Labrador retrievers sprawl on the floor, football game natters on the television in the background. Hunters sprawl, also tired. Only difference between them and the dogs is that the hunters didn’t spend the day swimming in icy water or lying uncomfortably on the splintery deck boards of a duck blind.
It was in Northwest Missouri, near 7,000-acre Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, one of four National Wildlife Refuges in Missouri and perhaps the state’s most unique. Where else can you find 400,000 light geese cheek to beak with several hundred bald eagles. It’s a symbiotic relationship — hunters around the refuge cripple the geese, which fly into the refuge, only to be eaten by the eagles. Works well for the eagles, not so well for the hunters and definitely not so well for the geese.
There were an estimated 198,000 ducks on the refuge and that’s where most of them stayed the first afternoon my son Andy and I hunted in a pit blind only 50 yards from the Refuge boundary in a Pro Outfitters blind, one of only two or three hunt outfits in the Squaw Creek area — most hunting is on private ground.
A sharp north wind sliced down seemingly from the polar ice cap. There was a half-inch of ice on the flooded corn stubble field, except where the guide had opened a pump earlier in the day to flood the pool and keep it open. It was an unusual cold weather snap the day after Thanksgiving and it hammered good duck hunting.
One incautious pair of wood ducks did skitter into the decoys and Andy shot the one I was zeroing in on — fast kid reflexes. But at least we were blooded. I was shooting bismuth shells in my old Model 12 and they cost about two bucks a shot, so I looked at it as a money savings if not a heavier game bag.
Pro Outfitters leases 7,000 acres in four areas in Northwest Missouri, with five blinds. The converted farmhouse/lodge will hold 10 hunters. We drooled over the swirling clouds of ducks in the refuge, not to mention so many light geese that, when they briefly lifted and were spotlighted against the distant loess bluffs, they looked like a blizzard. But we quickly found that seeing Refuge birds was like standing outside Ft. Knox and thinking you’ll become a millionaire with all that gold around. Like Las Vegas, what happened there (the Refuge) stayed there.
There was a full moon, which may have accounted for the lack of ducks — they ate through the small hours when we were sleeping, then went to sleep when we were hunting. Two subsequent four-hour hunts produced exactly nothing. One other party came in with six ducks, but no one was bragging about their success. It happens — it’s why they call it “hunting” as opposed to “shooting.”
Pro Outfitters guides are top-notch, young fellows who know how to call ducks and geese and who are willing to do the tough work of setting decoys, breaking ice and coddling hunters. Nearby Big Lake State Park offers camping and a motel and there are three motels close-by — two in Mound City and one a few miles south on Interstate 29. There are just a few commercial hunt operations, only two with full service room and board.
If there is Pro Outfitters’ hunting closer to a sure thing, it’s turkeys in the spring or possibly the spring light goose season (which depends on whether notoriously fickle light geese will fall for huge spreads of decoys). Whether a hunter wants to risk $250 to $300 a day depends on whether he would be willing to do the same in Las Vegas (and financially able).
Owner Brad Gannaway put his modest grubstake into Pro Outfitters and he works to make it work. He wants the guy who enjoys everything about the hunt, not just the gut pile.
Even if they do spend too much down time watching “Muscle Car Automatic Transmission Rebuilding” on Spike TV.
For more information, contact Pro Outfitters, 10440 County Road 230, Oronogo, MO 64855. Tel. 417-434-7615; Or send an email from the web site.
Species available include ducks, geese (Canada, light and speckled belly), wild turkey (spring) and white-tailed deer.
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