Approaching dock, J. W. McAfee and Sidney Maestre pass by truck and Model A Ford, prized by members for mud-driving.
Proud duck hunters, Ira Wight Jr. (left) and John Crago, pose with the day's limit after successful morning in the blinds.
DRAKES' LANDING: DUCKS BY THE MILLION
Farther south along the flyway, where the waters of the Arkansas and White rivers irrigate a triangle of rice-rich abundance, the Drakes' Landing Club nestles within a flooded forest. One of the oldest duck clubs in Arkansas, its 640 acres stretch into the heart of the famed Stuttgart hunting area. Twenty-five years ago, when the original nine members carted all facilities from Pine Bluff every weekend, tents were pitched and decoys set for each hunt. Today the club's caretaker sets out the decoys at the beginning of each season in a dozen permanent locations. The brick clubhouse sleeps 18, enabling each member to bring one guest. Only the ducks have been unchanged by progress. By the millions they cover the flood lands with a feathery blanket, luring the hunters into the early dawn.
Predawn breakfast is enjoyed by (left) member's son E. Russell Lambert Jr. of Chalmette Plantation; S. Ray West, partner, F. G. Smart Motors; Mrs. West and Dr. E. C. McMullen, for 26 years Drakes' Landing Club president. Walter Trulock Jr., cotton planter and ginner, sits with other hunters at rear table, as two club cooks dish out bacon and eggs in the little kitchen beyond.
MORNING COMES WITH MISTS AND MALLARDS
Fog mingles with the ends of night and fingers a procession of fiat-bottomed aluminum duck boats as hunters paddle silently away from the Drakes' Landing clubhouse. It is a half hour before sunrise. Anxious eyes search the blackened skies. Impatience makes the journey seem longer and shooting positions farther away. Tangled roots scratch against the bottoms of the boats, growling in the quiet. Like sentinels guarding a drowned land, the shadows of dead cypress trees cast somber reflections across the inky waters. Among them, pin oaks, rosewoods, overcups and pecan trees wait for another spring to sprout green leaves again. Clustered on branches everywhere, mistletoe drop waxen berries to the pools below and rustle gently with the wind. On the many lakes scattered throughout this watery woodland, decoys rock softly on the swells. Early morning filters pink through the trees, shifting the shadows as it comes, touching a hunter motionless beside a willow. Overhead, like dark specks in the dawn sky, a flock of ducks goes by. From the recesses of the woods the hunters begin their calls, coaxing the birds with loud, plaintive sounds. Down from the sky they fall, circling, dipping, circling again. The calls change, grow frenzied, more insistent and are answered. Back and forth ducks and hunters talk in excited, guttural conversation. In an ever-narrowing circle the ducks lose altitude, wingbeats audible above the chatter. Then, setting their wings, they push white bellies into the wind and drop toward the decoys below. The shots are loud, rapid. Three mallards plummet to the calm waters, spreading great rings from the places where they strike. In the distance, the remainder of the flight disappears into the sky. A hip-booted hunter walks through knee-deep water to the fallen birds. With twigs he props them up among the decoys and returns to wait beside his tree. At Hurricane Hole, Tin Can, Nine Oaks, or East Taylor other Drakes' Landing members wait, scanning the brightening skies. Some crouch in willow-covered blinds, others under large bushes, still others behind camouflaged boats, breathlessly, thigh-deep in water. By 7:30 almost any morning, the hunters usually have shot their limits and the day's hunt is over. An hour's drive away, in Pine Bluff, they will attend bank meetings, sell automobiles, negotiate cotton sales and treat patients at the opening of a regular business day.
With wary paddle strokes, S. Ray West (foreground) and Dr. E. C. McMullen make their way down a channel to the shooting stands.
Luring the ducks, J. W. Bellamy Jr., president, National Bank of Commerce, and Ray West crouch against tree and send out eager calls.
Wading through the shallows of Hurricane Hole, Walter Trulock Jr. (right) heads homeward with sons Leo and Walter III after all three bagged limits within 45 minutes of legal shooting hour. Together they look skyward for one last glimpse of birds before returning to the city. In their wake, decoys bob up and down upon the rippled water, waiting for still another day.