I lived the end of an era in shotgun hunting. Old men, old guns and a way of life drifted into the fog of time during the 1950s and 60s. Quail were plentiful on the Mississippi River delta farms. Small family farms with corn, soybeans, wheat and plentiful annual weeds kept the Bobwhites whistling. And the fall skies blackened with migrating ducks.
My Dad was a product of earlier times and told stories of duck hunting with his father in the great cypress swamps of southeast Missouri. Papa Cooper used an old single shot 12 gauge Sears and Roebuck shotgun. The gun served one purpose, to put meat on the table. Duck hunts also served the same purpose. Papa wasn’t concerned with how many times he went duck hunting in a season. His only concern centered around harvesting a winter’s supply of meat as quickly as possible.
Dad told the story many times about the morning he and Papa poled a hand made cypress boat into the deep swamps of what now is Big Oak Tree State Park. The Great Depression was a fresh memory and World War II loomed on the horizon. Times were hard. Papa had saved up enough money to buy a case of shot shells.
Dad was 10 years old at the time. He and Papa pushed their boat up under low hanging limbs of enormous cypress trees that would take six men to reach around. Daylight approached as they spread burlap sacks over the boat to break up its outline. They had no decoys and didn’t need them. They hunted a shallow cypress-tupelo lake known as Old Grassy, a haven for migrating waterfowl.
As Dad told the story the early morning skies blackened with mallards sifting through the treetops. Papa Cooper’s old 12 gauge roared as fast as he could load for well over an hour. When he called the hunt, they had 147 mallards in the boat, enough meat for the family for the entire winter, and Dad made it to school on time.
Grandma Cooper would plucked every last duck, canned the meat and used the down for mattresses and pillows. Papa Cooper understood very little about conservation, but provided for his family with a single-shot shotgun.
Growing up, I often heard of neighbor farmers using side-by-side guns for ducks and quail. I heard names like Fox, Parker and L. C. Smith. Occasionally, I would get a glimpse of one as hunters gathered at Bennett’s old country store to spin their hunting yarns. I became mesmerized at the beauty of the walnut stocks and blued barrels and longed to own one.
I eventually inherited a beat up Model 12 in 12-gauge full choke. The sleek lines of the slender pump gun felt good in my hands as I downed doves, ducks and quail. My prize was eventually stolen, a loss I still mourn.
Today, I own several vintage guns including a Parker 16, a Fox and L.C. Smith in 12-gauge and my favorite, a Model 12 in 20 gauge.
Quail are pretty much a thing of the past, but waterfowl numbers are good. I look forward to the cooling breezes of autumn. I revel in harvesting a limit of four teal with one of my prized shotguns. However, I never complete a hunt without picturing in my mind my Dad and Papa Cooper huddled under the cypress trees in their old hand made boat.