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Best Part of Duck Camp ain’t the Ducks


Outdoors columnist Ben Smith says good food and good friends make the hunt that much more enjoyable.

Coming to you this week from the friendly confines of a duck camp in the Mississippi Delta rather than a cold tent. Not that the tent is a bad place to be, but something about crawling into a nice bed with central heat/air is really inviting. And only 24 hours in, it’s been an eventful trip already.

This trip wasn’t to be just a duck trip, and thankfully so because there aren’t many birds flying. We planned to duck hunt the mornings and deer hunt in the evenings. During my first evening sit, my mind began to wander as it often does. A stiff breeze blew out of the north and the tree that I’d climbed swayed back and forth, gently rocking me nearly to sleep. I thought about all of the places I’d been hunting the last several years and about all of the people I’d met. 

I sat there through the duration of the evening and didn’t see a single deer. And for once, I was okay with it. It was almost like I needed it. Just an evening swaying in a tree in my thoughts. No pressure, no noise. Just me and the breeze. The sun set below the tree-line rendering me unable to see so I began my climb down. When my boots hit the ground I pulled my phone out to see if my hunting partner, Matt, had done any good. He was bow hunting several hundred yards from me so there was no way to hear if he’d shot or not. I was excited when I read his response.

Before I get further into the story, let me preface by saying that Matt is one of the most successful deer hunters that I know over the last few years. Part of that is having good places to hunt. The other part of it is execution. In the last five years he’s put more bones in the dirt than your local cemetery. He’d messaged me saying that he’d shot a nice buck, found blood, and had called a buddy of ours to bring his dogs. When we met up after getting out of the woods and listening to him describe the shot, I was convinced that the deer couldn’t be very far. 

The dog handler that was enroute is the best in the business in the state of Mississippi. I don’t care what anyone says, there is no better guy to call than Ben Ward if you want to recover a wounded deer. I mean, the guy gets calls to bring his dogs to help find missing people! Needless to say, he’s a good friend to have. While we were waiting for Ben to arrive, we had one little problem. We were supposed to be recording a podcast with a friend of ours from Louisiana. You might know him as “Stalekracker” from social media and YouTube, but he’s Justin to us. 

We weren’t totally sure when Ben would arrive, so we were apprehensive to record a show. Instead, we cooked some tacos and tamales and sat around sharing stories of hunting and fishing trips that we’d taken through the years. While waiting, it was in that moment that I realized that this is what I love most about hunting and fishing. Justin had brought a buddy from Louisiana up with him and listening to these guys tell story after story was the highlight of the evening. That should give you a little indication of the results to come later. 

Ben arrived with his prized tracking dogs an hour or so later and I could tell that Matt was chomping at the bit to get out there and look. Six of us loaded up into two side by sides, along with three dogs, and headed out into the night. It was pretty dang cold and most of us underestimated the temperature. Thank goodness it was a short ride to the shot location because we were all ready to get out and walk around to warm up. 

When we got to the spot that Matt found blood, Ben turned the dogs loose on the trail. If you’ve never seen these dogs work, it’s a real treat. Armed with GPS collars, the dogs took off through the woods and we watched their locations on the controller. I looked up and one of the three dogs was just standing about fifty yards ahead of us seemingly waiting. I asked Ben what the dog was doing, and he responded that he was waiting to hear one of the other dogs to bark. Ben hadn’t gotten the words out of his mouth and a bark sounded off in the distance. Sure enough, the other dog took off like he’d been shot out of a canon in the direction of the bark. 

For the next several minutes we watched the dogs’ location on the screen. We could immediately tell that the deer was apparently not dead by the movement of the dogs. The dogs chased the wounded deer hundreds of yards before crossing the Yalobusha River. Then, they made a big circle and started back toward the river again. This is where the story hurts. The chase seemingly stops in the middle of the river. The dogs quit running and seemed to be holding in one spot. According to Ben, this means the deer is dead. 

We made several attempts to retrieve the deer from the river with no luck. And when I say several, we got permission to go onto the neighboring property, had no luck, returned to our side, had no luck, and even tried unsuccessfully the next day. That’s the unfortunate risk of hunting that you take. Sometimes even the best hunters, such as Matt, make a bad shot and the deer isn’t recovered. If you hunt long enough, it will happen to you too. 

At the time of writing this article, we still have a couple of days left on our trip. I can’t predict whether, or not, we’ll kill any deer or ducks, but a couple things are for sure: we will eat good food and we will spend time sharing stories with good friends…and that’s the best part.  

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