We join Ducks Unlimited and the Arkansas Duck Masters in search of waterfowl
In the fields of Arkansas just outside of Memphis, Tenn. is the home of the Arkansas Duck Masters. Just a few weeks ago I was invited to visit these guys and join Ducks Unlimited on a conservation snow goose hunt. This would be my first experience with the massive snow goose.
Our ride into the fields for hunting was the Yamaha Viking VI with its very accommodating seating and hauling capability. I never could have foreseen the challenging conditions we put the Viking in and how well it kept on pulling.
Our home for the next few days was the Great River Lodge in Proctor, Ark. This 10,000-square-foot luxury lodge has recently been renovated for hunters who love to come back and relax at a home-style facility. After choosing a bunk it was time to enjoy the company of new friends.
We jumped up extremely early to get into the prime hunting spot that Chad Halbert and his help had picked for us to lay and wait for the big white birds. The fields had been prepped for the next year’s planting but in the off-season these same fields are used for all forms of hunting, including duck and snows. Some are flooded for returning migrating bird’s as this is the Arkansas Delta flyway for thousands of the winged animals.
Above we mentioned that this was a conservation hunt, which might sound odd to readers who aren’t regular hunters. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission explains it like this:
“Light geese are not only a nuisance to Arkansas farmers. They have become so abundant; they are destroying their nesting grounds in the Arctic Tundra. Not only are the geese eating themselves out of house and home, they’re destroying critical habitat for other species that share the Tundra.”
It is because of the abundance of snow geese that hunting opportunities like these are available.
After dropping over 2,000 decoys it was time to settle into the Arkansas mud that we had covered with mats and some small blind wedges to lean against. It was a very brisk morning as we watched the sun make attempts to peek through the low cloud cover. With gray skies and the low clouds it was hard to see the birds overhead but it was not hard to hear them. As I lay on my mat comfortably nestled in many layers of clothes from our friends at Cabela’s and one great pair of waders, I could begin to hear the incredible sounds of the snow goose. I have tried to explain this to several of my friends who have never experienced the sights and sounds, but it’s just something that you really have to experience for yourself.
As the birds dropped below the clouds I was simply amazed at the sheer numbers. There were thousands of them. The sky was painted with massive birds and it seemed like something out of an apocalyptic movie scene. It wasn’t long before the sky just above us was covered and the shotguns to my left and right began expelling the fire and brimstone they had been packed with. This was my chance to take a few birds of my own. We stayed in position as the snow geese who had heard the shots flew off and we patiently awaited the next gaggle.
After just about 15-20 minutes the skies would fill again with a new bounty of snow geese and this went on from sun up until about 10 am. It was simply amazing to see these birds fly in time and time again my first ever snow goose hunt felt like a huge success. We were able to harvest over 70 birds for the day between all of the hunters on hand and by the looks on our guides’ faces they were extremely satisfied with that.
Once we had decided to clear the area for the day it was time to load up our Yamaha Viking VI with the massive bags of decoys and roll back to the truck about a half-mile down the field road. With the sun in full effect we noticed that the rig had been covered in some amazingly sticky and extremely heavy mud. This mud was like no other I had ever seen and as we tried to walk around in it we realized it was all over our boots and each step just compounded the weight. This visually had an effect on the Yamaha Viking, but the beast just kept on plugging away through the mire. As we picked up just a little speed down the unpaved road we were able to shed a little weight in mud, but it wasn’t much. It wasn’t until we returned to the lodge that we were able to clear off some of the thick brown clay.
Hunting is not the only part of our adventure even though that is the end result of our efforts all year. It wasn’t until we returned home to the massive lodge that the guys prepared the birds we had taken that morning for us to carry home with us in the coming days. Kirby Carlson and his team of cooks prepared some of the best goose breast ever tasted. Kirby and Chad run the duck hunting at the lodge, but we found that Kirby is also a great cook. Some say goose is tough to get right, but the buttery medium rare slices of heaven we were treated to proved that Mr. Carlson has his perfected.
As we had mentioned, our friends at Ducks Unlimited had invited us along for the hunt. As part of the week of adventure, DU front man James Powell took us in to Memphis and to the big silver Pyramid Bass Pro Shops facility. Now this wasn’t just a Bass Pro facility as the Ducks Unlimited crew had their space inside as well. The Ducks Unlimited Waterfowling Heritage Center is located on the second floor and is a must see.
This facility is not only for duck hunters, but if you want to understand how, why and who has had an effect on the world of hunting birds this is the place to learn. Interactive displays teach new and old hunters about the birds they seek and the ways conservation and land management helps to keep these systems alive for every migrating bird. Along with different styles of decoys you will also see some of the guns used throughout the years and types of pioneers responsible for the tools Duck hunters use to this day. Powell explained to us the significance of the individual artifacts displayed and even gave us a personal tour of the display he had been responsible for himself.
This trip for me not only allowed me to see one more of the many uses of the Yamaha Viking fleet, but it gave me a new appreciation for the hunters and the segment of hunting that I had not had a chance to experience until now. I hope to continue this story with many more in the future and I am grateful for each and every hunter at camp who was kind enough to show this rookie the ropes. Thanks also to the fine folks at Ducks Unlimited for the continuing effort to guide the public in the correct direction for conservation and knowledge of how the we can all help this adventure continue. Knowledge is power so share it.
If you want to get in on this experience in the future I urge to give our friends Chad and Kirby at Arkansas Duck Masters a call or simply visit their website at ArDuckMasters.com.