For 23 Arkansas youngsters, Christmas came twice this winter.
The second time, these kids wore camouflage, had streaks of black face paint and displayed big smiles along with a number of ducks they had shot.
They were the participants in the fourth Muddy Bayou YoungGunz Youth Hunt. This is a project spearheaded by waterfowl enthusiast Cody Alberson of McCrory. It focuses on boys and girls ages 8 through 15 who don’t otherwise have chances to go duck hunting.
On the hunt, each of the young people is with an adult volunteer. But before the hunt comes a Christmas-like receiving of gifts. The kids are each outfitted from head to toe in clothing and gear, mostly from Drake Waterfowl, a company that is one of several sponsors of the YoungGunz Youth Hunt.
The youngsters assembled at the Woodruff County Fairgrounds in Patterson, between Augusta and McCrory. The participated in the use of duck calls, and they did some shooting. For some, it is a first time experience in using a shotgun. One lucky kid went home with a new shotgun, acquired as winner of a random drawing.
For the two days of hunting, the results were mixed for the 23 young people just as it often is dor any Arkansas duck hunt. Some had ducks come in within shooting range. Some did not. Some kids missed shots at ducks. Some hit and downed ducks. That black face paint they wore had a purpose It lessened the duck-scaring sight of upturned faces near the decoys.
Dakota Phillips of Wynne is just 9 years old, and he smiled as he held up a greenhead, a male mallard. "I was the only one (in his group) to get a duck this morning."
Daniel Gaddy of McCrory was one of the adult mentors of the young hunters, and he related a bit of a different reason for his group coming up shorthanded. "We had ducks in front of us, but then two bald eagles showed up, and that was the end of the ducks in our place."
Three girls were among the 23 young people participating, and all three held their own in the calling, the shooting and the general kid-like interchanges of the two-day event.
Madison Reeves lives at McCrory, close to many of the adult volunteers, so duck hunt talk was not new to her. Hanna Carroll of Jonesboro and Katie Nelson of Colt both had experience at deer hunting, and both with success in that activity, before coming to the youth duck hunt.
Austin Reeves of McCrory downed a duck and said he fired two shots. Most of the ducks taken by the young people were mallards, with a few teal added to the bags. The hunting was in the bottoms near the Cache River and Bayou deView – some traditional good Arkansas duck hunting areas.
At the end of the hunt, the kids and the volunteers gathered in a fairgrounds building and dove into hot vegetable beef soup, grilled cheese sandwiches and fruit punch or water.
The adult volunteers come from various areas. , Many are rice and soybean farmers in the east-central Arkansas area. Gaddy said, "When we get finished with the crops, it is time for hunting – deer hunting and duck hunting."
Cody Alberson, the driving force behind this endeavor, smiled. He saw the smiles around him. He felt another success. And he wished for more.
"More funding will let us get more kids into this," Alberson said.
The young participants are chosen from nominations by duck hunters, organizations or just anyone who knows of a boy or girl with an interest in duck hunting and lacking the means to carry out that interest.
Alberson can be reached by telephone at 870-351-0833 or online at www.muddybayouyounggunz.org.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.