For years, Lee Benoist and a group of friends depended on one duck hole in the Delta to provide them a winter filled with shooting.
“When you only have one spot, you have to treat it tenderly,” said Benoist, a financial advisor from Jackson. “That’s especially true in Mississippi, where we don’t always get the benefit of the full migration until too late in the season.
“It’s especially true in December.”
For many years, Benoist had a share in a hole near Belzoni called Dutch Brake, which had ducks when other areas had only sparse numbers.
That was no accident.
“We were always careful about not overshooting the brake,” Benoist said. “One thing you need to understand about the brake was that it was a refuge; it was a place ducks came to rest. They did not come there to feed. That’s what the fields are for.
“So if they are coming there for refuge, the last thing you want to do is overshoot it. We made ourselves limit our shooting to the weekends — Saturday and Sunday — and even then we were in and out as fast as we could.”
Benoist said it was rare to catch any of his gang on the brake after 9 a.m., and usually they were out a lot earlier.
“Year in and year out, we had good numbers by early in the season,” he said. “On opening Saturday, we’d be in there and out with a limit by 7, 7:30 at the latest. Then we’d go back on Sunday and repeat the same deal — get in and get out early with a limit.
“Then, we’d let it rest for a week. We did no midweek shooting. When you are hunting a refuge, which again is essentially what that brake was, the last thing you want to do is continually disturb or pressure the ducks. If we didn’t get a limit hunt by 7:30 or 8, so be it: We left.”
It was a good deal for Benoist and his friends, for a while.
“We were satisfied with the weekend shooting,” Benoist said. “It’s likely we could have shot on Wednesday morning, too, and not hurt it. But we were happy with what we were doing, until we started getting company on the other end of the brake and neighboring property.
“This group, mostly from out of state, came in and they didn’t get it. They’d hunt later in the morning and shot at everything they saw. Then, I guess because they were coming so far, they’d spend the afternoon working on their blinds and stuff. They’d be in there hammering and stuff, replacing boards and all. That really hurt the hunting, making it kind of tough.”
Benoist was soured a bit by that, and he eventually quit the sport when his last retriever, Bandit, developed health issues.
But he admitted that not everybody can be committed to such a rigid duck-conserving program, and not everybody needs to be.
“Look, I know people have a lot invested in duck leases or property they’ve bought; prices have gone sky high,” Benoist said. “People spend that kind of money and they want to use it, but for us it was more about quality time.
“I know that at some of the larger camps like Fighting Bayou, they hunt nearly every day, but they can get away with it because they have plenty of duck holes to rotate on. You can get away with it then, but if you have only one or two holes to shoot, you have to be very careful and learn how and when ducks are using it, and then back off the pressure.”