Kids, Dogs, Ducks, and Memories

Four local youth (selected in a random drawing) age 7 to 13 with little or no hunting experience, were given the opportunity to learn the basics of duck hunting. We hosted a two day educational event with classroom instructions, outdoor hands-on participation, and culminated with an actual duck hunt. The first day classroom training at the Elk River Country Club (Noel MO) covered rules and regulation, habitat and migration, plus specific duck identification. The kids also learned the use of decoys, retrieving dogs, and camouflage concealment. Missouri regional Ducks Unlimited representative, Lendall Wilson, attend giving the participants hats, posters, and complimentary DU magazines. Each participant was presented with a custom made duck call, donated by Daniel Cowin Construction of Bella Vista AR. After lunch, the class shifted locations to the banks of Elk River on Stauber Farms, where an instructional duck call lesson took place and prompted 13 year old participant Isaiah Roosa to ask “Is it just me? Or are duck calls hard to blow?” After being told that practicing will improve his ability, he stated with confidence, “Oh good, by morning, I will sound like a pro!” Following the calling lesson, two Labrador retrievers showcased their skills of marking downed birds, sense of smell, obedience to hand and voice commands, and retrieving. The trained canines (River and Tucker) were handled by owners Josh Cerasale and Jason Bowman respectively. The dog’s demonstrations were applauded by the audience. Next, the youngsters were seated in a “mock” duck blind with multiple hidden automated clay target throwers tossing targets above them to simulate incoming ducks. The barrage of flying targets gave them the perfect experience to position themselves to aim at fast moving ducks. The youngest attendee, Jake O’Brien age 7, who previously never shot at moving clay targets, was issued fist pumps when he broke a target and triggered him to gleefully say “I busted that real good!” The following morning parents and kids began with an early 3:00am departure from Pineville MO to the hunting location near Muskogee OK where the group met up with guides from Southern Flight Outdoors (www.southernflightoutdoors.com) who provide this special youth hunt. Upon arrival at the hunting location the excited kids helped the guides transfer dozens of duck and geese decoys plus all the needed gear from a cargo trailer parked at the roadside gate onto a flatbed trailer towed by four-wheelers in the darkness to a field pond. The eager kids pitched in and began to prepare for the hunt exactly the way they learned in the classroom the day before. With the aid of headlamps and flashlights, a short time later, the tasks were completed. The kids, parents, guides, and dogs were then seated comfortably in the freshly constructed duck blind they assembled by the crack of dawn. Duck calls greeted the first glimpse of sunlight followed by the chatter of arriving ducks within gun range. KABANG! BAM! BOOM! BANG! echoed the reports from the young hunters shotguns into the the morning sky, followed by the sound of smacking splashes on the surface of pond’s water and a thump out in the grassy field. The dogs were briskly commanded to retrieve, and the first ducks of the hunt were brought to the kids so they could witness and examine their good aim. “This one is a mallard,” detected 8 year old Hunter Keith, who was certain of his identification. “Just like on the poster we got yesterday”. As a light foggy drizzle dribbled downward, additional ducks passed over the deceptive decoys. The kids were encouraged to use their donated calls to hoodwink them close enough for more shooting. With each passing flight of ducks, and a bushel of youthful patience, no luck was found. After numerous unsuccessful tries, the young hunters were polled, and they resolved to terminate the hunt. As part of the learning experience, the new duck hunters, without prompting, collectively obliged to gather the duck blind components, seating stools, decoys, plus guns and ammo back onto the flatbed trailer, and return it to the cargo trailer and re-pack the equipment away. Group photos, along with high-fives and handshakes were issued among each other. Words of appreciation were exchanged by the kids and parents to John Hill, owner of Southern Flight Outdoors, Jason and Amber Bowman for coordinating the classroom training and outdoor seminar, plus Josh Cerasale for his outstanding dog demonstration. All four volunteers accompanied and assisted the hunters on the duck hunt. Bryan Lewis (age 13) summarized his experience when he declared “I was part of something special today, I am so thankful to be here!” In lieu of the number ducks yielded, and if smiles, laughter, and life-long memories are the mark of a successful hunt, than it is a sure bet that everyone got their limit!