Category Archives: Lynn Burkhead

The Insanity of Late Season Duck Hunting

As we stood in front of the fire, steaming out our wet clothes, after having risked death by drowning, exposure, and pneumonia, after having been up since black night, after having rowed and poled miles, after having frozen fingers setting out decoys and having frozen feet from inactivity – after having been uncomfortable constantly in the quest for a few pounds of bird meat that I didn’t like to eat too terribly well, I concluded one thing: if you have to be crazy to hunt ducks, I do not wish to be sane.

Robert Ruark, from “You Got to be Crazy to be a Duck Hunter” from the book “The Old Man and the Boy

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In the outdoors realm, there are few things more disconcerting than sinking a warm, dry socked foot into a pair of frigid chest waders.

A set of waders that suddenly reminds you that one boot foot in particular took on enough water during your last hunt to sink the Titanic.

A boot that yours truly forgot to dry out. 

When the late season brings a shot opportunity at a prime goldeneye drake, don't miss!

Simply put, there’s no good time to discover that you are, in fact, a forgetful dunce when it comes to “Waders 101.”

But that is especially true when an Arctic blue norther has roared into North Texas overnight, dropping temps into the 20s, wind chills into the teens, and bringing a wind-driven drizzle that is freezing on contact.

What do you do in such a circumstance?

Simple…you stay on mission, especially when the 2010-11 duck season is about to sing its swan song.

So that’s what I dutifully did as I used my camera to record the early stages of a hunt that Pottsboro’s J.J. Kent and McKinney’s Kevin Harding were embarking upon yesterday morning on a beautiful cattail choked body of water.

Kent, a Mossy Oak and Buck Gardner Calls pro-staffer, and Harding, an enthusiastic waterfowler of some 20 plus years, go way back.

All the way back to Lubbock, Texas, in fact, where the two men met while students at Texas Tech University.

Except it wasn’t a class, a Red Raiders’ pigskin game, or a cross-campus hike that provided their first meeting.

Instead, it was while training their respective black Labrador retrievers on a local playa lake.

Kent, who owned a once-in-a-lifetime dog named Whiskey, and Harding, who owned an equally adept dog named Harley, became lifelong friends.

And card-carrying members of the Texas waterfowl hunting fraternity, a club that still lures grown men to the edges of insanity with pre-dawn gatherings interspersed with occasional bouts of frostbite in a good winter.

Or the beginning stages of hypothermia, an affliction that I was sure I was experiencing when the morning cattail action proved slower than expected.

And brought the idea of retreating.

But not for some place warm and dry.

North Texas duck guide J.J. Kent pleads with late season mallards on his Buck Gardner Double Nasty XL call.

  But instead for Kent’s big Xpress duck boat rig and a wind-tossed ride to a sheltered duck hole, a spot that should lure in all forms of flying fowl looking to escape the howling waters of Lake Texoma.

I guess my teeth were chattering too hard to offer much in the way of protest.

Besides, if I was going to die courtesy of Jack Frost, I at least wanted to trade in the Nikon for the Remington and go out in a blaze of glory.

So a couple of hours later, as I tried in vain to burrow deeper into space-age clothing supposed to keep one warm, I looked up just in time.

To see a spectacular hooded merganser dropping his flaps and putting down the landing gear as he reached for the decoy spread.

Cold or not, I didn’t miss that gimmee shot opportunity at a bird that is now on its way to my wall.

To be honest, the hope for a string of greenheads never materialized despite the fact that our trio saw plenty of mallards on the wing.

Even with Kent’s superb calling on a Double Nasty XL call, the greenheads had other ideas. That’s late season wise guys for you.

But as the Arctic blow continued, occasional shot opportunities would present themselves as a variety of duck species provided a mixed bag smorgasbord of shooting opportunity.

At one point or another, mallards, teal, gadwalls, shovelers, and even a plump late season goldeneye drake all came calling to our decoy spread as ice built on the tossing blocks.

And most of the time, one or more of those birds stayed behind for Kent’s current Lab, Bo, to retrieve after the smoke from spent gunpowder had been torn away on the wind.

For the record, Harding is a very good shot and he didn’t miss many shot opportunities with his Benelli.  

A late season goldeneye drake brings a warm smile to the face of Kevin Harding on a frigid North Texas winter day.

All except a canvasback drake, of course, a regal bull can that none of us is talking about anymore. 

Right, J.J.?

Also for the record, Kent is an equally deadly shot who seldom misses.

And then there’s me, a hunter whose shooting ability shined early on in the game, then proceeded to disappear faster than the Dallas Cowboys’ playoff chances did this last fall.

My shooting expertise was particularly embarrassing on the goldeneye drake that I had an opportunity to knock down.

I guess I can blame a sore shoulder. Or the supposed hypothermia. Or the teeth chattering. Or even the numb foot in a frozen boot.

Or better yet, I can blame the insanity of hunting late season ducks on the wings of an Arctic blow.

Cold or not, that’s a malady that I hope to never be cured of.

As long as ducks continue to fly on a north wind.

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Goodnight ESPN Outdoors

DEC. 31, 2010 — They say that all good things must come to an end. 

Whether that is true or not, I don’t know.

But I do know that one of the best things to happen in the last 30 years to the world of fishing and hunting communication is coming to an end.

Tonight, on Dec. 31, 2010, as the big ball drops in Times Square and the official clock switches over from 11:59:59 to the stroke of midnight.

Ringing in a New Year…and turning out the lights for good on ESPN Outdoors. 

After nearly 30 years of outdoors television, radio, and Internet excellence, ESPN Outdoors went the way of the dinosaurs at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 2011.

With that subtle move of the minute hand, a golden era of outdoors communication will end.

That era has included award winning television programming; radio coverage; Sports Center highlights; and some of the best hunting and fishing coverage that outdoors enthusiasts have ever seen.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I am more than a bit biased.

From the spring of 2001 until the end of 2006, I served as a lead writer and an associate editor for ESPNOutdoors.com.

Then again from the beginning of 2008 until early 2009, my byline – and my paycheck – once again came from EO.com, this time as a hunting writer, BASS tournament writer, and a blog columnist.

All of which enabled me to have a ringside seat.

A seat for the final decade of ESPN Outdoors, an entity that sprang to life shortly after the 1979 birth of ESPN in Bristol, Conn. where the cable network began its meteoric rise to the forefront of modern sports consciousness.

After debuting in 1981, host Jerry McKinnis and his hour-long “The Fishin’ Hole” program would become synonymous with the rise of ESPN Outdoors. In fact, by the time McKinnis retired from hosting the show in 2007, only the nightly Sports Center  newscast would have a longer tenure on the network.

Over time, ESPN would continue to expand its outdoors television line-up, eventually filling up programming for several hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings with fishing, hunting, timber sports, and even Iditarod sled dog racing from Alaska.

By 2001, outdoors television had been recast on ESPN from an often localized mom-and-pop affair to a high-tech national industry that brought the best equipment; the best on-air personalities like Tommy Sanders; and the highest standards ever applied to outdoors programming.

So much so that earlier this decade, the ESPN powers that be decided to purchase the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society from founder Ray Scott.

That move would soon bring big time sponsors and propel tournament bass fishing into the national spotlight with a weekly Bassmaster Tournament Trail television program on ESPN2 to full-fledged wire-to-wire ESPN television and Internet coverage of the world’s top fishing tournament, the Bassmasters Classic.

The powers in Bristol also decided at some point to re-launch the small outdoors section on ESPN.com, turning it into a full-fledged ESPNOutdoors.com Web site.

That’s where I entered the scene, being blessed to be able to seize upon a God-orchestrated moment of  being in the right place at the right time.

In a matter of weeks, I went from delivering local radio newscasts and writing local outdoors copy to helping men like Ed Scheff, Brett Pauly, Brian Lynn, Jeff Phillips, Jeff Rhoton and others launch EO.com.

When the new site went live in 2001, it was something I’ve never been more proud to be a part of.

Why? Because it was a constantly updated product that I’ve often described as a cross between a real-time outdoors oriented USA Today newspaper and an Internet version of a full-fledged, feature based outdoors magazine.

While bass fishing was always been a huge part of ESPN Outdoors, deer hunting and duck hunting would also come to occupy prime territory in the ESPN Outdoors world.

That would occur thanks to television programming featuring Tom Miranda, Bert Jones, and Larry Csonka among others; to breaking news stories on the EO.com site about huge bucks and bulls; and the eventual arrival of Bill Jordan, David Blanton and the Realtree Outdoors gang.

In recent years, Steve Bowman, Steve Wright, Kyle Carter, James Overstreet, and Larry Towell would bring duck hunting to the forefront of ESPN Outdoors with live streaming of the World Duck Calling Championships in Stuttgart, Ark. and the annual continent-crossing “Duck Trek” adventure featuring good writing, epic photography, and breath-taking video clips.

But all of that is coming to an end tonight as the clock strikes midnight.

Earlier this year, ESPN decided to sell BASS to McKinnis and a group of investors and to pull the plug on all outdoors television programming except for a smattering of BASS shows.

And more recently, the Bristol giant decided to retire ESPNOutdoors.com effective Jan. 1, 2011.

Bringing down the curtain on arguably the most influential – and in my humble opinion, the best – outdoors news and programming source of all time.

Again, I’m biased.

But then again, how could I not be biased about a job – and a passion – that allowed me to communicate the outdoors world by the written word, by photography, and by radio?

And a job that blessed me with the opportunity to travel, to hunt, to fish, and to meet some of the outdoor world’s most interesting people all the way from Alaska to Mexico, from New York to California, and from Texas to North Dakota?

And to work with some of the very best people that the outdoors industry has to offer?

So, with my bias duly noted, let me say that it’s been fun and it’s been real.

And now it is all over.

So long ESPN Outdoors – it’s been nice knowing you.