DEWITT - Jokes and feathers flew last Saturday as the 16-gauge Shotgun Appreciation Society held its third Purple Hull Duck Hunt at Mill Bayou.
Jess "The Undertaker" Essex, a funeral director in DeWitt and the Arkansas County deputy coroner, organizes and manages the Purple Hull hunts. He christened the first two events last year, which are named for the 16-gauge's distinctive purple hulls. The club so far consists of Essex, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Glen Chase, Jim Rowe of Stuttgart, Andy Lock of DeWitt and me. Connie Meskimen, a Little Rock attorney whose membership application is still pending, participated in the second Purple Hull hunt last year but incurred Essex's ire by smuggling a "yella hull" gun, a 20-gauge, into the proceedings.
Chase, who owns our most extensive collection of 16-gauges, earned Essex's admiration last year by using a 16-gauge Browning Citori. He also awed Essex with undoubtedly the most distinctive duck calling style in Arkansas.
"I dearly long to hear Glen Chase call ducks again," Essex wrote in an e-mail when he organized this latest hunt.
George Cochran, who has never met Chase, has several times mentioned hearing Chase call at Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area. It can't be duplicated. I have tried. I'll bet Essex has tried, too, but he would never admit it.
As the horizon paled in the gathering dawn, Essex, Chase, Lock and I piled into Essex's boat and fidgeted impatiently as Essex struggled with a balky surface drive motor. After multiple stops and starts, we finally reached the blind. Essex eased the boat into its "garage," and we took our seats.
Essex, as usual, brought his Stevens Model 311 side-by-side. Chase brought an Ithaca Model 37 with a Poly-Choke, and I brought a Browning Sweet 16. Lock brought a Stevens single-shot 16 that he bought especially for this occasion.
After arranging his gear, Essex extracted a slingshot and a jar full of marbles from his bag.
"What's up with the slingshot?" I asked.
"It's a retriever homing device." Essex said.
My quizzical expression encouraged him to continue.
"It's a pretty big expanse of water, and a duck has a lot of room to fall," Essex continued. "If the dog is on the wrong track, Andy shoots these marbles, and the dog follows the splashes to the bird."
Green-winged teal were our first visitors at legal shooting time. They came in large and small flocks, but we didn't shoot at them because we expected bigger ducks to arrive later.
"Mallards generally arrive sometime around 9 (a.m.)," Essex said.
Between flocks, we discussed guns. Essex was especially interested in Chase's Poly-Choke, an adjustable device that opens or constricts the bore opening by twisting a knurled collet.
"What does it choke to?" Essex asked.
"From open cylinder to super full," Chase said in his thick Maine brogue. "It works, too. It's not as exact as screw-in chokes, but it's pretty close."
The Ithaca 37, a pump gun, is a more complicated design than a Remington 870 or Browning BPS. To disassemble an 870 or BPS, unscrew the magazine end cap and remove the forearm and barrel. That's all there is to it.
A Model 37 is built more a Model 12 Winchester, except that it feeds and ejects from the bottom. Chase demonstrated the procedure, but he forgot that the magazine end cap is pressurized by the magazine spring. When the final twist cleared the cap from the threads, the spring punched the cap skyward. It came down on the seaward side of the blind.
It was dead silent for a minute until I said, "I didn't hear it hit the water."
Miraculously, the cap was wedged in the brush in front of the blind. Chase positioned his hat underneath the cap to catch the cap when I dislodged it. With that, the gunsmithing session ended.
Eventually the teal quit flying and were replaced by gadwalls and wigeons. Two wigeons buzzed the decoys, and I bagged a hen with one round of 15/16-ounce Federal steel. The gadwalls were more tentative.
"Don't worry about them. They'll be back," Essex said. "I believe gadwalls have got to be the most indecisive duck there is. Their day consists mostly of going from this spot to that spot and back to this spot again, never remembering where they've been."
A couple of gadwalls swooped too low and too close, and we added them to the strap, as well.
Peppering these appearances were small flights of ringnecked ducks. They got plenty close, but they flew so fast that they were usually gone before we could react.
"You have to commit early if you want those, and you have to lead them the length of a schoolbus," Essex said.
He recalled one hunt long ago in which ringnecks came in small waves. An older gentleman had a grand time with them.
"He shot one ringneck stone cold dead," Essex said. "He leaned back and laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world. "It happened again, and he gave out another big ol' belly laugh. And then it happened again, and he laughed longer and louder."
Finally, someone asked the gentleman what was so darned funny.
"Because I haven't hit a single one that I was shooting at," he bellowed.
During the downtime, Essex regaled us with tales of his time on the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Sea Devil.
It was well after 9 a.m. when the first and only really foolish pair of mallards gave us a look. We were so shocked that we all fixed our muzzles on the drake and filled the air with steel. The bird departed unscathed, and it was our last chance at greatness.
Our day ended with two gadwalls, two wigeons, one ringneck and a northern shoveler.
Time expired. Essex had to leave to attend a funeral, and I had to cover the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart, but not before convening in DeWitt for the world's best chicken salad sandwich at a popular downtown establishment.
There the seeds were sown for the next Purple Hull adventure.
Sports on 12/03/2017
Print Headline: Purple hull convention