Lost in the Woods

Chris JenningsI am drawn to public hunting opportunities, and prefer the public hunting experience over other options. Most think I am crazy, but the constant buzz of excited hunters at a public boat ramp, hustling to launch before the next guy or walking into flooded timber with other hunters, everyone pushing themselves a little harder to get to their spot first, is the competition I enjoy. Hunting public areas in Indiana was a challenge in and of itself, but last year I had my first experience in the holy grail of public waterfowl hunting, Bayou Meto, an organized-yet-chaotic haven for public duck hunters in Arkansas.

A buddy of mine drove down from Indiana for the weekend, and while we had opportunities to go elsewhere, his first trip south for waterfowl hunting had to involve Stuttgart, Ark., and Bayou Meto. As a side note, my Yankee accent led Arkansas Game and Fish employees (who I won’t name) to inform me that the correct pronounciation is “baayaah metah.” After practicing the proper pronunciation several times, one of these AGFC employees looked at me, disappointed, and said, “Chris, just call it the Scatters and everyone will understand you.”

After some map studying and pure guesswork, we decided to walk into the Scatters for our first flooded-timber hunt. We wandered into the “metro,” as some refer to it, well before shooting time, followed a map and a compass to where we thought looked like a great spot. For someone who has never hunted big flooded timber, it was hard to judge one good spot from the next, so we set up.

cjLost1

We sat there on a log in the dark as other parties marched through the timber, searching for their own honey holes. Right at shooting time, the place started booming. It sounded like there was quite a battle going on all around us, but we never fired a shot. We had some wood ducks zip through and a few mallards hover over the treetops staring at our decoys, but we couldn’t convince anything to commit through the canopy.

Around 11 a.m. we picked up our decoys and began marching out. Following our original compass heading back to our trucks, we walked for hundreds of yards that looked vaguely familiar. To be straight, it all looked the same, like we were just spinning around in a circle in one spot. We stayed true to the compass, even though we felt it was wrong.

cjLost2Through the timber we heard three consecutive shots: “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Considering we’d heard about 5,000 shots all morning, we didn’t think anything of it. As we marched on, we heard a distant holler, “Help!” Then three shots again. Through the timber we could see one guy fighting his way through the flooded timber, shotgun in one hand and a mallard drake in the other, coming directly toward us. I yelled back and he started hustling our way. The first thing he said was, “Boy, am I glad I found you guys! I have been wandering around out here for two hours and I’m about out of shells.”

He told us how he and two of his buddies had been hunting and he went after a cripple, got turned around and had been wandering around the Scatters for the last two hours completely lost. He was a little frightened by the situation, but had calmed down significantly when he spotted us. He was only 23 years old, and even in his youth, he looked exhausted after hiking in the timber so long.

After a few minutes of introduction, he followed us out of the woods. I offered him a compass I had attached to my jacket, but he declined, saying he had one back in the truck, of course. As we walked and talked, he mentioned that he was a Stuttgart local and had been out there many times, but just managed to get turned around. I didn’t have the heart to tell him we had never been there before and, in fact, this was the first time either of us had hunted flooded timber.

Once we got back to the parking area, his buddies were waiting on him. He thanked us and we headed for home. As we pulled out of the Scatters emptyhanded, we laughed at the situation that had just unfolded. Two Indiana guys just escorted a lost Stuttgart native out of Bayou Meto. I bet that doesn’t happen very often.

Full of confidence, I returned to Bayou Meto several times last season, including one time I found myself lost in the maze of water and trees appropriately nicknamed the Scatters, but that’s another long story…

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