Will Brantley.jpg

Courtesy of Will Brantley

Will Brantley returns to DU magazine to write in the space previously occupied by Bill Buckley and the late Wade Bourne.


I feel like I’ve been entrusted to take over a duck blind that previously belonged to good friends. The memories they left behind on this page are as real as the mementos you might see in an old blind. I can imagine a dated note on the wall, celebrating a pup’s first retrieve. Or a dented and charred percolator that still brews good coffee, so there’s no reason to throw it out. Maybe there’s a shelf in the back where Bill stowed his camera gear, or a nail in a post up front where Wade hung his calls. (If you knew Wade, you know he wasn’t timid with a duck call.)

Taking over as the author of this column is intimidating on the one hand, because I have big shoes to fill. But on the other hand, I’ve long felt at home in the pages of Ducks Unlimited, and I truly am picking up where some good friends left off.

After seven years of writing the Waterfowler’s World column, my predecessor, Bill Buckley, is retiring to focus on his photography. I came to know Bill through his talent behind a camera. His images have appeared in dozens of my own articles, but more importantly, we spent a week together freelancing the North Dakota prairie several years ago.

The weather that week couldn’t have been duckier or the hunting any better. We arrived on the leading edge of an Arctic cold front and shot limits of gadwalls, teal, and wigeon early in the week, followed by fat greenheads and pintails as the temperature steadily dropped toward the end of our trip. Bill insisted that we hold out for prime drakes and even scolded me once—lightly—for shooting a pair of gadwalls instead of waiting for something more colorful. But the gray ducks were cupped so tight and close, I couldn’t resist. Every day we ate ducks deep fried or seared over hot coals, and while I can’t say for sure that it was the best week of duck hunting I’ve ever had, I can’t say that it wasn’t either.

Bill’s predecessor was Wade Bourne, DU’s legendary editor-at-large, who passed away in 2016 from a heart attack after cutting the family Christmas tree. Tragic as the news was, the thought of Wade’s time being called during duck season, right before Christmas, has always brought me some comfort.

Wade pitched the idea of the original Waterfowler’s Notebook column at a DU magazine planning meeting in 2007, around the same time that I joined the staff as associate editor. It’s no surprise that his columns were consistently popular with readers. Wade’s advice was always practical, rooted in his years of experience, and easy to understand.

I met Wade when I was a journalism student at Murray State University, where Wade himself had obtained a master’s degree in journalism. When he found out that I bummed around the same islands and sandbars on Kentucky Lake that he did and that I aspired to make a living writing hunting and fishing stories, he took me under his wing and eventually introduced me to the DU staff.

Wade and I rabbit-hunted and bream-fished together a few times, but I regret never taking him up on his half-dozen invitations to go duck hunting. Wade jumped around both banks of the Mississippi River all duck season, gunning his favorite haunts in western Kentucky and southeastern Missouri and on Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake—all places that are at their best late in the season, when I was frequently traveling for trade shows.

One year, as I walked the aisles of a convention center in Las Vegas, I saw Wade’s number appear on my cell phone. “This is an old friend tempting you with mallards,” he said with a laugh. “I know you’re working, but if you can leave that show early, the ducks are here right now.”

I didn’t leave early then. But in the spirit of making better decisions now, I skipped a trade show altogether this past winter to stay home and go duck hunting with my son instead. Now it’s the off-season, and I have things to do before next fall, a new Waterfowler’s Journal to keep, and, figuratively speaking, an old duck blind to watch over. At least for a while.