by Keith Sutton
It was a hunt I'll never forget.
Two friends, Lake Lewis and Charles Proctor, met me in east Arkansas' Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area, a picturesque bottomland that often has been called "the epicenter of green-timber duck hunting in America." We launched Lewis's big flatbottom boat amid a massive gathering of other hunters, and headed west on the woodland boat trails, following the spotlights of other hunters until we reached Brushy Creek in the heart of WMA.
From here, we waded more than a mile through the flooded timber, negotiating stump holes and ankle-grabbing brush in three feet of water. The location seemed remote, but there were plenty of other hunters around, even on this Monday morning.
We spent a couple of hours moving from one spot to another, trying to find an opening in the timber situated a decent distance from other waterfowlers. It wasn't easy. These bottoms are covered in dense stands of hardwoods with a thick understory, and there are always plenty of hunters. After several maneuvers, however, we managed to find a spot with just the right set of conditions.
Lake and Charles are excellent callers, and it didn't take them long to garner the attention of some mallards trading over the timber. The birds were wary; finesse was required to convince them to visit our hole. They circled over and around our little opening a dozen times before finally cupping their wings and dropping from the sky like big metal-flake hailstones. It was almost an anti-climax when the three of us each dropped a mallard.
Another short walk took us to another hole, where there were more ducks trading through the timber. These mallards were high but close enough to respond to the hails of the veteran callers. The birds disappeared in the trees, then reappeared, only to vanish again in the low ceiling of clouds. But the calls were convincing.
The ducks turned and and circled the hole—once, twice, three times. We followed their movements through the mosaic of timber, heads down so the ducks wouldn't spot us. The ambush was set.
The mallards cupped their wings. The woods fell silent. We could see the orange legs of the ducks outstretched to meet the blackwater bayou. Emerald heads luminesced against a gray-and-brown background. Wings whistling, the birds gave to the pull of gravity and fell through the trees. A dozen. Two dozen. Fifty. A hundred mallards dropped from the leaden sky and lit on the icy water. No one even breathed. It was too precious a moment to shatter with gunfire.
But somewhere within the flock, a wary hen flushed. Keen senses told her something was out of place. The entire flock followed in an explosion of swamp water and feathers. Hunter instincts took hold, and a volley of gunfire rang out. Lake and Charles rounded out their limits, and I dropped a drake as it circled behind me.