On Oct. 31, Joe Morgan called Ray Tucker to postpone his guest appearance on Tucker's "Arkansas Outdoors" radio program.
"I know you think I'm putting you on because I've had to cancel a couple of times before," Morgan said. "I'm having a couple of stents put in tomorrow, and I'll be ready to come on next week."
Morgan had the procedure on Nov. 2, and he never left the hospital. He suffered from chronic pulmonary fibrosis, and his condition rapidly deteriorated. Morgan died Saturday, fittingly, on opening day of duck season.
Morgan, who was serving in his fifth year as a member of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, was a devoted duck hunter. As far as commission business went, it seemed to be the only thing he cared about. He was obsessed with Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area, and he was obsessed with restoring its glory as America's duck hunting showplace.
At 76, Morgan romanticized green tree duck hunting as a dignified gentleman's sport. He revered the experience. In his version of history, hunters of yesteryear respected the game, they respected the sport, and they respected each other. He often said that the modern public land duck hunter is a disgrace to the hunting culture. He characterized them as selfish and unethical, with no respect for the game or for the integrity of the sport.
He reviled the emphasis on killing and competition. He often drifted through the aisles at sporting goods stores listening to young braggarts share their latest testosterone-addled exploits. Boat racing spectacles, like the one that occurred this week at Dave Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area, disgusted him.
Morgan lamented the evolution of public land duck hunting as a race to any hole where someone heard shooting the day before. It's all about who has the fastest motor and who's willing to take the biggest risks in safety and sportsmanship.
Morgan considered non-resident hunters to be the core problem, and he believed they were responsible for driving Arkansas hunters away from Bayou Meto WMA. He believed that restoring decorum meant limiting non-resident access.
With virtually zero support, he convinced the commission to enact regulations limiting non-residents to 30 days of access to certain WMAs it was divided to 10 days per segment. They also have to buy a 5-day non-resident WMA waterfowl permit for $30.50. He pushed for strict boating regulations designed to end the daily 4 a.m. boat races at Bayou Meto to reach the choicest hunting holes
Morgan also cared deeply about the ability of green tree reservoirs to attract and hold ducks. He convinced the commission to enact a regulation requiring duck hunters to be off Bayou Meto and Dave Donaldson WMAs by noon so that ducks could settle in for the day and rest. Almost everyone that owns private duck water leaves the woods no later than 9 a.m. The hunting in private woods is fantastic, and Morgan believed public land hunters had a right to enjoy a comparable hunting experience.
The sharpest rock in Morgan's boot was Halowell Reservoir, the central water body at Bayou Meto. It infuriated him that the Game and Fish Commission converted Halowell from a buckbrush reservoir to a moist soil feeding area in 2007.
"Halowell in its heyday was always a duck hotel, not a restaurant," Morgan fumed constantly. Morgan often recalled how in it's glory days, the din of ducks at Halowell was so loud at night that you could hardly sleep if you were in a cabin anywhere nearby. I remember those days too from the 1980s, and I know that it is still that way nearby at Hampton Reservoir.
Finally, Morgan groused incessantly about the inability to get water off Bayou Meto in the springtime. The pump station at Reydell that wasn't hooked up to electricity was the bane of his existence. It has power now, but no way to get water to it. That is being fixed, too.
"I once told Morgan, 'Joe, there's a lot more to Arkansas than just Bayou Meto. You're going to marginalize yourself with the rest of the commission.' "
He said, "I'm not a turkey hunter. On turkey matters I trust the wisdom on the turkey people. I'm not a big deer hunter, either. On deer matters I trust the wisdom of the deer people, but let me tell you something. If we don't straighten out that mess at Bayou Meto, we are going to lose our crown jewel of duck hunting in the South!"
I was wrong. Morgan staked his service on one issue. History will show that he made a big difference.