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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Aborted hunt yields 'lemonade'

by Bryan Hendricks | January 13, 2022 at 2:19 a.m.

Tuesday was a lemonade-from-lemons kind of day.

It started with expectations for a successful rabbit hunt in Prairie County with Bob Rogers of Maumelle and some friends from Monroe County. We had such an enjoyable hunt this time in 2021 that we decided to make it an annual outing, and even more frequent if our schedules allowed.

As we gathered our coats to leave Rogers's house, his phone rang. Our friend had thrown out his back trying to hoist one of his dogs into its dog box in the truck bed. The hunt was suspended.

Immediately after, Rogers answered another call, this time from his gunsmith. Rogers had sent his Weatherby Mk. V in 300 Weatherby Magnum to the gunsmith to see if he could diagnose why the rifle was suddenly shooting such wide groups. Rogers was afraid the barrel might be deteriorated.

"I shot a one-hole group with it at one-hundred yards," the gunsmith said. "I used my own handloads. I loaded up 20 for you, so you should be good for awhile."

This delighted Rogers.

"Let's go get your gun," I said. "I want to meet this guy. I'll do an article about him since the rabbit hunt fell through."

No dice. The gunsmith was about to leave his shop for the day and wouldn't return until about dark.

"I know what he's doing. He's going bowhunting," Rogers said. "Why don't we go out to the farm and ride around the backroads looking at ducks? If there are any ducks, that is."

Shortly after, a barrage of text messages started blowing up my phone. I replied with equal furor.

"You in a battle with someone?" Rogers said.

"Yeah. Brad," I said.

"Your brother? What are ya'll feuding about?" Rogers asked.

"That football game last night."

"You were pulling for Alabama?" Rogers asked.

"Nope. Georgia."

"Brad was pulling for Georgia, too," Rogers said. "What in the world are ya'll arguing about?"

"We just saw it differently," I said.

"Lord, you two are like a couple of cans of gasoline next to a bonfire," Rogers said. "Ain't neither one of you gonna back down, either."

"That's what we do," I said, as Rogers erupted in laughter.

About an hour later, we were in a side-by-side utility vehicle exploring the fields, fence rows and shelter belts at Rogers's farm. Our first stop was a cotton field. Only stubs remained of the cotton plants.

"These new cotton harvesters don't leave much behind, do they," I asked.

"They don't leave nothin'," Rogers said. "After you harvest, we mow down the stalks. It cuts down on nematodes," Rogers said.

Indeed, cotton root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne incognita) can reduce cotton yields by as much as 6%, according to a 2007 study in Georgia. That study estimated the loss of about 55 million pounds of lint.

Learning that little fact was worth the trip alone, but there was much more. We inspected a cluster of trees whose bark had been worn smooth by a white-tailed buck.

"A pretty good size deer made those," Rogers said. "All of the neighbors around here work together to try to improve our deer. I didn't seen any I wanted to shoot this season, but it's good to know their are some around."

At the foot of a levee stands Bob's palatial shooting house.

"That's a comfortable stand," Rogers said. "If you don't have a comfortable place to sit, it makes for a long day. To be honest with you, I'm to the point where it gives me more joy to shoot a tight group on paper than it does to shoot a deer. It has to be a really good one before I'll pull the trigger."

After the farm tour, we drove the back roads inspected damp fields. It wasn't long ago when those ephemeral pools would have been full of mallards, pintails, shovelers, gadwalls and teal. There were no ducks in any of the pools. We didn't see a duck and scant few geese until we reached a block of flooded timber adjacent to La Grue Bayou.

Each field we passed, Rogers told stories from his youth when everybody in the area allowed the local youths to hunt.

"That was back before duck hunting was what it is now," Rogers said. "It's a big money business now."

In the distance was the timber line that denoted the old Winchester Club, now known as Greenbriar. It was, Rogers said, once the site of a unique deer breeding project.

I learn a lot on trips like this. The background and perspective is often more valuable than the game I have shot on a different kind of trip. Despite their tartness, the morning's lemons produced a remarkably sweet lemonade.

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