Dodging ducks required at Hampton’s Reservoir

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2022
A January sunrise over Hampton’s Reservoir can take your breath away.
( Garth Hudgins )
A January sunrise over Hampton’s Reservoir can take your breath away.

I left Red Hill Hunting Lodge last Sunday glad the ducks did not fly much better. Larry Shackelford might have injured the hunter in the No. 1 shooting spot.

That would be me, an honored guest of Dr. Jim Counce for a great weekend at Jerry Jones’ beautiful hunting lodge near Humphrey.

Shackelford, my good fly fishing buddy from Fayetteville, came within inches of hitting me with a teal on Saturday early in our first hunt at Hampton’s Reservoir, arguably as good as it gets in Arkansas County.

I had seen the flight of teal swarming over our buck brush spots on the south side of the reservoir. You hunt single stations in the brush and Shackelford was the only other hunter in our party of 10 who I could see.

“They are right above us, Clay,” Shackelford said. “Shoot ‘em.”

I thought they were too high, but that’s the kind of shooting you get late in the season. I’m not great at those shots, especially at teal, the quickest and most elusive, at least to my eye, of the duck groups.

I didn’t get off a shot. Shackelford’s lone blast dropped a teal straight down. It splashed 2 feet from me and my chest was wet.

I grabbed it from directly in front and put it on my seat. I announced to our hunting party — most who could not see us — what had happened. Everyone thought it was all great fun. It was, too.

But it got better Sunday, at least for everyone but me. With less ice in the buck brush, we had more ducks to shoot and better results. We didn’t “limit out” but it was good for a large group and lots of ducks hit the water.

One hit me.

Yes, Shackelford blasted a greenhead mallard directly above me, another shot I didn’t think was doable. But a good shooter can make them and Shackelford proved that both days.

I watched it spin toward me, straight down. I figured it would hit in the same spot as the teal. No, it made one last flip and crashed directly into my chest and was dead on the water.

I picked up the greenhead and sent it toward Shackelford in a Frisbee-style sling. There were belly laughs all through the buck brush.

“Enough Larry,” I shouted. “I surrender.”

It was delightful fun. Actually, there was nothing but fun all weekend. It was cold, but with no wind the conditions were less than harsh.

Hampton’s Reservoir holds an unbelievable amount of ducks and the hunting is fantastic. Guides Jimmy and Matthew Green handled us with kid gloves, important on frigid days. They had to break ice to get us in position and carefully helped us into and out of our spots.

I tried to imagine whom they might have put in that No. 1 spot closest to the open water over the last several decades. Who could Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, bring there? I felt special.

The weekend started with the biggest bone-in ribeye steak ever put in front of me. I did my best, but there was still meat on the bone when I called it quits. Yes, they call that the cowboy ribeye and it seems appropriate at Red Hill.

That was just after Matthew Green presented me with my hunting cap, a camo ball cap with the neatest logo ever for the duck woods. On the front is the Dallas Cowboy Star with a greenhead flying through it.

There is only one other reference to the Cowboys at the lodge, that same logo above the south entrance. The pictures on the walls do not feature any of the famous guests, only the Jones family. It is a wonderful spot. There are other great duck clubs in Arkansas, but none are better.

There is a gorgeous Lee LeBlanc print of Hampton’s Reservoir in a hallway. It gave me chills. It’s the same print, once the Federal duck stamp, that hangs in my study above my desk. My wife found it at a thrift store for $5. It was unframed, rolled and probably unseen by most. She had it framed.

My brother-in-law, Steve Ashcraft of DeWitt, reminded me with a text Saturday that his grandfather, the late George Mills, had been raised near Hampton’s Reservoir, when his father worked for Hampton Farms. Jimmy Green confirmed that with a phone call to Rick Hampton.

There was no belief that I could ever hunt at Hampton’s Reservoir until Counce called just after Thanksgiving with the invitation. He said it made sense because Shackelford would be included. They work together at Washington Regional Medical Center.

It was a great group, including four heart surgeons. Shackelford and I were lost in some of their conversations about their favorite surgical techniques.

There was plenty of common ground, like the fun evening in front of the big screen TV for the Arkansas victory over Texas A&M. Counce, the defensive stopper for Eddie Sutton’s Final Four team in 1978, marveled at the way the Hogs fought on defense. Counce also coached for Sutton.

There was one critique by me on the 30-second dribbling exhibitions by both JD Notae and Chris Lykes. I wondered aloud if Jaylin Williams might deserve a few more touches. Most in the room agreed.

It’s easy to tell that Williams is the best player on this Arkansas team. Counce can spend 15 minutes describing his strengths. Of course, the ability to take a charge does his heart good.

One interesting aspect of eating dinner with four heart surgeons, they must know they can find a good one in a pinch. They are not shy at picking the biggest steak or taking seconds for fried catfish and okra.

No matter our specialties, everyone in the group deferred to Jimmy and Matthew Green. We all knew we were among duck guide royalty. It’s the most impressive part of the Red Hill experience. Matthew entertained us Saturday afternoon on the skeet range.

Matthew showed incredible technical wading expertise on the way out of the buck brush when a crippled greenhead — one I think I might have shot — was spotted. The bottom in that area will suck the boots off your feet. I thought we might have to leave that duck.

Matthew slid from the front of the boat, waded to the thick buck brush, parted it and climbed in to grab our last duck. He’s probably done that 1,000 times. Still, it isn’t easy in waist deep water with floating ice slabs. It might not be as delicate as heart surgery, but it’s a dangerous process. He made it look easy.

“I thought we might find your duck on the way out,” he said. “I knew it fell well to our north and we’d go through that buck brush.”

The best guides pride themselves on finding every duck. It was clear that Jimmy was proud of his son for doing just that.

It can be difficult. Not every dead duck hits a hunter in the chest.


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