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story.lead_photo.caption Shastid (from left) Dakota Falcon and Eli Holden head back to a blind on a private pond near the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. The blind is set up for kids with a box of snacks by the door. - Photo by Flip Putthoff

Duck hunting in February is all about the kids.

Adults can hunt with youngsters 15 and under on youth waterfowl hunting day, held this year on Feb. 3. They can call ducks and offer encouraging words, but only the kids can shoulder a shotgun and shoot ducks and geese.

Going public

Public duck hunting is available at several wildlife management areas around the state. Duck hunting is allowed on the public shoreline of Beaver Lake, except in the developed parks.

Arkansas’ duck season usually opens close to Thanksgiving and ends in late January.

Source: Staff report

Four young waterfowlers stepped into a duck blind situated at the edge of an oval pond west of Bentonville. It'd be an hour before the first rays of daylight washed over the sizable pond, decoys and wooden duck blind. Joe Falcon adjusted a headlamp on his camouflage stocking cap, ready to supervise the quartet of boys on this last hunt of duck season.

The chilly, windless Saturday was youth waterfowl hunting day all right, but nearly every Saturday is a youth hunt at this pond close to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Falcon, of Bentonville, hosts boys and girls and their families on duck hunts all through Arkansas' duck season.

The regular duck season starts around Thanksgiving and runs through the end of January, with the youth hunt held a week later. A youth waterfowl hunt is also held near the start of the season.

Going to the blind with Falcon is the only chance a lot of the youngsters will have to give hunting a try. Many have never shouldered a shotgun or crawled out of bed at 4 a.m. for any activity, much less a duck hunt.

Falcon, a former Arkansas Razorbacks track athlete, is coach and mentor in the comfortable blind made of scrap lumber and tin. It's safety first and always. Youth model, 20-gauge shotguns are available for kids to shoot who don't have a gun to bring along. It's still dark as Falcon talks safety and tells kids what to expect when the ducks fly in.

He's quick to thank a generous landowner who lets Falcon host the hunts on this private property.

On this particular Saturday, the four boys in the blind were all seasoned duck hunters. Falcon's son, Dakota Falcon, 15, sat on one end of a wood bench in the duck blind. His friends Colby Shastid, 15, Colby's brother Jacob Shastid, 12 and Eli Holden, 14, rounded out the group.

A flock of six wigeons got the show started when legal shooting time arrived 30 minutes before sunrise. Ducks floated in on cupped wings to a volley of pop-pop-pop from four shotguns.

Magnum, Falcon's black Labrador retriever, quaked in the blind until Falcon gave a command. Then Magnum did a dog's version of a polar-bear plunge, leaping into the icy water and dog-paddling to the three ducks. The wigeons floated on their backs, webbed feet pointed skyward.

"That's great shooting there boys!," Falcon hollered.

Back in the blind, the hunters barely had time to reload before three gadwalls dropped from the sky. Shotguns popped and all three became the main ingredient for a pot of duck gumbo.

Ray Shastid, who is Colby and Jacob's dad, eyed the bag of ducks piling up in the blind.

"And it's only 7:22. That's not bad," Shastid said. He added later, "You see the kids who come out here and none of them are on their phones. They have such a good time."

It's easy to see the blind is set up for kids. There's a box of snacks by the door. After the hunt, Falcon grills hot dogs for the youngsters on a camp stove. He sets out mustard, buns, relish and water once guns are put away. "You've got to have snacks and hot dogs," Falcon said.

For Dakota Falcon, the day was bittersweet. He'll be 16 next season and too old for the youth hunt. He's started tagging along with dad at age 3 on duck hunts.

"Coming out here today, the memories of all those hunts came flooding back," Dakota said. Joe added, "Next year he'll be out here helping the other kids."

It isn't all kids to scan the sky from the blind. Joe's mom, Pat Falcon, hunts ducks a time or two each season with Joe and Dakota. At 78, she swings a mean shotgun.

"It's tough getting out-shot by your own grandma," Dakota laughed.

This was the second-best duck season in the five years Falcon has had permission to hunt the farm pond. Cold weather this winter sent good numbers of ducks migrating to Arkansas.

Falcon keeps a running tab on success, recording the results of each hunt with a Sharpie pen on the rafters of the blind. Five seasons of memories are written on the rough wood.

"We only got 30 ducks last season. This year we've gotten more than 100," Falcon said.

Nearly all were taken by a proud young duck hunter.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadgcom or Twitter @NWAFlip

Sports on 02/20/2018

Print Headline: Exhuberance of youth

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