When the duck boat leaves the dock and slips into the cypress swamps on Beaver Dam Lake, parting the murky green waters and snaking through a maze of tree trunks on a route discernable only to the driver who passes this way daily, it’s almost like stepping back in time. The sense of history, of reverence, of being in a place the greatest waterfowlers of the past have treasured and celebrated, is palpable. It’s clear; this is no ordinary duck hole.
No, this is Beaver Dam, a sprawling 1,500-acre lake not far from the banks of the Mississippi River in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway. This is as Southern as it gets in American duck hunting, from the 4 a.m. biscuits and gravy at the legendary Blue & White Café to the flat fertile land of the surrounding Delta.
Beaver Dam is, of course, the legendary stomping grounds and beloved duck club of arguably waterfowling’s most beloved author, Nash Buckingham. Buckingham, author of nine books and innumerable magazine articles from the early 1900s through the 1960s, lived to hunt and pursued all types of game. But his writing showed a clear fondness for ducks and quail.
In Nash’s day, Beaver Dam was managed by caretakers Horace and Molly Miller, made famous in many of Nash’s stories — most notably “De Shootinest Gent’man,” which is told almost entirely in Horace’s words. Buckingham’s father was one of the first members of the club, and Nash spent years riding the train down from Memphis to hunt Beaver Dam all weekend. In fact, he spent the last duck hunt of his life here, in 1968, at the age of 88.
Today, Beaver Dam is privately owned and only one guide has access to the lake: Mike Boyd of Beaver Dam Hunting Services. Mike’s grandfather purchased two parcels of land on the northwest corner of the lake in 1949, and the family has lived on and farmed the land ever since. Mike and his son Lamar, a young fellow who appears to have been born with a duck call in his hand, guide approximately 300 hunters a year on Beaver Dam.
I spent two days hunting with the Boyds in January 2011. The hunting is classic, even old-school, but not without modern amenities. We would slip into the duck boat before dawn and meander through the cypress trees until we arrived at the blind — a massive permanent structure situated in a perfect-sized duck hole. There are benches, and gun rests, and a stove, and a constantly running coffee pot. To the right, Lamar peers out the side of the blind and handles most of the calling. An array of Avery and Mojo decoys are sprawled out in front — not too many, because ducks don’t drop here in massive flocks, but in groups of two to about a dozen. A high-tech panel inside the blind lights up with dozens of bulbs and switches, all of which serve to control the motion decoys. We settle in, load our guns and wait for first light.
And there it is. Dawn breaks, and a group of gadwalls circles us for a better look. I finger my safety nervously, waiting, watching …
Sure enough, they cup up and drop into the decoys and are met with a volley of gunfire. The blind has burlap “windows” for each hunter to shoot through, so we all have our own shooting lane, and the ducks hit the water. Before long they are joined by more ducks, most of whom are doomed to the same fate. We shoot a seven-man limit by 8:45 and take off for more of those famous biscuits and gravy.
Ducks literally flock to Beaver Dam for its abundance of food — coontail moss, along with duckweed, draws lots of ducks — and 2011 was an exceptionally good year. The Boyds and their clients killed 2,175 ducks in the 2010/2011 season. “Beaver Dam is one of a handful of those super special places on the duck map,” says Mike. “I’ve never seen a place that you can pound day after day after day with good success like this place offers.”
You’ll shoot mostly gadwalls, mallards and the occasional wood duck here, and be prepared to limit out early. After a morning duck hunt, try a round of sporting clays or a quail hunt at The Willows at the Grand Casino in nearby Tunica, Miss. Mike and Lamar have a new mobile-home-style lodge that will accommodate six hunters, or you can stay at one of the hotel/casinos in Tunica. I stayed at Harrah’s and was surprised I could march through the lobby of a fairly upscale hotel while wearing muddy waders and carrying a (cased) shotgun without so much as raising any eyebrows.
When you hunt with the Boyds, they’ll provide the guide, the caller, the blind, decoys, retriever, boats and ATVs. Darker camo patterns such as Natural Gear or Avery Buck Brush are recommended, but other than that, just bring your guns and shells and appropriate licenses, and you’re set. A seven-day, non-resident Mississippi hunting license will cost you around $125, and you’ll need a state waterfowl stamp for $15, and, of course, your federal duck stamp.
Nash Buckingham’s spirit is still alive in the boom of an old over/under and the soft echo of distant quacks at dusk. Think you’ve done it all in the world of waterfowling? Try stepping back in time and getting back to duck hunting’s roots. This Southern-style hunt should be on any duck hunter’s bucket list.
P.O. Box 983
Tunica, MS 38676