For some fifty years, it has been my desire to skip away to Beaver Dam and enjoy the exhilarating and tonic sport of duck hunting. Here where Nash Buckingham hunted, where Horace supplied his humor and Queen Victoria served cathead biscuits.
In the olden days, steamboats from Memphis, 40 miles distant, dropped off sports at a landing on the Mississippi River. Prearranged wagons ferried them a few miles eastward to Beaver Dam Ducking Club. Until four years ago, the old club was still in existence, headed by Memphian William “Chubby” Andrews, an octogenarian. Then commercial hunting took over.
I first met Chubby at Tunica Cutoff when he and Mike Cianciola, a well-known waterfowl artist, motored up one morning looking for companionship. We took pity and invited the old timers to join us.
It soon became apparent that Chubby was no ordinary shot. While I did the calling, he did the shooting, saying grace over the fallen victims more often than my companions and I combined.
My curiosity got the best of me, so I asked, “Where did you learn to shoot like that?”
“Mr. Buck taught me.”
Eager to locate Mr. Buck for shooting lessons, I asked, “Where's this Mr. Buck?”
“Why, lad, he's 6 feet under! His real name is Nash Buckingham. He was a famous hunter, conservationist, and author of nine hunting books, all collectible. Didn't you know him?”
I didn't, so I turned away, wondering who this old timer was who had learned from someone named Nash Buckingham. Thus began a friendship that has lasted through the years.
But to revert to my story, I'll endeavor to give a brief account of our hunt at Beaver Dam. Before I start, let me introduce as a parenthetical clause the fact that if you hunt with Chubby, make up your mind first that he's a better shot than you are or you'll learn the fact very soon.
A few phone calls had us scheduled for a hunt with Mike Boyd, a commercial hunting guide, whose family has lived on the lake since the 1940s. Tagging along was Alfred Burton of Michigan City, Miss.
The chosen day couldn't have been painted any more beautiful. As the fresh breeze of morning stirred the ripples to laughter on the bosom of the limpid lake, we took our seats in the wooden blind, while the moon hovered above the cypress tops, casting moonlight on our decoys. It seemed to hover forever over the horizon, not wanting to miss this magical moment. And the sunlight shimmered over the surface of the lake as if it were the first surface it had struck in its distant flight from the unbroken horizon.
Soon, Mike had the birds fluttering down into the decoys. In no time, Chubby hopped from his shooting stool and unloaded, way before the younger generation had emptied their fowling pieces. Moving with the grace and skill of an NFL running back, he shot like the legends of old. If Marge, his wife, had seen him move this fast, she would wonder what the complaining was all about when she asked him to do chores around the house.
The unlucky floated gracefully on the rippled water. Mike's lab then preformed with just as much grace and skill. And so the day went on this fabled hunting ground with the old master showing his pupils the art of wing shooting.
As we headed back, I asked, “Where'd you get your nickname?”
“My nanny gave it to me because I was chubby.”
Then he reminiscent and said, “I hunted these hallowed grounds during the halcyon days for 20 years with Mr. Buck. In his failing years, he told me, ‘You're the son I always wanted.’”
After lunch at the Blue and White in Tunica with some gut-wadding and a belly-washer, reminiscing continued with Tate Selden, Dutch Parker, Bobby Gookin, John and Sterling Owen (Mississippi boys), and Russell Caldwell (Reelfoot Lake).
Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — is medical director at the University of Memphis Student Health Services. He has written four books: The History of the Millsaps Family, Red Letter Days, The Golden Age of Waterfowling, and The Golden Age of Hunting.