I suppose it’s normal, when you get older, to revisit more frequently those special times and events that define who you are. One such activity that put an indelible mark on my life will seem insignificant to some who never experienced it, nor would they care to. I’ll explain.
When I was growing up on the rural route near Goldonna in Natchitoches Parish, hunting in fall and winter was as natural then as driving through the Burger Doodle for a burger and fries is today. There were neither deer nor turkeys to hunt in the woods where I grew up but beeches and oaks growing along the creek banks harbored plenty of squirrels. For real excitement, I knew I could head down to the slough and more than likely, I’d be able to get a shot at a few wood ducks.
I’m not sure if in the 1950s, I knew the proper name of wood ducks, the colorful little ducks that made their living in the sloughs and back waters down in Saline swamp. They were simply “squealers,” deriving their name, I assume, from the high-pitched call they made as they careened through the timber on their way to shallow areas in the swamp to feed.
From the time I was old enough to tag along with my dad, we hunted squealers practically every morning before school. In no way did our early morning squealer hunts resemble duck hunting today. There were no blinds; no decoys; no dogs; no calls. We gathered at dawn with other fathers and sons to pass-shoot squealers at the Sand Flats, a narrow spit of sand dotted with blackjack oaks that lay on the east side of Saline Bayou.
For as long as I can remember, wood ducks flew across the Sand Flats after leaving their roost on their way to a feeding area. I’d like to think that they still fly the same route today. I’m sure they flew across other areas along Saline, but since blackjack oaks don’t grow tall, the ducks generally flew lower over the Sand Flats.
I don’t recall killing very many squealers on these early morning forays, but the anticipation that I might was temptation enough to prod a teenager from a warm bed, morning after morning, for less than half an hour of wing-shooting action.
As I grew older, we took squealer hunting to another level. Instead of shooting for half an hour at the Sand Flats, we pulled on hip boots and drove as far as the old truck would take us down into the swamp, down to where Fordoche Creek spilled out of its banks across the lowlands under the hardwoods to create a shallow green-tree reservoir.
Just about every morning during Christmas vacation from college, I’d join my brother, my dad, and two cousins to wade out into an old brake where squealers came to feed. On rare occasions, a mallard or two would drop in but for the most part, wood ducks were all we saw.
A couple of years ago, I was privileged to relive this experience once again when I joined three other members of our hunting club before daylight for a squealer hunt. One member had seen ducks pouring into a particular portion of our flooded woods several days in a row while he sat on his deer stand.
On this particular morning, we gave the deer a rest, pulled on waders, laid aside deer rifles and picked up shotguns. We splashed our way to the flooded woods, spread out 75 yards or so apart and were waiting when the first “whee-o-wee” echoed through the flooded oaks.
The shooting was fast and furious and within 45 minutes, it was over. We collected seven squealers, one short of a two-bird-per-hunter limit and were back at camp by the time the sun broke over the horizon.
For a few fun-filled exciting minutes, I was down on the old brake with my brother and cousins, waiting in flooded timber at daybreak, listening for the first squealer to announce its arrival. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a hunting experience more. On second thought, maybe I do. Perhaps it was the last time I shot squealers down on the old brake back home.
Contact Glynn at GlynnHarris37@gmail.com