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Going Public

Many of the author's favorite waterfowling memories were made on public lands, open to one and all 
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Remembering Number 4

"Number 4" was the place where I earned my stripes in duck hunting. Such was the designation given to the last field in the bottoms on a west Tennessee wildlife management area. This seasonally flooded area, managed by the Tennessee Game and Fish Commission (forerunner of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency), was one of those magic spots where ducks just wanted to go.

Phil Sumner and I were in our late teens, and we had fire in our bellies. It was no secret that Number 4 was a hotspot, and because it was open to all on a first-come, first-served basis, we made it a point to get there early. We'd arrive in the area's parking lot two hours before shooting time. After sliding Phil's johnboat out of his pickup bed, we'd load our gear, clamp on my old three-horse outboard, and start snaking through the timber toward Number 4. 

In those youthful days I was crazy about duck hunting and girls, in that order—and Number 4 was my first true love.

What should have been about a 10-minute trip took us a good half-hour because my motor ran hot and would lock up after taking us only a few hundred yards. We would chug along until the outboard seized, paddle while it cooled off, and then crank it back up again. It took about three of these cycles to reach Number 4. 

Permanent blinds weren't allowed on this management area, but someone had piled brush in a U shape on the point of a tree line where the ducks flew in from a nearby refuge. When we jammed our boat inside the U, we were fully concealed from circling birds' wary eyes.

We didn't bag limits there every day, but we were rarely skunked. And looking back, this spot provided good on-the-job training for setting decoys, calling, shooting, and other hunting skills. It never succeeded, however, in making us outboard mechanics. 

Today, more than 40 years after my last hunt there, I look back on Number 4 with great nostalgia. In those youthful days I was crazy about duck hunting and girls, in that order—and Number 4 was my first true love. I couldn't get enough of her then, and she still holds a special place in my heart and memory today.

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