Wide World of Ducks
On December 23, 1956, four million viewers of NBC's "Wide Wide World," hosted by Dave Garroway, watched one of the most amazing hunting shows ever broadcast on live television. An estimated 300,000 mallards were sitting on Claypool Reservoir in northeast Arkansas when the broadcast started at 3:14 p.m.—40 acres completely covered with birds that were cleverly maneuvered into place by wildlife officers in boats. To add to the excitement, a rocket holding three blocks of TNT was fired over the ducks and exploded in mid air. Then there was another explosion as more than a quarter million ducks leaped into the air. Wallace Claypool, owner of the reservoir, then called in ducks for 12-year-old Lynn Parsons to shoot with his new shotgun. Garroway closed the 7.5-minute segment by saying, "Now if you will brush the duck feathers off your sofa, we'll go on with the rest of the program."
Wondering what those old decoys in the barn might be worth? Don't be too hasty to sell them.
On January 23, 2000, bidders flocked to Sotheby's in New York City to compete at the auction of the finest private collection of American waterfowl decoys in the world. In a standing-room-only salesroom, hundreds of passionate collectors witnessed the sale of the distinguished Collection of Dr. James M. McCleery, which became the world's highest grossing auction of decoys with a staggering total of $10,965,935. The two-day event set a world record for the most expensive decoy ever sold at auction when a sleeping Canada goose by renowned carver Elmer Crowell of East Harwich, Massachusetts, c. 1917, went for a staggering $684,500. A wood duck drake by the Mason Decoy Factory fetched $354,500.
Heavy Duty Decoys
No one would make duck decoys out of cast iron, right? Wrong. The idea seems preposterous, yet hunters of the past often used them. These flat-bottomed birds, each weighing as much as 30 pounds, were set on the wings of sink boxes to provide stability and to keep the boxes flush with the water's surface.
In 1897, Nebraskan John Sievers Jr. was issued a patent for a hunting decoy—a full-sized cow. The patent specifications indicated that the decoy was to be of a flexible shell of hide, canvas or similar material and be painted like a cow. A system of braces held the hollow body upright and was supported by two hunters inside the cow, one fore and one aft. The decoy's legs held the legs of the men. The idea was to walk the decoy near waterfowl. Then at the right time, the hinged neck portion dropped down to enable the forward man to "discharge his fowling piece." The rear man shot from a side window. The specifications did not mention precautions to be taken by hunters in the presence of a bull.
Long Distance Travelers
How far will a migrating duck fly? Here's one example. A blue-winged teal banded on Canada's St. Lawrence River was captured in Guyana, South America, 27 days and 3,300 miles later. If that bird traveled in a straight line, it flew 122 miles a day.
Another report indicates a pintail banded in September 1940, in Athabasca County, Alberta eluded hazards until January 1954 when it was shot near Naucuspana, Tabasco, Mexico. Considering the 3,000 miles between band site and death, and assuming the bird made the two-way migration each year for 13 years, the pintail would have logged nearly 80,000 migration miles during its lifetime.
Duck Guns or Cannons?
Some of the most awesome firearms ever used by hunters were the punt guns used by market hunters to kill waterfowl. As much as 10 feet long and weighing 150 pounds or more, the punt gun was laid upon the bow of a boat, never shouldered. It fired 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of shot using a quarter pound of black powder. The resulting blast might kill more than 100 ducks and send the boat back 10 yards.