River Rest Duck Club near Myrtle Grove, Louisiana, was established 21 years ago by owners John Newman, EJ Deubler, Mike Jeansonne, Bill George, Mike Bush and Ron Bartels. Members include one past DU president, three past state chairmen, and 18 major sponsors.
Several of these dedicated Louisiana volunteers and major sponsors open their hunting blinds to area youth each year. In the beginning, members brought young family members and occasionally one or two of their friends. Over the years, nearly all the club partners participated.
Young sons and daughters, grandkids and great-grandkids of members were invited. Participation was not guaranteed as there are certain minimum grade requirements for entry.
“I make them show me their report cards before they’re allowed to hunt,” Ron said. “It’s a good incentive to keep their grades up, but I’ve had a few grandkids upset with me because they didn’t get to hunt some years!”
Ron and his late wife, Jackie, have always had a big family and a deep passion for sharing outdoor pursuits with youth. About 15 years ago, the special youth weekend was moved to the week prior to regular season opening so the waterfowl were less wary than at the end of season. Most members’ children had aged out of youth weekend eligibility, so Ron and his son, Mark Callais, both past Louisiana DU state chairmen, began inviting others.
They invite recent hunter education class graduates, local shooting club members and other friends of River Rest. Jeff DeBlieux of Houma, Louisiana, is a local DU committee member, area chairman and hunter education and shooting instructor. Jeff helps identify kids that have an interest in hunting but limited opportunity and ensures they complete their hunter education class before they are invited on the hunt. For the past several years, Jeff and shooting club coach Doyle Donaldson have participated as guides.
This year, three girls and seven boys participated, and six hunters harvested their first duck. Several of the hunters are part of the local shooting team, but had never had an opportunity to duck hunt.
“Some of these young hunters are really good shots,”Ron said “One blind limited in 12 minutes! I would estimate more than 150 kids have hunted at River Rest, with over 50 taking their first duck here.”
It’s a sure bet that the experience has stayed with these kids, whether they continue to be duck hunters or not. The River Rest youth hunt is a testament to the indelible mark that a few committed people can have on generations to come.