Highballs rang in the timber as Charley kicked the water, keeping his face down as the ducks worked overhead.
It was a small bunch of birds, weary from a long migration and keen to get out of the wind and hunker into the cover that the marsh provided. Banking into the wind and setting their wings, the ducks dropped elevation quickly as they made their final approach.
Suddenly, they flared.
“Look at the ducks!”, cried Pippa, Charley’s 3-year-old niece, from a makeshift boat blind 30 yards behind the shooters.
The birds continued on their way, but there wasn’t a shred of disappointment among the hunters. Instead, the moment was celebrated, as the family turned their focus from the fact that the ducks flared to the impression that they’d made on the kids, who watched the hunt from beneath a layer of camo netting and 5 layers of insulation.Fowler’s Point is like most of Arkansas’ duck clubs. Rich in habitat, dependent on weather for birds, and hunted by those who look forward to nothing more than an autumn cold front and a day in the marsh. During the holidays, however, things are different.
In lieu of the full-throttle pursuit of green heads, the Perkins family instead focuses on the tradition they inherited from their parents and grandparents.
Breakfast in the blind becomes a main event, and when the hunt is over every curly, shiny, or otherwise interesting feather is pulled from the birds and added to Pippa’s collection before the ducks are plucked (rarely breasted) and prepared for consumption.
The shift in priority is important, but it is about more than just the kids. As Charley puts it:
“As a hunter, or in this case a host, nothing is more rewarding than seeing a child get excited about a ‘first’. Whether that is a bird getting shot, a dog making a retrieve, or even just driving the boat to our blind, we get to relive the excitement that we felt in our youth”.
While the opportunity for a fun experience is the immediate focus, the potential for a lifelong relationship with the sport isn’t lost on Perkins:
“When it comes down to it, the kids are the future of the sport. They’re the next generation of conservationists, who unfortunately, will be left with fixing the things that we messed up”. He pauses, then adds, “The best way to get someone to care about the environment is to teach them about it, have them fall in love with it, and build a relationship where they couldn’t imagine life without it”.
As the sun sets over the marsh, the morning’s ducks are placed in the oven, skin on and barely seasoned per family tradition. What seems like a few moments later, the oven is opened and the birds are removed, bronze on the outside but still on the blue side of rare when served. Before being offered a helping, Pippa’s excitement gets the best of her:
“I want some duck!”.
As she digs into the breast meat, she warns her younger brother to watch carefully for pellets before quickly asking for seconds.
To some, it might look like a hungry kid, but as Charley looks on with a glint in his eye, it is clear that what he sees is another generation already enjoying a family tradition.