By Joe Healy
Small Water Waterfowling
Text & Artwork by Christopher Smith
Wilderness Adventures Press, Inc.wildadvpress.com 2018, 213 pp., $24.95 softcover
Hallelujah: Long live the how-to book!
These days, with our cultural reliance and dependency on the Internet and online videos, most instructional information is streamed to us via YouTube, imbedded in a blog or clickable on an advertiser’s website—all of which have rendered printed instructional books largely relics.
But once in a while you find a gem that—by slowing down and reading—makes you better at what you aspire to do. And so here is Small Water Waterfowling as a recent example. The subhead tells you what you’ll be exploring: Potholes, Flooded Timber, Rivers, Streams, Beaver Ponds, Wild Rice, Small Lakes, Farm Ponds and Temporary Floodings, (read: off-the-beaten-path, changeable and fleeting areas as opposed to big rivers, the Great Lakes, vast impoundments or coastal zones).
Works for me because, honestly, I’m a pretty casual waterfowler. I hunt ducks and geese as an excuse to uncase my over/under 12-gauge, but in the fall my pointer and I often are busy hunting grouse and woodcock. Now, after reading Small Water Waterfowling, I might reconsider. Author (and artist) Chris Smith makes the idea of hunting some of waterfowling’s more intimate areas more attractive. He suggests hunting methods (blinds or strategic locations) and decoy sets and describes how to approach each type of hunting based on weather and conditions. He also covers when—and more importantly when not to—call and discusses the skills that waterfowl dogs should have in each location. This book is a gem. If you are a hardcore waterfowler, it belongs on your shelf. If you don’t hunt ducks or geese with fervor but occasionally enjoy plying smaller, out-of-the-way spots, this book will serve as your guide for capitalizing on those select opportunities.
The Grand Prairie
Grand Prairie Media, 2018, 348 pp., $90 hardcover, $55 softcover
I’m a sucker for nostalgia and philosophy. Hunting is rooted in both. I enjoy reading about places I’ve never been but would like to visit one day, whether for a “bucket list” trip or just to live the experience. So this book’s subhead, A History of Duck Hunting’s Hallowed Ground, intrigued me. It turns out that this duck hunting nirvana is the Mississippi Flyway in Arkansas—the author’s homeplace—and he covers it in an encomium filled with nostalgia and philosophy.
I commend author Brent Birch for the passion he expresses about the 900,000-acre Arkansas area known as the Grand Prairie, near Stuttgart. This book is an effort to cover all of the decades during which waterfowling has been a draw to the Grand Prairie, from the late 1800s to today. Birch has waterfowling chops, being that he lives in Little Rock, edits Greenhead: The Arkansas Duck Hunting Magazine, and is cofounder of the Arkansas Waterfowler Hall of Fame.
No matter that this is a self-published work: Birch’s approach has enthusiasm and heart, so this book is actually more readable and worthy than many published by professional houses. Fine photographs and graphics liven up the pages, with many sidebars about the area’s history. This book has good production values, printed on heavy-stock, gloss paper with a thick spine.
Birch unites chapters by local experts with titles such as “Heart of the Delta, Soul of Duck Country” and “Pastimes, Parties, and Places” and one he wrote, “Where the Wild Ducks Go.” The contributing authors are journalists, outdoor writers and professional media folks, each sharing a deep appreciation for the Grand Prairie region.
Being an editor and a copyeditor, I wince when I read printed material that does not consistently follow style rules. Regardless, what this book lacks in writerly style it makes up for in honest reporting and historical context. Birch collects the commentary of many, many knowledgeable wildlife enthusiasts and stitches together a worthy dossier on a place where waterfowling has existed as a way of life for decades.