Why 50 Ducks? A Pirogue Ride

Kids With Ducks
Greer Smith (Right) and Brother Sam

Since its inception, many people have asked me why I started 50 Ducks. While I do  not have the expertise of the head biologist at Ducks Unlimited nor the resume of a globetrotting waterfowl chaser like Ramsey Russell (not yet anyway), I have an unshakeable passion for ducks and geese formed from a lifetime of memories in a duck blind with my father. Years ago, we had a duck lease in Macon, Georgia, an oasis along the Ocmulgee River once brimming with mallards, pintails, black ducks, and geese. Fondly remembered as “I-16”, this paradise of my youth is no more.

I-16, like so much of North America’s precious wetlands, has fallen victim to the march of progress. Waterfowl no longer grace our land. While I treasure memories of the place, the next generation in our family will not share the same experiences. Our mission at 50 Ducks is to preserve vital waterfowl habitats and protect vulnerable populations. We strive to offer future generations the same opportunities to enjoy the magnificent and sacred experiences of engaging with waterfowl. Moreover, we invite waterfowl enthusiasts globally to participate in our mission.

Throughout my youth, I-16 served as my introduction to the natural world and helped ignite my passion for waterfowl. I shared countless experiences with friends and family in our beloved duck hole but three core memories from I-16 stand out in illustrating its significance to me:

Show and Tell

Years before I was old enough to hold a gun, my father would initiate me into the magic of the hunt by bringing me along. When I turned six, I was deemed safe with a BB gun. I eagerly awaited the end of an I-16 hunt to test my aim. One afternoon, my efforts culminated in taking down a dove. The pride I felt in holding that bird was unparalleled, a triumphant initiation into the hunting community.

As only a small-town family would, I tucked the bird into the freezer, saving it for “show and tell” at school. I recall my father’s delight, torn between my excitement to share my achievement and the shock on my mother and teacher’s faces when I proudly presented my bird to the class.

Although the story of “show and tell” may very well be my father’s favorite, it was only the first of many special times we shared in I-16.

Double Shot

It was the closing day of the 2004 duck season. My dad’s excitement cut through the air as black ducks approached. Exercising fatherly patience, he held his fire, and allowed me to fumble around before taking aim. The ducks swooped in, swinging right to left, and I took two with a single shot. An ordinary feat for seasoned hunters became extraordinary excitement for a nine-year-old boy in Georgia. The resulting duck mount decorated my room for over a decade until a dog destroyed it. Not surprisingly, I no longer hang duck mounts within jumping distance of a bed.


Pirogue Ride

I-16 would often host a significant number of roosting geese. Typically, these geese were elusive and never appeared during legal shooting hours. For reasons unknown, the geese arrived early one fateful afternoon. My childhood friend, Charlie, and I stood with guns blazing two ten-year-old boys, bringing down ten geese, one being banded. We couldn’t fathom why my dad halted our spree when we could still legally take five more. We were oblivious to the over 100 pounds of dead geese and an abundance of gear, the very things that preoccupied the mind of a practical forty-year-old man foreseeing the labor ahead. Our exhilarating hunt was abruptly curtailed, and we began the long exit from the “Judge’s hole”.

Leaving I-16 as a child was simple. The journey entailed walking a mile, riding in a pirogue, and disembarking when told to do so. What I failed to realize at that time was the Herculean effort required to drag a pirogue, laden with Charlie, myself, ten geese, and all our gear, across hundreds of yards of mud flats, where every step meant sinking past the knee into a murky abyss.

Once at the levy, Charlie and I, eager for dinner, were fresh from our ride and ready to saunter home. My father, nearing collapse, juggled gear, and geese. Through multiple trips and several Mountain Dew breaks, “we” managed to get everything out. Reflecting, I marvel at my dad’s resolve, while at the time the prevailing thought in my mind was “why is this taking so long.”

Like much of North America, I-16 no longer shelters ducks. But the memories I created with my father persist. Its transformation into a dry and silent area reminds us of what we lose when we neglect our natural world. We risk more than losing waterfowl; we risk losing opportunities for future generations to form precious memories. My hope for 50 Ducks is to drive change, preserving not only the habitat but also the traditions, affection, and joy derived from a pirogue ride into a duck hole.  

Greer Smith and Friends 2002

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