My Old Man: Woodsy Wisdom from Duck Hunting’s Best Teachers
Let me preface by saying I never refer to my dad as “my old man.” Mainly because I’ve never really viewed him as “old.”
I had been sitting on this idea for a couple of years, while friends would periodically share knowledge or experiences gained from duck hunting with their dads. Good buddy Greg Churan would frequently start his fatherly anecdotes with “My old man,” so the duck hunting dads out there shouldn’t take offense and can hopefully appreciate the message.
Fathers and sons duck hunting is a subject covered many times, including a time or two in Greenhead. There are decades’ worth of paintings and countless photos capturing father-son moments in the field. A majority of waterfowlers were introduced to the sport by their fathers and, if not, a father-like figure played a role creating a passion for the sport.
My dad and I have hunted together for 40 years, give or take. From the old minnow ponds near Keo to Crocketts Bluff to Geridge, there are numerous memories of good days, bad days, funny events, scary episodes and everything in between. I didn’t appreciate many of those moments at the time as I was too young and too worried about how many ducks we shot and how fast. But looking back, I can savor what a time we had and the realization of how fortunate we’ve been to spend those times together.
I easily picked up the passion for the sport based on being lucky enough to tag along with my dad at an early age. The ability of the guides at Crocketts Bluff to work wads of mallards from little tiny specks in the sky down to the decoys was mesmerizing. My dad is a good caller, really good, but he didn’t ever hold me back from learning how to work ducks through experience (that’s not the same as calling at ducks mind you).
A little coaching and lot of trial and error got me pretty handy with the call before I hit junior high; same with shooting, decoy placement, how to play the wind and so on. Eventually our hunts became a collaborative effort, master with apprentice. We still spend a healthy portion of the evening before or the morning of a hunt deciding how we are going to fool those ducks the next day afield.
Now I’m fortunate enough to do the same with my two sons, Reid and Fuller. Fuller is a full-on duck hunting addict. Everything else in his world goes on hold during duck season unless that whole “school and education” thing gets in the way.
Reid tends to juggle duck hunting with his active social calendar, and he’s away at college a portion of the season, but he still enjoys his time at the duck club.
My sons’ world moves pretty fast; there isn’t much patience for slow hunts or downtime around the club. I sincerely hope they realize sooner than later that these days aren’t guaranteed going forward.
Duck hunting has a level of fragility to it — given things we can’t totally control like habitat, weather and water — and so do we as humans. In a world of instant gratification, please let it slow down just a tick so you can enjoy and learn many of the little things about this sport that come from time with Dad.
- Brent Birch, Editor
Garrett (left) and Gardner Lile (right) flank their father Gar, whose inventiveness once saved Gardner from a complete soaking.
There is a special bond formed between a father and son when duck hunting, scouting and during all the work that goes into getting ready for duck season. Working with someone well before the season all the way through “cleanup” you get to spend a lot of time together, which creates a strong relationship. It was also rewarding as I was growing up to see the hard work you put in prior to the season pay off during the season.
Some of the best memories I have from duck hunting are hunts when it was just myself, brother and Dad. They weren’t the best hunts from a numbers perspective, but the quality of the time shared together made them great hunts.
One hunt I will never forget was just Dad and myself, and I had forgotten my waders at home. The best solution we could come up with was for me to wear his rain pants and seal them off to my rubber boots with duct tape. Thankfully it didn’t take long for us to get our ducks that morning.
- Gardner Lile, Little Rock
Hunting all day with (left to right) Richard Shelton, father Dick Shelton, Braxton Shelton and his father Joe Shelton.
Duck hunting with my dad meant everything to me and still does. Looking back, all of my best hunting memories involved my dad. To say he had a passion for the outdoors would be putting it mildly, and in turn he passed that right along to me and my younger brother. We’ve chased ducks, deer and turkey together since we were little boys and continue to this day.
The main tip my dad passed along to me was “Hunt all day.” If we went, odds are Dad was staying and grinding it out.
It never really made an impression on me until a hunt in the White River when I was around 14 years old. We had been hunting ... most of the morning and had a few ducks, but for the most would label the morning extremely slow. While motoring out to the truck, we went through a hole we frequented quite a bit and Dad looked down at his watch and said, “It's only 11, why don't we throw the decoys out here and hunt until noon?”
My brother and I agreed to set up for another hour. At around 11:30, the prettiest bunch of mallards numbering in the 30-50 range began to work us and fell through the trees all the way to the water. After shooting 10 out of the bunch, a light went off and I realized what my dad was wanting us to see. Sometimes you have to stick it out for a little while longer to reap the benefits of a good day afield.
One more thing I have learned is maintain your equipment. Dad was always strict when [I was] borrowing anything of his to venture off on my own. Be it a four-wheeler, boat, or decoys; he has a certain way they were to be used and returned … and he meant it. My dad knew there was nothing worse than tangled decoy lines or a boat that wouldn't start and he didn't want those things to hinder a hunt.
At age 63, my dad is still the first one up in the morning at camp. Due to hunting the public ground in the White River Bottoms, that is typically in the 2 a.m. range. He routinely walks a mile or more into the public shooting grounds chasing ducks and turkeys. I hope to be as active when I reach his age and continue our traditions with my children.
- Richard Shelton, Monticello
Clay Carter (left) learned from his father Eddie (right) that cleaning game is vital and wasting it is to be avoided.
As a kid, hunting with my dad was an all-time occurrence. We were either chasing ducks, deer, squirrels or anything else that moved. We have had a lifetime of hunting memories together that will never be forgotten. We work together year around always getting ready for the next season. Today, as a grown man, I’ve come to realize just how special those early mornings and late nights were. Even though we’ve shared a lifetime of hunts together there will be a day that my dad and teacher will be done teaching me everything he knows.
I will always be grateful for just being able to spend time outdoors. Probably the biggest tip or trick my dad passed along was if you took time to kill it, take time to clean it and never waste game. And he definitely lives off the mantra that if you put enough blood and sweat into something it will eventually pay off. I’ve seen this come true time and time again.
I’m lucky enough for my dad to also be my best friend. We train dogs and plant food plots all summer just to have places to spend time together during the winter.
- Clay Carter, DeWitt
(Left to right) Bill Wellons, Ben Wellons, Mason Lewis, Sheffield Nelson, Garrett Lewis, Robert Lewis, Bill Parkinson Sr., Dan Parkinson, Bill Parkinson Jr., Ben Parkinson.
Duck hunting trips as a kid with my dad are my most cherished memories today as an adult. Like many, I will never forget shooting my first mallard duck with my dad at an early age — but even the years before I was old enough to carry a gun, I remember the early morning boat rides and standing on a log in flooded timber with my dad and watching huge groups of mallards work down through the trees. It was a mesmerizing site and so impactful to me as a kid.
It means the world to me that my dad would take the time to share the sport of duck hunting with me, and fortunately we still are hunting together today — going on 30-plus years of hunting together.
We have developed a great tradition going on 20 years with my dad and close friend Sheffield Nelson hosting an annual, father-son duck hunt. The hunt includes my dad (Bill Wellons) and my brother Bill and I; Bill Parkinson and his boys Bill Jr., Ben and Dan; Robert Lewis and his boys Garret and Mason; and Jimmy Green and his son Matthew.
This father-son weekend is one of the hunting trips I look forward to the most each year. But here's the catch — this trip is not about how many ducks we shoot, it’s about so much more. The life lesson my dad and Sheffield have shown us over the years, through this trip, is that it’s really about the relationships we have with each other. It’s about sharing a great meal together. It’s about laughing and telling stories. It’s about witnessing God’s creation together. And it’s about building lasting memories with fathers and their sons.
Each hunting trip is different, but my dad always enjoys being with me and sharing an experience in the field together. We always eat a big breakfast together, no matter what. One unique thing about my dad that I remember from childhood is that he carried a really old Yentzen duck call and I always thought it sounded more like a kazoo than a duck. ... Love you Pop.
- Ben Wellons, Roland