The northwestern Mississippi waterfowling Mecca known as Beaver Dam, a cypress-studded oxbow lake cut loose by the Mississippi River more than a couple years ago, originally achieved fame in the writings of legendary outdoors scribe Nash Buckingham. In the early part of the 20th Century, on Friday afternoons during duck season, “De Shootinest Gent’man” and his cohorts would take the train from Memphis to the town of Tunica, Mississippi, and spend the weekends hunting what seemed to be an endless stream of ducks. When my old waterfowl hunting buddy, Tommy Akin, called to ask if I’d like to accompany him to Beaver Dam in early January, I practically had my bags packed before I hung up the phone. After all, Beaver Dam is one of those special places on most sportsmen’s short list of compulsory destinations. Tunica and Beaver Dam are to ducks what the state of South Dakota is to pheasants, or the province of Saskatchewan is to monster whitetails.
No self-respecting Beaver Dam duck hunter heads out to the blind before a pre-dawn breakfast stop at the legendary Blue and White restaurant on Highway 61 in Tunica.
Use caution in selecting your seat at the Blue and White, though. We chose what we thought looked like a perfectly fine table, until a waitress ambled over and politely asked us to find a different spot because, “This is Jimmy’s table.”
The Blue and White is a good place to drink strong coffee; inhale second-hand smoke; eat delicious, unhealthy food (be sure to try the homemade donuts); read the paper; and catch up on gossip. When one table of hunters stands up to leave the Blue and White, usually sometime around 5:30, the rest of the patrons follow suit and within five minutes the place is empty. The staff then readies the joint for breakfast for folks who get out of bed at a reasonable hour.
Tommy and I left the cozy atmosphere of the restaurant and ventured out into the frigid pitch-black morning. Tunica was receiving a nasty snap of weather during our time there, with snow flurries and temperatures in the teens.
A five-minute drive brought us to Will Owen’s dock on the northern part of the lake where we met Will and his buddies Craig and Robin. Will’s family has called northern Mississippi home for several generations and today they farm over 30,000 acres of some of the most fertile farmland in the country.
At first light, two gadwalls appeared like specters over the two mechanical-wing decoys mounted on oscillating arms attached to a pole that rose out of the shallow water. Will and I snatched up our shotguns and quickly claimed the double.
As the daylight gathered, we looked to the skies, awaiting the waves of ducks that have given Beaver Dam its reputation. The fact of the matter was, however, that no one knew where the ducks were. They simply hadn’t shown up in northern Mississippi at all to this point. On good years Will and his buddies have killed over 1,000 ducks from their blind by early January. This season they had taken just over 200 in the season’s first 32 days.
Despite the promising start to the morning, Will’s blind failed to live up to its moniker that first day and nary a trigger was pulled the rest of the hunt day.
After we got back to the dock, Tommy and I thanked Will, Robin and Craig for what was a fun morning, regardless of the duck hunting, and hopped in Tommy’s truck. He said he wanted to show me something nearby. A mile down the road, we pulled onto a dusty drive, at the end of which was what appeared to be just a run-down old board and batten shack.
Little did I know that this was one of the most historic places in the history of North American waterfowling. “This is Nash’s camp,” said Tommy as we piled out of his truck. We stood there for a while and thought about all the stories that had been told in that old camp. It’s a wonder that it’s not listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Speaking of historic places, our next stop was the Hollywood restaurant for a lunch of fried pickles, cheeseburgers and sweet tea.
In the song “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn there’s a line that goes, “Now Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood.” Well, this is the Hollywood. No sign of Muriel, though. Then again, it was Monday.
Once we were sufficiently full, it was on to the Willows Sporting Clays and Hunting Center for a round of sporting clays. The Willows will host the 2010 U.S. Open June 1-6.
In addition to a world-class sporting clays course, the Willows offers trap and skeet as well as bird hunts.
The next morning, it was back to Beaver Dam. This time, Tommy and I would hunt with Mike and Lamar Boyd, the father-son team who run Beaver Dam Hunting Services. After breaking a channel through an inch and a half of ice we endured a chilly 5-mintue ride to one of the Boyds’ comfortable, well-appointed blinds.
As the sun inched its way up above the cypress trees, hopes were high that a high-pressure system that had moved in overnight had brought the ducks along with it.
Mike grew up literally on Beaver Dam, the lake serving as his boyhood backyard. He and Lamar both live within a stone’s throw of Beaver Dam today.
Lamar, an Avery Outdoors pro staffer, knows a thing or two about calling to the unpredictable gadwalls that make up about 70 percent of their annual bag. On this morning, however, it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d left his call lanyard at home. Not for a lack of ducks, though. On this morning I saw the real Beaver Dam. Flock after flock of ducks descended into our spread. They had finally arrived.
During a rare, brief lull in the action, I was able to snap this photo. This is the view from inside the Boyds’ south blind.
Here’s their north blind, complete with a full kitchen stove and coffee pot, which run on propane.
By 8:00 we had claimed our four-man limit of 24 ducks. I was fortunate to experience what had drawn Nash Buckingham to Beaver Dame nearly a century ago, and continues to attract waterfowlers to northern Mississippi today. To book your own hunt, contact Mike Boyd. The Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau will be of great assistance in helping you plan the rest of your stay.
The northwestern Mississippi waterfowling Mecca known as Beaver Dam, a cypress-studded oxbow lake cut loose by the Mississippi River more than a couple years ago, originally achieved fame in the writings of legendary outdoors scribe Nash Buckingham. In the early part of the 20th Century, on Friday afternoons during duck season, “De Shootinest Gent’man” and his cohorts would take the train from Memphis to the town of Tunica, Mississippi, and spend the weekends hunting what seemed to be an endless stream of ducks.