Guiding waterfowl hunts is a business built on demand. It’s the demands of the hunters to enjoy a safe, yet successful hunt. Successful guides separate themselves from their competition by going the extra mile to insure a hunt that derives satisfaction. A satisfied customer is a happy customer, and in the guiding business a happy customer can and ultimately will determine the success of your outfitting business. A local guy here in the Mississippi delta took the time here recently to share some stories of his past seasons. The limits of greenheads, the long walks, and the excitements of the hunters were shared as we sat around the kitchen table reminiscing. When a grin slowly creped across his face, I knew the next hunt he shared would be like none before it.
It was late December. A cold front had just pushed in from the north, and from all reports most and any open water had been frozen over. The cold weather had not only brought down more flying fowl, but also had brought in his next group of customers. Excited about the temperatures, the conversation was quite lively in his lodge that evening. Talk of ice busting, gun shouldering, and heart pounding excitement was heard clearly from each hunter. All the hunters hoped that the following morning would bring bags of mallards, good times, and memories that could be shared in future conversations. As the guide made his way through and met every hunter, his phone began to ring. Answering the phone, he had no idea what would follow the next morning.
Word of the guide’s hunts had spread near and far and when the team of the father and son had all but given up, they called in hopes an opening may be present. As luck would have it, the guide had made plans to hunt a cypress brake close by, and for the few times that season, had planned to hunt alone. The father explained his situation. He and his son had traveled from Georgia in high hopes of decoying mallards. They had made the long trip and 3 consecutive hunts without firing a shot. Thoughts of disappointing the father and son team, the guide obliged their request and asked them to meet at the local convenience store. Even though he had planned to hunt alone, showing these boys from Georgia what could happen in the timber and to see their excitement prompted him to put their wants over his.
Like many mornings in the guiding business, the next morning came early. At 4:30 his alarm sounded and up and on his feet the guide went. Walking into to every room and waking his customers, the hassle of motivating people began. Constantly trying to get them dressed, get them loaded, and get them heading toward their hunt, the guide spent most of the early hours on the heels of his hunters. To say that people readily and eagerly jump out of bed to participate in a hunt would be an understatement. The truth is, some want to go as bad as the next, but have a hard time leaving their warm bed. As the guide said, “Hunting with them is the easy part, getting them there is a whole different story.”
Constantly watching the clock and remembering his deadline to meet the father and son team, getting the hunters motivated began to increase the stress of the guide. Finally, after all morning of motivating, the hunters made their way with their different guides to enjoy their hunts. 15 minutes late to meet the father and son, the outfitter lit out like a dog after a cat. Slinging gravel and dust, the guide didn’t waste much time.
Luckily, the timber hole in which he had planned to hunt was a late morning affair. Even so, meeting the father and son, and doing the preparation work of tossing decoys and hiding in the right places still had to be done. Pulling up to the gas station, there in the parking lot was the eager man with his son riding shotgun. Without saying much of anything, other than who he was, he simple asked them to follow him and hit the road once again. Heading out, and trying to hurry, the sun broke the horizon across the far eastern sky. Looking at the golden rays as they shined across the landscape, he made his last turn and barely putting the truck in park began the business of getting dressed. Quickly jumping in his waders, tossing the decoys over his shoulder, and sliding into the frigid water, the only comment he made was simple “Follow my light”.
Never as much as an introduction had occurred between the hunters and the guide. Although he wished to meet and greet, the team wanted to hunt, and he was planning on helping them fulfill their goal on that trip. 75 yards had to be covered and covered quickly. Even though the flooded timber was still as dark as a moonless night, he new that getting there quickly would determine the outcome of the gentleman from Georgia’s hunt.
Standing quite tall at 6 foot 5 inches, the guide made his way stepping over the fallen sticks and underbrush. With his light turned around backwards for his hunters to follow, finding his way in the dark canopy became quite the task. Limps slapped his face as he made his way through the brush, and with the water barely at his knee’s, the complaint of the hunters following in his trail made him stop cold. In the dark timber, behind him, was the father and son team. Stopping to make sure what he heard was not a fathom of his imagination, he quickly heard the response again, “The water’s coming over my waders.” Looking down at the water barely over his knee caps, and thinking to himself, he quickly turned around.
There in the beam of his light was the son, and indeed, with water going over his waders. At first thought, the guide figured he had fallen, but he quickly realized he was mistaken. Through the years as a guide, he has had the pleasure to guide movie stars, singers, and other interesting people. He had never in 10 years of guiding, had a ‘small person’ with a desire to duck hunt in his mist. Truth be told, it was the first ‘midget’ that the man and ever laid his eye’s on. Blinking with astonishment the guide looked on quite concerned. Noticing the concern over the guides face, the father made the comment that they could go no further. Water flowing over his waders, the young man quickly erased that thought as he calmly said “I came to shoot me a duck and high water or not, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Turning back around and looking at the distance to be covered and the obstacles that they faced, he hurriedly returned to the young man standing in the water. Handing the father his and the son’s shotguns, he quickly switched his bag of decoys to one shoulder. Reaching down, he grabbed the young man by his wader straps, and slung him over his other shoulder. Regaining his balance, they headed on. Each step took skill, and a true desire to get that father and son team their trophy.
The light at end of the tunnel, was for this father, son, and guide an old beaver lodge. Sitting in the midst of the cypress brake and perfectly camouflaged by the canopy, it was an anonymous decision that the young man could sit there and participate in the hunt. Heaving the man atop the pile of sticks and brush, the guide turned his direction on the decoys, the sky, and the hunt that would soon take place. Tossing out each decoy and constantly thinking of what had just taken place, the guide couldn’t anticipate what else would happen that morning. The father by a tree, the son on top of the lodge, and the guide easing his way back to hide, all the hunters stood at the ready.
The walk in with the young man over his shoulder was worth every minute as the first mallard fell into the hole. Quickly shouldering his 20 gauge and swinging the barrel toward the falling mallard, the young man made a perfect shot. His father soon proceeded to follow up on the next, and even the guide got into the action. Mallards, teal, and gadwall all fell through the canopy to meet their demise from the father and son team. Looking at the smiles from the father and son, the guide made the comment as he slowly looked up from the dinner table “There are some things in life that are just priceless.”
Answering the phone call, allowing the team to take part in his hunt, and carrying the young man through the timber, the guide was quite humble to say “It isn’t always about the kill.” The father and son had driven for hours, had hunted for days, without any notion to even shoulder their guns. Allowing them to fulfill their dream, and collect on their sought after trophy, was worth more than any amount of time alone that the guide was seeking. The determined young man, the supporting father, and the willingness of the guide all came into play on the hunt in the timber. In life, you may be asked to carry someone; you may ask yourself why I should be the one. Like the guide, you may find helping another through the deep water, may bring a smile on both of your faces.
Written By: Tom Hunt