From Razorbacks To Greenheads

My first duck hunt was 40 years ago with Leo Crafton and Hal Hunnicutt, my college roommates in Conway, Arkansas.

Golf was my passion, but duck hunting talk dominated the house. Eventually, there was a hunt, in the fog near Lake Conway.

We did not fire a shot. We didn’t hear a duck, much less see one. I wondered why we went, but I quickly learned there didn’t need to be ducks for it to be a great hunt. Stories are still told about that morning when the fourth member of the party walked away to scout, got lost and found us by accident.

Some things need to be left in the woods. Sorry, Phil. Let’s just say you had to be there.

Wow, you should have been there last weekend, when the three of us hunted legendary camps in East Arkansas. We killed our limits of greenheads, first in flooded timber at Whiskey Chute, then at Ward’s Reservoir. There was spectacular hunting and meals, giant ribeyes and chops.

The two are only 12 miles apart. Whiskey Chute is on the East side, tucked between levees of the White and the Mississippi. We hunted there first, along with Tommy and Nick Nabholz and Robert Halter. Then, we trucked north to St. Charles and down to Ward’s Reservoir (62.5 miles) on the west side of the White River National Refuge.

That’s hunting a buck brush hole in blinds, away from the heart of the reservoir and thousands of mallards. Ward’s is the best duck hunting in the world you’ve never heard about.

Leo, his brother Hal, and Bryan Ward, all of Conway, bought Ward’s a few years ago and turned a legendary place into something more special. They maintained the practice of resting the reservoir except for Saturday and Sunday. It’s been black with ducks for 75 years.

My wife’s uncle, Don Horton of DeWitt, called ducks for Jimmy Ward as a high schooler in the 1950s. Horton said it was the best of all of the great Arkansas County spots then, remarkably the same now.

There is a tip of the camo hat from Kevin McReynolds, owner of Double Deuce, a bordering lodge. McReynolds, former major league baseball player, got his first look at Ward’s after an invitation from the new owners two years ago. There was great respect in his eyes as he scanned the black cloud of ducks.

The main hole of the reservoir is only hunted the last weekend of the season, this coming weekend. But there is nothing wrong with the buck brush on the other end, especially when you have the world’s best duck caller in the blind. That made the Sunday hunt unbelievable. We were joined for dinner Saturday night by the legendary David St. John.

I’m an idiot because all I picked up at first was that it was Bryan’s brother-in-law joining us. Leo explained just before David arrived that it was going to be pretty cool, a hunt with the reigning World Champion duck caller. I got nervous and tucked my duck call away.

St. John works at Echo Calls and won the World Championship at Stuttgart last November after finishing second twice. He’s got a pile of other titles, too. He gave us a demonstration of his competition routine as we waited on the chops Saturday night.

Three of us sat at the dinner table under a big elk mount. I wondered aloud if those two eyes above us rolled back in that majestic head when David hit the big notes. It gave me chills. They were beautiful, sweet and pure, never to be forgotten.

Then, there was the real treat, wonderful calling from the blind by the two brother-in-laws on Sunday morning. Leo and I were in another blind 10 yards away. We were grinning ear to ear as David and Bryan worked their magic with the ducks.

The four of us shot until we were close to four limits, then let David and Bryan load the hole with ducks. There must have been 250 at one point. It was a dreamy whirlwind of mallards. As we picked up, David held up a greenhead with a banded leg. It would go to a guest, me or David, after a card draw.

That was an exciting prospect, but I had a better idea. David didn’t have a band on his lanyard. Obviously, he hunts every day as part of his duties at Echo Calls. Any bands go to clients.

That did it for me. It did my heart good to make it David St. John’s first band. It was perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Clay Henry is the publisher of Hawgs Illustrated. He can be found writing about the Arkansas Razorbacks every day here.

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