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Duck Hunting
by Lexie Leonard
from Reelfoot Lake Treasures

 There are not too many people living today that remember the olden days when you could use live ducks for decoys and the days when there were no limit on the number of ducks you could kill. There were hunters that hunted for the market (to sell commercially). A person had to have a shooting permit. This was part of their living as well as trapping and commercial fishing. There were professional hunters who followed the ducks on their flyway south. I can remember three hunters from Illinois who camped at Blue Bank when they come into Reelfoot for their hunt. They would come in from hunting with all the ducks they could carry and have to go back to their boat for more. They would draw the blood from the ducks, hang them out on a line to drain, and then place the ducks in barrels to be shipped to New York. The mallards were $3.50 a dozen; the canvasbacks brought more. Small ducks like ringneck scaup, teal, gad-wall and widgeons were 10 cents each. The natives would pick the feathers from the ducks after a hunt. It would take about 16 mallard ducks to get one pound of feathers for a pillow. A feather bed required about 35 pounds of feathers. Most hunters would load their own shells, some would use Chief Black Powder. You could buy shells then fro 35 cents a box.

I can remember going with my father hunting. He would have about eight or nine live decoys and they were pets. We named a lot of them. He would put a duck collar with a swivel on the hen’s neck so they wouldn’t choke themselves. He had a collar on about 3 or 4 hens. The male would always stick around because the wings were cropped so they couldn’t fly off. He had a little gate box in front of this boat that he kept them in. If they weren’t fastened up in his little coop they would get up in your lap and pick their feathers (they did this in order to re-oil their feathers after having been in the water and the oil came off). You just couldn’t keep from falling in love with them. Sometimes my father would take a hen duck and put her by herself where she couldn’t see the others. The ducks would holler all day long at each other and that would really bring the wild ducks in.

*Lexie Leonard spent much of his life learning the waters, creatures and habitat of Reelfoot Lake. His book Reelfoot Lake Treasures is a down to earth, good old boy view of Reelfoot Lake. Although this book is out of print, you can still purchase copies at various locations around the lake. If you can get your hands on one, get it. You'll never get a more insightful and caring view of this wonderful habitat.

Many thanks to his daughter Rose Leonard Burkett for allowing us to print these interesting excerpts from his book.


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