Looking up: Camp introduces new hunters to ducks

Habitat occupied by wood ducks year round is visited by passing migrators working their way south for winter and north for summer. (Paul T. Brown/True Exposers Publishing)

Habitat occupied by wood ducks year round is visited by passing migrators working their way south for winter and north for summer. (Paul T. Brown/True Exposers Publishing)

By Kevin Tate

Outdoors Writer

Youngsters aged 13 to 15 have a chance to spend a weekend deep inside duck hunting’s lore late next month and all it will cost them is a little writing.

The fifth annual MDWFP Youth Waterfowl Hunting and Education Camp is set for Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 in Quitman County.

Limited to an audience of 15 campers, the free event includes room, board and a duck hunt in one of the state’s most productive waterfowl regions, but it goes much further than that. Candidates for the camp may apply at mdwfp.com and must submit an essay. The deadline to apply is Jan. 6.

James Callicutt, a waterfowl program biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and one of the camp’s organizers, says the event combines education and in-the-field experience that exposes campers to a broad swath of waterfowl knowledge.

“It’s not just a hunting camp and it’s not just a science camp,” he said. “It’s a good mix of both.”

Action-packed days

Campers in attendance arrive on Thursday evening and depart Sunday afternoon, missing one day of school. Because of the camp’s content, Callicutt said they’ve never had any trouble getting the kids’ absences excused.

Educational topics include hunter safety and one-on-one shotgun shooting instruction complete with live-fire clay target practice, duck calling and waterfowl identification instruction as well as dog training demonstrations.

To the dogs

“Wild Rose Kennels, from near Oxford, gives a retriever demonstration,” Callicutt said. “They talk about how dogs help keep hunters from losing birds. Then they stay on and bring the dogs out on the hunt with the kids the next day.”

Conservation topics covered include waterfowl biology and habitat history from the arctic breeding grounds all the way down the flyways to the ducks’ winter range. Produced through a partnership with Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and Mississippi State University, the camp draws on the expertise of scientists who put their boots on the ground for the good of the resource every day.

Sited at a hunting club near Lambert, the camp is also ideally located to see both moist soil and flooded timber habitat.

“We do field trips to both public and private land and show them the different kinds of habitat, and we talk about what the ducks need during the winter,” Callicutt said. “We talk about banding and what information is gleaned from that. We show them how we catch live ducks with swim-in traps, and we also set up and fire a rocket net over some decoys to give them an idea of what that looks like.

“The main reason we do this is to expose kids to waterfowl hunting opportunities in the state, and also waterfowl conservation. We really want to educate them on the bigger picture of natural resource management.

A great start

“For those kids who’ve never been waterfowl hunting before, this camp is an introduction to that. All the campers learn the role hunting and hunters play in conservation and the management of the resource. They get the whole big picture of waterfowl conservation.”

Often, Callicutt said, that introduction continues to expand once the campers go home.

“I’ve had parents call me the next duck season and say, we weren’t ducks hunters but, since the camp, we’ve been recruited into it by our kids,” he said. “It’s a great event and every year it’s gotten better.”