Lake Charles host an annual 13-day festival in Laffite's memory. Some say the booty he stashed in Calcasieu/Cameron parishes will be recovered sooner or later.

If that's the case, the smart money would be on W.L. "Cub" Wulff, who for 62 years has found waterfowling treasure throughout the region's vast coastal marshes. At 87, he is recognized as the oldest local gunner on the water-still hunting from a boat blind, up to four days a week.

"I've hunted every year since 1926, except for three years when I was in the army," Wulff says. His introduction to Louisiana duck hunting was memorable. The first stop was a commercial club.

"The road was muddy, and I was the only hunter who showed up. We used double-end pirogues, and those guys must have pushed me three or four miles. I couldn't talk to them, because they spoke French. There were plenty of ducks," Wulff says, "and I could pretty much shoot what I wanted."

Wulff's first pirogue was purchased from the late Miller Faulk, who was recognized as the finest at his craft. "I asked him how much and he said $3. I told him I wanted a really nice one and was going to pay $5," Wulff says. "That pirogue was tidewater cypress, and it lasted forever."

Pirogues, to the natives, were the equivalent of automobiles in other parts of the country. "They used to be a means of transportation here," Wulff says. "There was no intercoastal canal, and there was no road between Lake Charles and the town of Cameron."

Waterfowl have been wintering here by the millions for eons, and while residents relied on ducks, geese, and other marsh critters for survival (including sales to the market), sport hunters were quick to partake of the incredible shooting opportunities.

Among the immediate region's oldest duck clubs were the Oak Grove and the Coastal. Shortly after retiring from a career as a manufacturer's rep, Wulff for four years managed the Chateau Charles Hunting Club.

"We'd get people from all over the country," Wulff says. "We hunted as many as 3,000 hunters a year. We had 40 guides and 30,000 acres leased. It was a labor of love."

In his more than six decades of waterfowl hunting, Wulff has raised and trained 58 Labrador retrievers. He has also made his own duck calls and carved decorative decoys. Past acquaintances included the Grangers, Faulks, Pooles, McCains, and DeMarys-locally celebrated duck hunters all. Along the way, he's learned the ways of the marsh. "The coastal marsh doesn't look like it used to at all," Wulff says. "Saltwater came in and killed a lot of the grass; you don't see the bullwhips, the cattails, and other stuff we used to have. The number of ducks . . . there's no comparison to what it used to be. Waterfowl have changed their habits. The snow and blue goose used to be birds of the marsh."

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