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Kirk McCullough • Arkansas Duck Hunting Interview

I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Arkansas duck hunting pioneer Kirk McCullough and discuss the past and present of Arkansas green timber duck hunting.




Jonathan: Oh, thank you so much for coming in. I'm excited about the podcast.


Kirk: Glad to be here.


Jonathan: So I don't know. I figured we'd kind of get started at the beginning of all this. I don't know. I've grown up watching those videos that you made. That was my like bedtime stories. It's kind of odd in that it was like, I've been following you, watching everything you've been doing, like from a duck hunting perspective, but how did you get started with duck hunting? What kind of put you in that direction or pushed you in that direction?




Kirk: My father, he fished a lot. He didn't know much. And we used to go to Maddox Bay all the time at the squirrel camp. And that's when I was in, I guess my early teens. And that was the extent of his hunt. Well, my uncle, Uncle Scotty, he duck hunted and he took me and my dad and my uncle and my cousin Mike. We all went to the river and went hunting, right out from his trailer. We didn't kill anything. We saw something fly by. I didn't know what it was, but I got hooked on it and we didn't fire a shot. And the blind that we hunted at it wasn't covered with anything. We threw out about 5 or 10 decoys like that right there. And that's what we hunted over. And after that I was just obsessed with it. So it kind of started from there. 


Jonathan: Do you think it's like being around the people, like your family, like your uncle and kind of being there and being part of the guys and kind of that part of it? 


Kirk:  Yeah, my uncle was special to me because he was a crew chief on a B24 in World War II. And he didn't talk about the war much, but every once in a while he had these stories and I went to his house a lot and that was my father's oldest brother. So that had a lot to do with it. But I think the main thing is just the anticipation of getting up and going and getting out there and just being something different. And we heard a few ducks that morning at daylight, but we didn't see anything else, but just the anticipation of going, being something different and being young.


Jonathan: Yeah. I think what fueled me, was the first time, well, a bunch of times that I went duck hunting the first few times, we never saw much. So there was like always this, like what's going to happen? Like this has got to get better. And yeah, I don't know. I like that part. And I don't know. I feel like me raising a little boy. I always think about how can I get him into duck hunting or how can I get him to enjoy this? And I think it's like being out there with the family and then not seeing much and kind of just learning, slowly learning and creeping into it. But I don't know. It's interesting. That's super fun. So we love hearing about the good old days in Bimeet and you are the guy that knows the good old days, I think. What are some good stories from Bimeet back then?


Kirk: I guess the good stories for me are the people that I met and those just unshakeable friendships that we developed. And here recently I posted a little video of Don Jones blowing his duck call on Instagram. Don was one of the original people and there was a group of us that was the original group and we all hunted together. And we got through hunting, we'd go to Bob's and eat quail. And we'd eat quail, we'd sit in and wait two hours to eat. And we're talking about hunting the next day, making our plans. But that was some of the good things from Bimeet was the people that I met. And I met a lot of people. And they were all great folks and we all wound up hunting together for a long time. And some of them like Robin. Robin and I have known each other for over 40 years and we started hunting together at Bimeet. He used to come spend the night at my house during duck season, stay there all season. He stayed in a camper in my front yard.


Jonathan: What is it about South Carolina guys that like duck hunting?


Kirk: They heat up with hunting and fishing and the South Carolina guys are some of the best duck hunters that I've seen come to Bimeet from out of state. 


Jonathan: I agree. I got to watch them.

 

Kirk: They're organized. They got good equipment and they're not afraid to mix it up. 


Jonathan: I'm right there. Like I know a few of them and they've shown me a few things. They show me a few things. Probably learned a few from you. 


Kirk: Yeah possibly a lot of them hunted with me when I was younger. And we wound up hunting together over the years and I still hunt with some of them. And there's a couple of them actually that hunt with me or I hunt with them, we hunt with each other quite a bit.


Jonathan: Heck yeah. So maybe this is just for me, but I watched the videos and I always watched your interaction with the hunters that you had come on the hunt, like from a timeline perspective of how the day went. I'm just curious, because I've done a lot of big game hunting and dealt a lot with outfitters and guns and always love that. I love a good guide. I love a good Outfitter. And it seemed like you ran a pretty good ship back in the day. Do you have a timeline of how y'all usually did it back then? 


Kirk: Yeah, it's not what you think and it's not what most people think. It was a very regimented deal and we were very well disciplined. And one of the greatest things for me that I had was having great help. It seemed like I always had really good people, that were helping. And we scouted before season and we were in the woods whenever dry, just walking around, looking at stuff. And we would walk around the areas that we hunted to make sure, to see if somebody else was trying to establish a hole close to us. And so when season came on, if the woods were flooded, whether it was white river or wherever we were hunting, we would go to our shooting hole every day and call ducks and get them come into the hole, get them accustomed to it. And just keep going until the season started. 


And we made a decision, it was a group decision. Everything we did was a group decision. There was no single moment that it was one person making a decision. We all talk about it. We discussed it. What's the best scenario? Okay. Let's do it. And that's how we did. It was a group decision. And we were up at 1 o'clock in the morning and in the early days we left the boat ramp around 2 or 2:30, that's before there was a time limit. Really wasn't a lot of people. Didn't have anything to do with the race. Basically it was let's go ahead and get the hole. Let's get everything set up and be ready. And give ourselves plenty of time in case we have some kind of malfunction or we have to move or whatever.


So we got there early, got set up. We'd hunt and we'd bring the hunters in about 5:30, 6 O'clock. Let all the traffic leave the ramp and get gone. And then we came in on the tail end of it, because it was safer for us to do it that way. Did have all those boats passing us. And we came in and we'd show up at the hole probably around 6:15, dry ride up there. The decoys were already out and everybody had everything that they needed to get next to their tree with. We left all of our packs, all of our gear in the boats. And we went out and parked the boats a couple of hundred yards away. Covered them up. We hunted. And before we started hunting, we had a little group meeting and just to make sure that everybody was on the same page about what we were going to do, we discussed who was calling a shot.


We discussed shooting cripples that everybody stayed on their trees. And you didn't run after ducks if it was crippled. And after we got through hunt, got back to the boat ramp and customers usually went their way back to the motel and we went in, got something to eat, got fueled up, got our boats cleaned out, got everything ready to go for the next day and went to sleep and wake up in the evening time. Yeah. Go in, get something to eat and then make another group decision about where we were going to go. And we just repeated the process. We were very safe, organized. Everybody knew what they were doing. And there was usually three or four of us. And we were kind of divided among our hunting party. And that way, the communication was easier that way. Plus you have one guy watching two or three people, one guy watching two or three people and a next guy. Some of our hunting parties exceeded 20 people at one time. So it had to be organized.


Jonathan: Yeah, definitely. That's a lot of folks in there, especially around some of those little holes.


Kirk: Yep. And the duck hunting was secondary. The limits were secondary and it wasn't about limits with them. It was about just going. They wanted someplace to go hunt and they did want to do the military style hunting that they had been accustomed to.


Jonathan: I wish I could have been around and went on a hunting too.


Kirk: How old are you?


Jonathan: 37. 38.


Kirk: Okay. So that was back when I was in my twenties.


Jonathan: We always watched your videos. Like always talking about them. It's good stuff. 


Kirk: We shot, all that footage on a Sony DCR VX 1000, it was at three chip cameras. One of the first state of the art three chip cameras that came out and it wasn't very good in low light, but it is what it is at the time.


Jonathan: Oh, it's perfect. I think it's special. I don't know. I couldn't even recreate some of how that video looks now, but making some good video now and capturing some good content, but I don't know, just something about [11:34 inaudible] and brown camo standing next to trees. They're good. They're really, really good. I'm glad that you took the time to document it. 


Kirk: It was a flute thing and I had a guy tell me, he said you can't video because you don't have any video talent, wrong thing to say to me. And I said alright. And I told Patsy, I said, I'm fixing to go buy a video camera. She said, what for? I said, we're going to start filming our hunts. She said, when did you decide to do that? I said, when I was told, I didn't have any video talent. She says,who are you going to use as the camera man? I said, Garrett and Garrett was right there. And he says, I don't know anything about a camera. I said, well, they make a manual, you can read it. And I promise you, we went to circuit city and I bought that camera for like $4,200. And I got the box and I handed it to Garrett. He said, what do I do this? I said, you're a camera man. He said, I don't know anything about cameras. I said, well, you'll learn. 


And the first day that we went to the woods with it, he got some of the best footage that we've got. And I was telling your buddy here that it was all shot on tripod on a $35 Walmart tripod. That's what we used. And Garrett just got better and better and better at it as he went. He captured some. For me it's historical footage for some people it may not, but we captured footage in a time era that is gone and it ain't ever coming back and you can see the difference in it by listening to what's going on and just by how the ducks acted.

 

Jonathan: Yeah. I can see 'them in those videos and I don'tget groups like that anymore.


Kirk: Everybody says, oh, back then were the glory days and the wrong deal. I think the glory days are now because that's the time that we're living in. This is what we've got in front of us. We're going to move forward. And that's what we've got and let's make the best of it. That's the past, it's gone. And I am glad that we weren't so intimidated by it that we didn't do it. And I've got the footage and I'm just glad that we did it.


Jonathan: Yeah. Yeah. I don't know. I've still got those DVDs. I've got DVDs and I've got tapes.


Kirk: Yeah, I did them on VHS first. And the first store that ordered from me was Herters. And Pat Reimer was the buyer at the time. And he bought 50 of those videos. That was my first sale. And I still talk to Pat all the time, we're great friends. He bought duck from me.


Jonathan: Where was Herters, is that like their store?


Kirk: I don't know but he's from Minnesota.


Jonathan: I went there. We were traveling around working with my dad and I went into like it was an old Herter store. It's super cool. Inside had all their old Herter. It was almost like a little museum, I remember that, it seemed like he's up there.



Kirk: Yeah. I didn't know him. My phone rang and I answered the phone and I said, hello? He said, is this Kirk? I said, yeah. He said, Hey, this is Pat Reimer from Herters, I want to buy some videos from you. I said, okay. I may even want 50. And they just had a green sleeve on, said green timber duck hunting with a white label. I sold them. And now I've got them all transferred over to DVD.And I don't sell a lot of them, but I sell quite a few.


Jonathan: Yeah. I got to get one of the originals. I'm going to find one. That's my goal. I like this stuff for sure. I don't mean to be like a fan, but I like it. It's good. I think it's just good stuff, but I hunt a lot in there and I don't know, look around and kind of see some interesting things from what I feel like I saw on your videos. I think that's [15:47 inaudible]. I think that's a tree. I know you got good mornings and you have a lot of good mornings, but you got real good ones that are just perfect. Like the stars just align. What's one of those in your mind that pops out?


Kirk: Well, there are actually three of them and one of them, none of them happened on Bimeet. One of them was on the white river and it was a tail end of season. It was in the eighties and a friend of mine had gone up and I'm going to go up there and just hunt around and see what I can find. Well, he'd been gone a couple days. Nobody heard anything from him. And so we all decided to go up there one afternoon and we went up there that afternoon and there was a lot of ducks. So we all decided to come back the next morning. And when I say all, there was 34.


And everybody just converged on this little hole of water. The water was dropping on the white river, really fast. It had been froze up for like four or five days. And all these ducks had just moved into this one area of woods and there was just two pieces of it flooded. We got there that morning, pretty early. And we were getting ready to hunt and Jimmy said, Kirk, here are all those ducks. I said, yeah, they're on that little swag of water. He said, you think we're going to be able to compete against them? And I said, I don't think so. And he said, well, would you walk over and get them up? I said, yeah. I said, I'm going to get close to them and blow your duck call when it's shooting hours and I'll listen for it. And that whole water was about three or 400 yards away.


So right at shooting hours, Jimmy blows his duck call. And I kind of walked around to the backside of it. And I started walking to him and there was 7 8,000 ducks in there at least. And so I got them up and they got up in the air and they kind of got out of distance where I could see him, but I could hear Jimmy blowing his duck call and blowing his duck call. And then it got quiet. And then all of a sudden his gunfire erupted, and I could see the flashes of fire coming out of those gun barrels. 


Jonathan: That far away? 


Kirk: Yeah. Well, I'd gotten a little bit closer. And I was kind of easing my way back over there and I could see all that fire coming out of them gun barrels and hear all that shooting and then all that cripple shooting. And then when I finally got over there and I said, how many of them ducks came in here? He said all of them. So that was one of the most memorable times. And what made it so memorable? It wasn't about the killing. It's the fact that our core group that we all started hunting with was there. Tom and Jimmy and Steve, Dick Phillips, Mike, Mark, Johnny, Don and Greg, myself and Tommy. It was everybody. We were all in there at the same time. 


Jonathan: How many people was there? 


Kirk: It's 34 of us. And it was just a couple 3 volles and it was done. That was one of the most memorable hunts I believe I've ever been on in my life. And just because of who was there, we were all there at the same time. And then the second one would been the one with Robin. He called me on the phone. He said, where are you? I said, I'm at Bimeet. He said, get all your stuff and come on. I said, did you find it? He said, yeah, they're swimming in the road by the fouls. And so I said, okay, well I'm coming. So we got up there. And the first day there were so many people that you couldn't even get in at the boat ground. And the first day we didn't kill nothing. We killed like 15 or 20. It was just people everywhere. And then the second day we killed a few more. And then the third day we moved about 200 yards and we came back a third day and there was nobody at the boat ramp. And I guess everybody got mad and frustrated on that weekend. That second day, there were so many people, this guy walked up beside him. He said, Hey, y'all hunting here. I said, yes, sir. And he says, okay. He looked around, and drag his log between me and him. He says, y'all hunt on that side. We hunt on this side. I said, yes, sir. That'd be just fine. 


And that's how we hunted. And it was locked, at all the way up at boat road. I mean there are so many people, you wouldn't believe it. Before daylight, there were just lights coming from every direction. And it looked like it was some kind of invasion taking place. And it was just people coming, hunting. This guy walked out to the front of our decoys, start throwing his decoys out. I said, you going tohunt right there? He said, yeah. I said, that's awful close.He said, will duck. But then the third there wasn't anybody that showed up.


And we started shooting ducks and I called Robin on the way over here to ask him, I said, how many ducks do you think that we killed up there in that time span that we were there? He said, it was over a thousand. I said, well, that's about what I figured, but it wasn't just us. We'd hunt, shoot out. And everybody's leaving, these kids behind us waiting and they'd come up and hunt and they shoot and leave. And by the end of the morning we shot quite a few ducks. And it just added up. And it was just day after day after day, because there was no rain, no water. And that was the only water in the state.


And then the third most memorable was when we were hunting in [22:32 inaudible] and we shot all the ducks on ice when it was froze up. We went home and Arkansas was dry again. I mean, not a drop of rain. It was dust everywhere. And we had gotten this place to hunt and leased it. And it was a little 80 acre block of timber. And we went home for Christmas and came back the day after Christmas and everything was froze solid. The woods were froze six inches thick. And we were trying to figure out where we were going to hunt. Robin said, Kirk, let's just go out there on that ice and see what happens, blow your duck call. I said, Robin, ain't nothing coming through that timber. He said, well, let's just go look. I was in tennis shoes. And we walked out there in tennis shoes. I started blowing my duck call and all these duck started piling in. And they were getting on the ice, eating all these acorns that were laying on ice. And Robin said they're eating the acorns. He said, let's go get everybody. We can't hunt everybody here it's over 60 people. Well, we just shoot and shift. So I said alright. So that's what we did. We shot and shifts. And it was intense, but it was barbaric. 

 

Jonathan: Did you have to go out there a long ways?


Kirk: No. We went out there about 200 yards and [24:01 inaudible] shooting off. And there were just chunks of feathers. And there was blood and shotgun shells all over the ice. And after it was over that day. We finished up at about 4:30. We got out there about 10:30 and we just kept running people in and out. And it was just indescribable what it looked like. I was like, wow. And we did that for about seven or eight days. And the temperature came up and then the ice started to kind of give way. And water started leeching up through the trees. Where we were standing on the ice, we were pressing it down. And then we brought my boat. We busted the ice and me and Robin and his girlfriend broke a ice all the way to that shooting hole. We broke that shooting hole out and that ice was about that thick. And we broke it off. It was softened up from the temperatures. We broke it off and shoved it up on our ice. And then we hunted that little holeright there. 


Jonathan: So keep killing them? 


Kirk: Yeah. We shot them. I didn't hunt the last day. We hunted all the way up until the day before the last day. And I was so tired. Robin said we're going to come in tomorrow. I said, dude, I'm done. I'm not hunting anymore. I'm wore out. And I lived at Cheryl, so I was driving back and forth. But that cold weather, it'll take the energy out of you, but those are the top three hunts.


Jonathan: How many years did you guide, like professionally?


Kirk: About 22, doing it every day, but I guess when I first started a couple of years before that probably 24, 25 years, I was young. And I met some guys on Arkansas river. I'd been down there hunting and I'd killed my limit of ducks. And I was driving up to the ramp. I was going slow and this boat pulled up to me and these guys says, Hey, can we talk to you for a minute? I said, yeah. They said, you kill any ducks? I said, yeah, I'll killed [26:10 inaudible]. We've been hunting over here for about four days and hadn't killed anything. I said, where are y'all from? He said, South Carolina, 


Jonathan: Always South Carolina. 


Kirk: I said, well, I'm going to go hunting tomorrow if you want to go. So we went to the woods and hunt and we hunted in Snag hole and they knew Robin. And that's how I met Robin. They had Robin call me. That's how I met Robin. So Robin came next year and he showed up in a little Ramer car, had a little black duck call about that long. And the first hunt we went on, went to Lester's big hole. And we went out in a lightning storm and that's when I learned not to go duck hunting in the woods, in the lightning. And so we came back the next day and we started killing ducks, but that's how I met Robin, was through them. And they hunted with us also. Tommy and Butch, they were from Columbia, South Carolina. And I think Robin lived in [27:11 inaudible]. So that's how I met Robin.


Jonathan: When you start, I see a lot of guides start and then they get, I don't know, the clients kind of wear on them or the situation wears on them or it's just like how much work you got to put in until it wears on them. What kept you going? Like what drove you to keep doing that?


Kirk: I wanted to kill ducks. I was not in guiding for the money because there wasn't any money in it. A lot of people say, how can you not make any money? Well, after you pay all help, fix all your stuff, go out to there, eat, buy fuel, buy decoys, buy this, buy that you really ain't made a whole lot of money. But the thing that kept me going was just shooting those big groups of ducks. That's what made me go back every day.


Jonathan: I think that's always what I'm waiting on is the big group of ducks. And I don't know. Sometimes I see it. It doesn't happen a ton for me. 


Kirk: I was motivated and I wanted it that bad. I just wanted to go kill them. I love shooting into big groups of ducks and it wasn't that way for me in the beginning until I met Lester. And then when Lester showed me how to do it and kind of mentored me on it, then I could do it. And then I realized, man, I can do this. And that is what kept me going, because that's how Lester hunted. Lester mentored a lot people, a lot. He never said no to anybody. Yeah you can go, come on.


Jonathan: Would they ask him about the ramp?


Kirk: Yeah. Lester hunting with everybody and everybody hunting with Lester. And he'd say, Kirk, he says I got about eight people coming, but by the time I'd get there, it'll be 20. I said, all well, come on, we'll do it. And so I'd see him coming through the woods when we walked in, I'd see a cigarette. And I said, well, here comes Laster. And he said, well, I don't know how many of them it is, but we've got a pretty good party. We're going to kill some ducks. I said okay and I didn't care because I just wanted to hunt with him. But he just never said no to anybody. And he'd be coming up north blue line and we'd be in the snag. He always said, Kirk, y'all got anybody else? I said, no, come on, hunt with us. 


So that's the way it was. We all just hunted together. And it was like that with all of us. If we got some place and we were killing a bunch of ducks, we called everybody and said, come on. Let's shoot them. Yeah. So we wound up there in a big group and as years kind of played on that kind of ceased because everybody kind of went their owndirection. They had their own guide service or they belonged to a club and they had their own group of people. But in the beginning, once one of us found them, we all went and we all shot them. So we all shared in it.


Jonathan: Did he kind of teach you some of the little tweaks that made it not easier, but made it a little better?

 

 


Kirk: Yeah. And I didn't really understand at all until I heard it from a distance and Steve and I were hunting. We'd gone out. We got to our little spot that morning, like two hours before shooting hours, just sitting there waiting, man, we're going to shoot them. And daylight came and heard this duck call crack up from a [31:12 inaudible], crack, crack, crack, crack, crack, crack. And Steve said, well, maybe we'll get some next bunch.  Bunch after bunch that just kept flying over, going straight to that duck call.And it was Lester. And Steve said, well I'm going to wait up. I'm going to show up over in the morning and see who it is. I'll let you know. I had to go to work. So sure enough, he calls, Hey, Kirk said it's at iron worker foreman at white bluff. It's Lester caps. That's who it was.


I said, really? He said, yeah. So I was on the north blue line hunting one more. Me and Bruce and Tim, Tommy Bradshaw, A couple of us, his boat comes up a blue line. It was Lester. He said, are you Kirk? I said, yes, sir. He said,you got anybody else with you? I said, no, sir. He said, well, can we hunt with you? I said, yes, sir. Come on. Now I hid their boat for him. The man was just ecstatic. And that is where I learned how effective a cut down oak was. And Bruce says, I'll have you one of those tomorrow. So Bruce cut one down, brought it the next day. I said, man, I can't blow this thing. He said, just try it. So I did, and there was a big difference. So that is how I learned. And as I kept hunting with Lester, he was telling me, what to do and what not to do. But the big thing with him, nobody was in his league. Nobody.


Jonathan: Yeah. That's what I hear.


Kirk: He was that good?


Jonathan: Where'd he learn it, from just being out there? 


Kirk: I don't know. I think he hunted a lot. And I think he just picked it up just like everybody else did. And he hunted back in a time when there weren’t a lot of people. So he had a really good opportunity to learn. He was hunting ducks. It wasn't pressured as much. But even when there were a lot of people in Bimeet hunting and he was hunting he still shot them before anybody did.


Jonathan: Didn't matter where he was?


Kirk: No it didn't matter.


Jonathan: Did he have to be in an established shooting hole?


Kirk: He always hunted in one, when we were at a snag hole, he was in his big hole up the north blue line. And you'd hear his duck call and you'd see all those ducks just coming from a distance and hurling that hole and it got quiet. And then all those guns erupted and you're just sitting there listening to it. So we all had our time and we heard other people killing ducks and we weren't killing them and you just kind of stair step from generation to generation and you'll have your time and you do it. And while the other people are listening to you. 


Jonathan: It doesn't seem like that.


Kirk: It's how it was for us.


Jonathan: Yeah. It seems like that kind of because when I started down there, I didn't know anything, just chasing it around, trying to learn what I need to learn. People would tell me this or I happen to go into Lamberts and be like, oh.


Kirk: It's a learning process for everybody. We all go through it. And you're not going to be able to skid it. You just got to do it.


Jonathan: Did Lester have people that he learned from too?


Kirk: I don't know. We never had those conversations. I only saw his duck call a couple of times when he was blowing it. And the rest of the time it stayed in his pocket. He never took it apart. He didn't talk about it. He just blew it and hunted as it.


Jonathan: I don't know, talking about Lester Caps, there's kind of a legend and allure of people that are down in that area that have hunted down there forever. Who are some of the ones other than Lester Caps that stand out to you? 


Kirk: Like you're talking about people that hunted?


Jonathan: Yeah. Like people you hunted around or you talked to, or that you looked up to at that time.


Kirk: Well Lester hunted a lot. I saw him all the time and then Steve was down there hunting a lot and that's about all I remember, because it was dark when I got there and when I left, everybody was gone. And those, I guess if I was going to pick somebody out that are among the elite, that would've been the two right there.


Jonathan: Do you think Lester Caps could go in there today and shoot like he did?


Kirk: Oh yeah. 


Jonathan: No worries. 


Kirk: Yeah. I think that just his capabilities, you just have to see it to believe it.


Jonathan: Man. That's good stuff. There's a lot of new stuff going on over there or like thoughts, especially about like all the, I don't know, Greentree reservoir kind of changes that they're trying to do within the game of fish or they're doing within the game of fish. I guess I got a lot of, I don't know, a lot of connections up at [36:58 inaudible] and with all the things that are going on there, it's an uproar up there. Like everybody who's hunting it for so long. I mean, it's changed. Like everybody gets kind of concerned about things changing, but ducks have a tendency to go where they always went. But I don't know. What are your thoughts about the Bimeet flood basin down through there and the white river flood basin? Do you think it's going to change with some of these things that they're proposing?


Kirk: I'm not a biologist, so I don't know all the environmental things that these other guys know, like these guys that are advisors or timber specialists. But I think back to something that happened in the eighties, we had a big flood and the water stayed in the woods for a prolonged period of time. And at the time nobody realized it, but it was killing the big timber and it killed off so much timber, it was like, there were dead trees everywhere and it wasn't just like a year or two deal. That die off lasted for 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, maybe 10 years. And there were big dead logs laying everywhere. And so the reason I bring that up is, as they're talking about this management plan, which I don't know much about it. 


But I would say that you have to have some kind of management plan to deal with the water as best as possible to where it doesn't stay on for a prolonged period of time. Because if you keep the woods flooded, I mean, big wind storms come through and they blow those big trees over. And a tornado blows them over, maybe prolonged water kills a certain species of trees more than others. But I remember that die off. And the whole time that we were seeing those big trees laid over, I was thinking, man that's timber that's been wasted. It fell because of Mother Nature or it fell because we were keeping the water on for a long time. So I don't know if it was a river that kept it up. It may have been, but that water stayed up in those woods until June. And it was full pool. There was a lot of water there. 


And we also had a flood that year. And the flood was so intense that you could not get to lower valor. You had to put in at long pond. And we put in at long pond and drove over to valor. And there used to be a little Oak tree right in the middle of the parking lot. You may remember. And I got out by that Oak tree in the middle of the parking lot and the water [40:06 inaudible]. Tommy said, Kirk, we can't drive in. The valor [40:12 inaudible] to long pond. I said, alright. He was in a four wheel drive. He tried to make a turnaround.


Jonathan: How many times has that happen?


Kirk: Maybe twice, one year, probably it was the same year. We were hunting off of deer stands in the center hole and we shot ducks off of deer stands. And Frank Bowers his dad owns that piece of property right there at the spillway that corn Nesbit Bowers he's passed away. Frank was hunting with us and he had mentioned, he said, I don't ever remember water being this big. And his dad had been down there for a long time. Alot longer than any of us had.


So the management plan, I mean, I don't know, if you're going to have good timber shoot, you're going to have to manage your woods. And a lot of people say, well, we don't need to cut this. We don't need to cut that. But the deal is Harley Gill made a really good point one time. He said, if you going to have good timber, you got to get rid of the old timber to let the young timber come on. That made sense to me. So I know that Arkansas game fish commission as a really good director now. And from what I understand, he's open minded about a lot of stuff. So maybe there's a good decision process right there.


Jonathan: I hope so because it's putting a lot in their hands. I mean all this history, like people talk to me about cutting trees just makes me cringe, but I know with good reason, it's necessary.


Kirk: Well, they did a clearing on that block of timber [41:59 inaudible] on the lower white. They went in there and cut all those trees down. And I mean, there was just tree tops laying everywhere. And Lester called me on the phone that night. He said, Hey, he said, you want to kill some ducks in the morning? I said, yeah. He says, okay,meet me at the wild goose store. I said, okay. So I met him and Chester there. And so we drove into the lower unit, went up this gravel road. Chester said, this is where we're going hunt. And I had a 12 foot boat. He said, we got to cross this ditch in that 12 foot boat. I said, okay, there'sabout 10 of us. And so we crossed the ditch and Lester was the one and there was about six people in this 12 foot boat.


And there was about that much freeboard and Lester jumped on it. And it went across the ditch and sunk and everybody got out right there. And we walked out into this thicket of trees that were treetops that had just recently been cut. And I said, this is where we're hunting. He says, yeah. And we shot 10 limits in about 30 minutes. And I told Chester. I said, I would've never dreamed that we would shoot ducks in this. He said, it don't matter where the Lester hunts he's going to kill them. But I mean, I haven't kept up with it. So that's just one thing to think about right there. 


Jonathan: I feel like I've been to some of the areas around where they selectively cut stuff. They keep coming back.


Kirk: Potlatch, cut all the good timber out up at white river. And the year that they cut it, was one of the best duck seasons I can ever remember. But as far as me knowing what the right thing to do is, is I don't really know. But got to have good timber to kill.


Jonathan: No doubt. Yeah. I got to just put my faith in the process. Hope it turns out, but it seems like it will. It seems like it will, but nobody likes change.


Kirk: No, nobody does. The older you get, the more resistant you are to it. And one of my coworkers kind of put it to me, he said, well, Kirk, he said, we can either change or be dinosaurs. What are we going to do? I said,we're going to change. So that's what I got to say about that.


Jonathan: I like it. I like it. I don't know. So I don't know. I'm thinking in my mind, you talk about it being, it seems like just as many people then as it is now, would you say there's more people now down there?


Kirk: Yeah. I mean I would say there are more people there now because people just tent or hunting in larger groups than what they used to be.  And 30 years ago there wasn't many people down there hunting with 17, 18 people in a group. And now it seemed like everybody's hunting with 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 people. And in the seventies, I guess it was maybe mid seventies in that 70 range, there was estimated 1.9 million duck hunters in the United States. And in 2020, I think it was 900,000. And then it went up to just over a million. But I think that the fact that all these areas are popular and all these people congregate there, it just makes it seem like maybe the perception is there are just too many people that hunt. But there was a lot of people hunting in the eighties. I can remember 200 trucks in the parking lot. I can remember the boat ramp at white river. There was no place to park. You were parking up by the convenience store. And that was in the late eighties, early nineties. So I think it just fluctuates. Everybody says, oh man, we shot 10 lambs. Oh man we shot 20 lambs. And everybody goes, everybody shows up.


Jonathan: Yeah. I don't know. It goes back to the good old days kind of thing. Like it's right now. Just got to keep going.


Kirk: Yeah, it is. You're not going to be able to go back 20 years and have it like it used to be, technology's not going to allow it. So my belief is today's as good as we're going to get because that's all we got. So today's a day we're hunting. Today's a good day. We get finished today. Then we'll worry about tomorrow, look forward to it. 


Jonathan: I like it. Yeah. Everybody talks about it, but I think just as fun now. It's always been for me anyway. Do you think the ducks have changed using the woods down there a whole lot since when you were in there? 


Kirk: Yeah. I think, I don't think they're instinct or those biological things that I don't really, their anatomy, I don't think any of that's changed, but I think it has changed by the changes that occurred there over a long period of time. And I still go back to Hollow Wells. When Hollow Wells was cleared, that was a huge change. And those ducks came to that reservoir. When I was in high school, all the dads took their sons hunting and we'd say we want to go to Hollow Wells. We killed a bunch of ducks. And in my neighborhood on Saturday, everybody was picking ducks in their backyard on the street that I lived on because their dads took them to Hollow Wells and everybody was going from jumping the fence, going up and down the alley seeing who shot what? And that's when we were in high school.


Jonathan: Where was that at?


Kirk: Pine Bluff? I lived on 24th street, James and John and them be down there. They'd clean their ducks and they'd burn all the pin feathers off of them. What did y'allkill? We killed 10 [48:46 inaudible] all off Hollo Wells


Jonathan: Why did they cut that?


Kirk: Well they started that moist soil project and they built that research center there. And then they cleared Hollow Wells off and [49:04 inaudible] it for this moist soil project. And I guess unless you saw what it was, you wouldn't understand it. But if you saw what it was, you would understand. If you ever hunted it, you would understand it. But it was just, there were so many ducks going into that thing, it was unbelievable. And you couldn't shoot them out of it.

 

It used to could hunt it and then they allowed 25 people hunting it and then they shut it down, I think to weekends only. And then they shut it down to the last three days of duck season. And when they hunted that thing, the last three days of duck season, those ducks came across those trees in Bimeet by waves.


Jonathan: Would the ducks just fall in?


Kirk: Yeah, they came right across the trees by the thousands. And just whack, whack, whack. Any kind of duck call they came right in the hole and you shoot. It was unbelievable. In fact, the last three days of duck season, we were poised and ready and we were in a snag hole and that was our latter years in high school. And then right after we graduated high school, where are we going? We're going snag hole. Last three days. You're going to shoot Hollow Wells. Thousands and thousands of ducks came across those trees,


Jonathan: I don't know. Snag hole was kind of special to me. I'm sure it's super special to you. That was like my best ducking was in Snag. 


Kirk: One of the most consistent shooting holes in that region in the United State and that region in Arkansas, just because of where it's located. Position, that's everything.


Jonathan: Perfect. Now that everybody's blowing cut down calls, do you think it's changed how the ducks respond to them?


Kirk: I don't think it's changed how the ducks respond to them, but I think that when there was only one or two or three or four people blowing cut downs, it made a difference. But nobody really knew anything about, we kept that quiet. We didn't say much about, I'd go I just got one and it was kinda like our secret weapon. And then other people started figuring it out and then they started using them. And so, I mean, I don't know. I think the thing that's changed, how duck act more is just by the advantage that human species has, by the technology that is available to hunt them, like what we didn't have back then. 


I mean, you got all kind of electronics. You got battery powered stuff, battery powered decoys. We didn't have any of that. In fact when Robin and I were talking on the phone today, I said, all we had was our duck calls. He said, yeah, we were just duck hunting. We didn't have all that fancy stuff. We didn't have anything. We had decoys, duck calls and that's it. But I don't think the cut downs have changed the way they act. I think that the management process in a huge grand scheme of things has changed up their direction, where they used to go, yeah, they don't go anymore. They're going here. And I'm a firm believer that the private land guys that are managing their areas for waterfall are doing a very good job of it.


Jonathan: Yeah. Some of that stuff between [53:11 inaudible] and Oak is for real. There are some ducks there. 


Kirk: And they're holding ducks on their areas because it's not getting overshot. They got a time limit when they start and quit and they got a certain number of people that are going to hunt. And I guess maybe when they think things are thinning down, they kind of thin down there hunting as well. Plus they got water and they got the food deal figured out. They do a really good job of managing for waterfowl. So anytime, I guess when you have a large amount of ducks on your place or somebody new pops up and they're getting ducks or those ducks are leaving from another place coming to that place. So, I mean, I'm not sure about that, but that's just my opinion of it.


Jonathan: Yeah. Everybody has their thoughts on it, it seems. Wherever, a little environment you're in, be it the public woods or the private land deal or up near [54:19 Hurricane] or whatever. Everybody's got this different thought on what's going on and the food and cutting the trees. And I don't know, we just gotto have a little faith that they'll keep coming here. So back when you were guiding quite a bit, how was the enforcement, was it pretty intense?


Kirk: It didn't start off that way, but it got intense. And in the early eighties, we'd see a game warden get checked, maybe once or twice a week. And it was, let's see your license okay guys, we'll see, y'all later, have a good time. And it was usually one guy. And every once in a while they'd be in the woods and they'd walk up to you, check everybody and they were pretty cordial and they'd let you know, they were coming, Hey, we're going to come in, is that okay? Yeah, y'all come on. They didn't ask if it's okay. They were just making sure it was safe for them to come in. And they'd come in and check us and they'd be on their way.


And then I guess, as the guiding deal kind of intensified and enforcement intensified, and then they formed the waterfowl task force, and that was an intense deal there. And there was a major presence of enforcement, generally seven days a week until the season was over and there was nothing cordial about it. They pointed to you, come right here and we're going to check you and went through everything. We had bags, packs, counter shotgun shells looked at every shell we had. And when they came to the hole, they just came right in the hole. You stopped, they stopped your hunt, checked everything you had, whether it took them 30 minutes or an hour, went through everything that you had. 


And I was coming in one morning and we had been on Arkansas River hunting and we came to hunt by [56:39 inaudible] in the afternoon. And so we took the ducks that we shot and we kept them with us. And so we were going to go to Bimeet and finish out our limit. And so we're coming in that afternoon about 4 o'clock and this game warden wades out in the ditch and holds his badge up and was pointing for me to come right there. So there were two boats of us. We pulled up there, he said y'allhunting this afternoon. I said, yes, sir. There were two game wardens. And he said, well, how many ducks you got? I said right here. And I said, we're not limited out. He says, y'all didn't hunt this morning. I said, yes, sir we hunt this morning. He said, what'd you do with those ducks? I said, they're laying right there. He says, oh, you still got them with you? I said, yes. I said, they're counted as our daily limit. 


We just came here to try to finish up. He said, well, I don't know if I believe you. Well, the other game warden that was standing beside him had checked me at the river at the boat ramp. I didn't say anything. And so that game warden said, yeah, I checked him at the river. He's telling the truth. He said, he's got the same ducks I looked at this morning. We had some [57:56 shovelers]. And he says, okay. He said, well, let me check y'all's guns and stuff. So he went through everything we had. He said, I don't believe you, but I'm going to let you go anyway. So we went on and I don't know what it was, but it was coming from higher up for those guys to be aggressive. And most people won't say this, but they profiled the guys that were guide. And they singled us out over everybody. And I can remember getting checked three times in one morning, many mornings by the same game warden


Same one, came in the hole and checked us, checked us, coming through the woods and checked us again at the boat ramp. And I said, man, we've already been checked twice. He said, well, I'm checking you again. I said, alright. But in a way, you know, it kind of played to our advantage because of all those times we got checked all those years we only had one violation and it was one of my hunters had forgot to put a plug in his shotgun.


Jonathan: That's a good run that you went that long.


Kirk: But I mean, we were like, the night before when they got there, we went to everybody, made sure their guns were plugged, make sure they had their license, make sure the stamps were signed. And when we shot ducks in the woods, everybody had their ducks in their possession. We didn't have them stacked along a log while we were hunting out. When we took a picture, we would stack them up, put them on a log. But everybody had their ducks in their possession and we were checked in [59:54 inaudible] one time by the US fish and wild life service. That wasn't a check, that was a raid. 


Jonathan: And they know you were in there.

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