But what is Dunn doing to get the birds in close? "The trick to hunting a big hole like this is recognizing that there are ‘spots' where you have to be ready to call," Dunn says. "If ducks don't show much interest at that spot and you don't call, you can lose them. You don't want to call too much, but you have to call enough to keep their attention.
"You start reading the ducks as soon as you see them," Dunn continues. "That's when I start calling. You can pretty much look at ducks and see if they're interested. Ducks that are interested are going to set their wings and start sailing. If they lose interest, they will get off their circle line and start flying, their wing beat will speed up, or they might turn away from you. You have to call at them right then to get them back.
"A lot of duck calling is experience and common sense," he stresses. "One thing that will help duck hunters more than anything is learning to read ducks, their movement. You learn that from experience, from being out there watching them."
Five mallards, four drakes and a hen, circle wide behind the blind. Green heads glisten in the sun. Dunn reaches out with the wooden call—but not at all aggressively—and bends them back on a line to the hole. This will be all but the hen's last mistake. Hank is going to need another toweling off.
"A lot of times, when you're calling longer ducks, you open your hand to get maximum volume from the call," Dunn says. "When they're in close, like those were, you close your hand down partially.
|Call maker Rick Dunn points to a flock of circling mallards as partner Jerry Cox looks on from their Arkansas timber blind. / Credit: Gary Koehler, DU
"If there's such a thing as a finishing call, what I like to do is let the call whine just a little bit at the end," he continues. "I think the birds respond better to a soft whine rather than a hard whine. A soft whine, which you can produce by squeezing your tongue down and partially cutting off the air flow into the call, can be really effective. Just pinch it down to get that whine."
There is little chance of human whining. The gunning has been nothing less than superb—as good as it gets. This is the type of morning that keeps you coming back again and again, an outing that provides a steady stream of ducks from beginning to end. The only dilemma we have is whether to leave the gadwalls alone and wait out the mallards, which must have slept in. We pass on a number of gray ducks in the decoys with the hopes of hosting mallards. The greenheads do not disappoint. Gadwall and mallard numbers are even. Duck straps will be straining by the time we wrap it up long before noon.
Grange, who shoots the lone banded greenhead, is beside himself with glee. The Great Salt Lake serves as his usual duck-hunting haunt. Gunning there, too, can at times be spectacular. But it is certainly different here, with the stage being framed by tall timber.
"This is unbelievable," Grange says. "I've hunted Arkansas timber only one other time. But this, being able to pass on ducks in order to limit on mallards, I've never seen anything quite like it. This is special."
Indeed. On top of Dunn's calling skills and timber hunting expertise, it occurs to me that today we're sitting on that elusive "X" that duck hunters everywhere regularly ponder. Imagine that.
DU at work in Arkansas
Recognizing Arkansas's importance as a waterfowl wintering ground, Ducks Unlimited to date has completed 67 public lands habitat conservation projects throughout the state. These efforts have included land acquisition as well as wetland restoration. Overall, DU has been involved with the conservation of nearly 344,000 acres in the Natural State. Technical assistance has been provided by DU staff for the management of more than 1.2 million habitat acres.
Included on DU's Arkansas public wetlands/waterfowl habitat conservation work résumé are projects at both Steve N. Wilson/Raft Creek Bottoms and Henry Gray/Hurricane Lake wildlife management areas (WMAs). These sites, which together encompass more than 21,000 acres, are located in White County and provide prime habitat for tens of thousands of waterfowl during migration and winter.
Steve N. Wilson/Raft Creek Bottoms WMA is open to permit-only waterfowl hunting on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. One mobility-impaired blind is available on a permit basis. Public waterfowl hunting is also allowed on Henry Gray/Hurricane Lake WMA, which encompasses more than eight miles of White River shoreline.