A Win(ning) Hunt
Hawkins Knows His Ducks and Hospitality
Regional newspaper article written by Jim Kennedy on February, 3rd 1978
There are a number of places in this part of the country that duck hunters think about as being the ultimate.
Many regard the flooded pin-oak flats of Arkansas as the best; others say the cyprus lakes and rice fields of Mississippi are tops; still others brag on the Reelfoot Lake area of Tennessee.
The Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Bay have established reputations for fine waterfowling and no one can discount such famous spots in Texas as Eagle Lake.
But the one area that draws the most attention is the Louisiana coast.
From New Orleans to Port Arthur, Tex., stretches one vast marsh, sometimes up to 35 miles wide, that is the winter home for countless numbers and types of waterfowl. Always, that huge marsh has been regarded as heaven by hunters.
When a person thinks about hunting in that area, several famous duck clubs immediately come to mind. One is Oak Grove. With over 35,000 acres of prime waterfowl habitat under lease, Oak Grove has built a reputation as one of the finest. Invitations to hunt there are treasured.
And when you are talking about Oak Grove, you are talking about Win Hawkins.
Oak Grove is owned by six men, among them Win, the fellow who helps make the club a success. Win was born in Louisiana, and has spent most of his life on the coast. He knows the marsh and the people who live and work there. He uses this knowledge to ensure that his hunting club is run right.
Hawkins is 87, but you’d never guess it. He hunts every day of the season, no matter what the weather. And it is understood he plays a fierce game of golf. But what Win does best is act as the “mayor” of Oak Grove.
Dudley Ottley, his son “Little Dudley,” Jim Kelly and I had flown from Atlanta to Lake Charles where we were greeted by Rex Reed, one of the Oak Grove guides. They would drive us to Oak Grove where we would be the guests of Larry Wilson, his son, Larry, Gibby Ledyard, Perry Wood, Vincent Foster and several others arrived shortly after we did and soon we were on our way to the club.
Win greeted us at the door and made sure we were all shown to our rooms, issued licenses, given a drink and basically made comfortable. Then, at dinner we really saw Win at his best.
Sitting at the head of the huge table he kept us all entertained with his vast reservoir of stories he has accumulated throughout his years on the marsh. Young Larry, Little Dudley and 12-year old Perry Wood were spellbound as were the rest of us who were making our first visit to the club.
One of Win’s stories I remember, and am not afraid to print, concerns Jack Nicklaus, the golfer. It seems Jack had gone out on his first duck hunt and shot all his shells, his wife’s and most of the guide’s without cutting a feather. Then, to top things off, the guide told him he thought he would have done better if he had used his putter.
Well, upon returning to the club, Nicklaus began packing his bags to leave, although he had been invited to stay two days. Nicklaus told Win he couldn’t hit anything, so he was leaving.
Well, Win, in his calm way, told Nicklaus there was nothing to duck shooting.
“Just swing past the duck’s bill and pull the trigger,” Win said. “We’ll go out this afternoon and I’ll show you.”
Well, Win did show him, and Nicklaus killed some ducks. In fact, the next day he got his limit, and was so excited he wanted to stay. But at Oak Grove, when you’re asked for two days, you stay for two days and no longer. No matter who you are.
The next morning we were all assigned guides and headed for the marsh. Hunters are carried to their blinds, first in the classic Louisiana mud boats that roar through the narrow canals at incredible speeds. After a ride in the mud boat, each hunter gladly steps into his guide’s shaky piroque. Then, with the hunter sitting in the bow, the guide poles his narrow boat to the blind.
That first morning a storm was brewing and the ducks were working well considering it was late in the season. As grey dawn approached, teal began buzzing our blind. As visibility improved, we could see pintails and mallards moving all around us, but they didn’t show much interest in our calling or decoy rig.
My first shot missed as a knot of teal twisted by, but I dumped a green winged drake with my second. Teal continued to work well and soon we had 10 on the water. Then a pair of widgeon circled and I pitched in toward our spread. I scored a right and a left. Then a lone drake mallard made his final mistake, followed soon after by several gadwall. By 9 o’clock, my guide and I both had our limits.
Back at the club, we learned that most of the hunters had done just about as well. Little Dudley had killed his fist pintail and young Larry Wilson and Perry Wood had both bagged some ducks. Thanking Win for putting me in such a good blind, he just winked and smiled: “You know, when I saw that pin you had on your coat last night, I decided you were going to be a good blind.” (Being proud of it, I had been wearing my Ducks Unlimited Life Sponsor pin and Win had noticed.)
You see, not only is Win a very successful businessman, but he has been one of the moving forces behind the growth of Ducks Unlimited. In fact, I now know why a little town like Lafayette has over 165 DU sponsors.
And now that I’ve finally met the man and hunted at Oak Grove, I’m happy to report that everything that I’ve heard about the man and his club are true. Now, I need to find a way back.