BY LARRY REA - SPECIAL TO USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE
Buck Gardner was on his way to a duck blind when he answered his cell phone.
The caller from Memphis wanted to get an update on how the duck season has gone for Gardner, whose family roots are in the tiny East Arkansas town of Aubrey, not far from the Mid-South’s mecca of waterfowl hunting – Stuttgart.
That’s no surprise.
Gardner, who lives in Germantown, spends a lot of time duck hunting in East Arkansas. He’s made a name for himself in waterfowl hunting since winning the World Championship of Duck Calling in 1994 and coming back in 1995 to claim the Champion of Champion titles at Stuttgart, Ark. A year later he founded Buck Gardner Game Calls.
Before Gardner gave an update on the Arkansas duck season since it opened the first of its three split seasons in mid-November, he first had to showcase his duck calling talents, not necessarily to coax ducks into shooting distance.
“Are you ready,” he asked?
The caller knew what was coming next: Gardner’s famous version of Jingle Bells through a series of quacks on his duck call: “Quack (Jingle), quack (bells) quack (jingle), quack (bells) . . . quack (jingle), quack (all) quacks (the), quack (way) . . . quack (Oh), quack (what) quack (fun), quack (it), quack (is), quack (to), quack (ride) . . . quack (in), quack (a), quack (one), quack (horse), quack (open), quack (sleigh).”
“I love to do that,” Gardner said with a laugh. “I’m asked all the time at Christmas to play Jingle Bells. It works every time; brings a smile to everyone, and I like to see people smiling.”
While he and other Arkansas duck hunters will not be hunting today and Monday with the season closed for its annual Christmas break, they should be smiling by Tuesday after recent rain and predicted colder temperatures. Tennessee and Mississippi seasons are open now through Jan. 28. Arkansas also closes on Jan. 28.
So, how has it been, Buck?
“It’s been an up-and-down season so far but it’s about to get good again,” said Gardner. “This cold weather and rain is going to really help, we hope, push some birds our way. That will be good; real good.”
John Gordon of Hernando, Miss., agrees.
“At this point in the season hunters have faced more success than in recent years,” said Gordon, Media/Public Relations for Memphis-based Avery Outdoors and its parent company Banded Holdings. “That is, if you had water. Public hunting in the Mid-South has been rough with very dry conditions keeping the woods better suited for squirrels than ducks.”
That began to change Saturday with Christmas rains expected to total up to four inches or more, just what the doctor, AKA hunters, ordered. The much-needed rain will open many areas to hunting. It will also keep ducks and geese in the area with access to unpressured water for feeding and resting.
Gardner said, “You’ve got to have cold weather down here to really have success.”
“Until recently every patch of water had a (duck) hunter hiding in it,” Gordon said. “Look for cold temperatures and more water to increase hunter success in Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi in January. Mallards, pintails, gadwalls and green-winged teal will be in abundance, along with snows and specs (geese).”
One of Gordon’s duties at Avery is to put together the company’s waterfowl migration report gathered through members of Avery’s pro staff stretching throughout the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ flyways and Canada.
For example, the latest migration report showed the majority of birds near Saint Charles, Mo., are mallards, along with a “fair amount of spoonbills and teal flying around.” The report, dated Dec. 18-22, noted there had been “no significant migration” in the last two weeks.
Avery pro staffer Hunter Parrish of Chillicothe, Mo., reported, “(We’ve had) mixed success. Most days you can scratch a few, but the majority of birds won’t look and know exactly where they are going. We’ve tried everything we can think of.”
Like Gordon noted, Avery pro staff member Trapper Padgett of Lonoke, Ark., believes the recent rain and promised colder temperatures will be a boom for East Arkansas hunters.
“We have finally got rain throughout the whole state. Eastern Arkansas got three inches or more and moving west through the state it went down to an inch (late last week),” Padgett said. “(There are) lots of new places for ducks and more to come.” New food sources such as hardwoods and timber areas are becoming available for the first time in the season. Mallards and gadwalls and pintail number have boomed in the past few days.
“New ducks (are) arriving every day on changing winds and cooler temps; things are getting better for mallards,” said Avery’s Brock Perry of Stuttgart, where there are an estimated 200,000 geese and 25,000 ducks with the numbers increasing.
Further south in Arkansas, Jay Hayter of Lake Village reported feeding conditions are good with most crops out of the field.
Always the optimist, like most duck hunters, Gordon offered some mid-season advice. “Scout hard, locate the birds . . . and get after them,” he said.
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