Story and Photos by Richard Simms
We were westbound and down, loaded up with guns, decoys and 4-wheelers. With each passing mile Charlie Lowery fidgeted in the front seat like a little boy going to Disneyland. When we crossed the mighty Mississippi into Arkansas, I thought Lowery was going to come completely unglued. And when we spotted the first ducks in a roadside field, Lowery voice bubbled with excitement, "There they are boys. Just waitin' on us!"
The river crossing at Memphis put us on the homestretch to the Cache'n-In-Duck Club, a hunting lease located on the banks of the Cache River, east of Little Rock. Ross Malone and I were guests of Lowery and fellow club member, Mack Gentry.
Lowery is a man who has dedicated his life to ducks, both personally and professionally. Year-round he has ducks on the brain… either figuring out new ways and places to hunt them. Or, figuring out new ways and places to preserve, protect and conserve waterfowl habitat.
Lowery is the local Regional Director for Ducks Unlimited (DU), well-recognized as one of the leading conservation organizations in the world. While DU is largely driven by volunteers, paid staffers such as Lowery spearhead the operation. In all of Middle and East Tennessee, as well as a large portion of Kentucky, it is his job to recruit, retain and train volunteers.
"I empower those volunteers," said Lowery. "If it wasn't for these volunteers raising the necessary funds for the habitat goals set by the DU conservation staff, Ducks Unlimited wouldn't exist. I help the volunteers set up events and help them to be successful in managing their expenses."
DU got its start in 1937 during the Dust Bowl when North America's drought-plagued waterfowl populations had plunged to unprecedented lows. A small group of sportsmen joined together to form an organization that became known as Ducks Unlimited. Its mission: habitat conservation. Now the organization claims nearly 600,000 adult DU members and more than 50,000 Greenwings (youth members). DU says since 1937 it has conserved more than 12 million acres of habitat in North America.
To accomplish that, DU volunteers host more than 4,000 grassroots fundraising events annually, such as member and sponsor banquets, shooting and fishing tournaments, and golf outings.
That means In Lowery's area of coverage there are dozens, if not hundreds of fund-raising events every year. He spends days and days on the road traveling to help plan and coordinate an army of volunteers.
Before he became a paid staffer, Lowery started out as one of those volunteers. In 2002 Regional Chairman Collins McNeill transferred to another area, but it was McNeill's job to help find a replacement. He recruited Lowery, who lives in Athens.
"I didn't have to think about it too long and set up an interview," said Lowery. "There were several candidates that wanted the job and maybe I had a leg up on them being from the area. Anyway I've been blessed to have the opportunity to work for the ducks."
A Life Member of DU, Malone helped recruit Lowery to the volunteer ranks 20 years ago. He said, "I have seen a lot of RD's (Regional Directors) come and go over the past 20 years. I have never seen one who is more dedicated to the mission than Charlie. Day-in, day-out he has an upbeat attitude to help the resource that we all love."
Although Lowery's career has been dedicated to ducks since 2002, he has been fascinated by waterfowl since he was a teenager.
"I was 14 when my uncle came in from a hunt one morning," Lowery recalls vividly. "He and couple of his buddies had shot some canvasbacks and they all had one drake apiece. I was amazed at the beauty and how heavy those ducks were. I talked my uncle out of his and kept it in my freezer at home. I'd pull it out and look at it ever so often and finally took it and had it mounted. I gave it to him for a gift one day and it hangs in his den to this day."
Lowery is sharing that same passion in his own home. For Christmas, he and his wife set up an aquarium for 9-year-old daughter Carly.
"She loves animals," says Lowery proudly. "She especially likes African stuff. We also got her a big print of leopards for her bedroom. There's not a single African animal she doesn't know by heart."
Standing waist-deep in flooded timber on a cold December morning, it is easy to see Lowery's passion. He stands stock-still, only cutting his eyes left and right as he watches a wary drake mallard circling high overhead. Lowery's skills as a DU leader are matched only by his skill with a duck call. Eyeballing a well-placed decoy spread, and Lowery's sounds of a seductive hen mallard, the mallard drifts into easy gun range. With one clean shot the greenhead becomes that evening's dinner.
Duck seasons are relatively short. With work and family commitments, Lowery typically duck hunts only a handful of weekend each year. But through his dedication to DU, ducks are on his mind 365 days a year.
"It's my passion for waterfowl and waterfowl hunting that drive me to do my best to take care of the resource." said Lowery. "It's in my blood and I'll never tire of it. It makes me jump out of bed and do what I do every day, for the ducks can't do it for themselves."