Every time I come to Arkansas, I fall in love again. Not with a person or a place specifically, but rather, with an idealism. A renewed belief in the preciousness of the beautiful resources our Creator entrusted us with. I find a renewed love of a lifestyle that promotes the love of nature, family, and most importantly, the love for the One who created it all. I’ve been hunting with my family for as long as I can remember, really. We are Yankee Hunters, and this is our story.
My Uncle Jim was born in 1944 and has been hunting for over 60 years. These are his thoughts:
I love hunting because it is so much different from anything else. It’s a different kind of challenge depending on the environment, the weather, the location, and your hunting partners. I love that I get to be outside and experience nature. I remember hunting in the Muskegon marsh and not knowing, at times, if you’re going to survive. I remember being in Saugatuck and 3 rows of mallards walk right past us feeding in the field. I love putting decoys out on in an ice hole and being able to draw ducks into the hole. I’ll never forget when your dad had heart attack in North Dakota while shooting his limit. There’s an excitement of finding the spots and not getting stranded and remembering how to find your way out. I remember being the only group in the Shiawassee State Game Area hunting in 11-degree weather. I remember being a Jr. in High school and my grandfather took me pheasant hunting in South Dakota. He knew all the farmers and had all the connections to make it an amazing experience I’ll never forget. I remember the first time hunting in the Ottawa marsh with your Grandpa Dokter. I remember when my dad took me down to Highbanks (West Michigan) on Election Day and it seemed that all of GE had off. We spent overnight in the parking lot to make sure we got a hunting spot and I shot my first duck. I remember rabbit hunting with dad (Grandpa Dokter). He loved rabbit hunting.
My Uncle Tom was born in 1942 and has also been hunting for 60 + years. These are his reflections:
Hunting is a great stress relief from the ordinary, every day life and its challenges and frustrations. There is a camaraderie involved in hunting that you can’t get anywhere else. You learn a respect and love of nature and there’s a new challenge every hunt. The entire experience is rewarding. I remember the hole in the Ottawa Marsh with tall, tall timber trees and when ducks came down, they were like picking apples. Your dad shot his first triple. My son, Mike and I took his children Zach and Angie on the youth hunt in Shiawassee. We split up so everyone could have a chance at birds. I was with Angie when she shot her first Wood Duck. It was a beautiful drake. In the time waiting for that to happen, we had the best conversations on life and family. Seeing the joy on her face when she shot her first duck was an unforgettable experience. Additionally, when we were at “Horseshoe Pond” in North Dakota with Mike and Zach, we limited out on Mallards every day. Best hunting I’ve ever had hunting with my son and grandson. There’s an excitement when you have ducks committed and down.
My dad was born in 1953. He has been hunting for 50+ years. These are his thoughts:
I love being outside, being with family, being in nature, and, of course, bullshitting. I’m taken aback by the migration of waterfowl. It’s a beautiful and fascinating thing that you don’t get to experience unless you are out there. I love my dogs and I love hunting with them. I love working with them and seeing them work on retrieving or finding a bird we’ve nocked down in the weeds. I have great memories of Emma, Abby, and now Pepper. In North Dakota, we harvested 10 greenheads one time before the dog got back with one. Every day is different. And, on the back end there is the enjoyment of eating some the most expensive meat you ever eat in your life! My favorite recent memory was going to North Dakota the first time with you and Joe. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life! I remember skipping school to go duck hunting for the first time and my dad paddled, yes paddled 4 people in a johnboat back to the hunting hole. I had to sit in the boat with a single shot shotgun. A flock of about a dozen black ducks came in and everyone shot and hit ducks but me and I vowed I’d get ‘em all! I’m still working on it.
I was born in 1983 and have been hunting for more than 20 years now (if you consider running around with pellet guns trying to slim down the Starling population, which I do.)
I remember getting my first pellet gun at a local department store. It was a 5 pump pneumatic that I consistently pumped 7-9 times for more velocity even though dad told me not to. My earliest hunting memories were with this gun. After Thanksgiving dinner, instead of watching the Lions lose again (this year was a surprise for all), my family would gear up and get to rabbit hunting. This was my Grandpa Dokter’s favorite thing. I remember he always wore tan coveralls an orange hat, and those brown jersey gloves that did nothing but make your hands colder and more brittle when they got wet with snow. Dad and I followed suit, of course. Uncle Tom, and his son Mike usually rounded out the party. I was the only one too small to shoot a .20 gauge shotgun and carried my pellet gun instead. I harvested one or two rabbits though, holding my own in the bag count.
I remember dad buying me my first shotgun at Graafschap Hardware. It was (and is) a Remington 1187 semi-auto. I remember the first words my dad said to me when he handed it to me:
“This is your first gun, Mike. Never sell it. If you ever find yourself in trouble, come to me first. Never sell this gun.”
I haven’t and never will. I hope to pass it on to my children one day assuming someone chooses to breed with me.
I remember the first duck hunting trips I took to the east side of the state with dad, Uncle Jim, Uncle Tom and my cousins depending on who could get permits to hunt the land. We would leave at 12am sharp for the 3-hour drive and “strategically” got ready for the hunting spot draw at the Shiawassee State Game Area where we hunted. We used to have to haul our boats full of decoys and gear over levies and dams to get to where we wanted to go. I was probably around 10 the first time I went and completely exhausted the entire time. I’m sure I was excessively fussy and whiney but thinking back, these are moments I will never forget and they laid the foundation of my love for the sport today.
I remember my first trip to North Dakota with my friend Joe. We were seniors in High School and had to miss our homecoming football game to go. My girlfriend at the time was not pleased as she ended up being voted Homecoming Queen. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last. Didn’t matter though because Joe, Dad, Jim, Tom, and I had an amazing time hunting ducks and pheasants. I think I may have killed the town squirrel by accident. It may have been the only one in the 15-person town of retired farmers where we often ate lunch. It became a running joke for years that I hit the town squirrel with the truck as it was putting on its daily performance for the retirees. I remember my first trip to Arkansas with dad, my uncle Jim and his son Danny. Danny and I stayed up late to teach some Cajuns how to play Euchre. We cleaned house.
In our future trips to Arkansas, we started developing a relationship with Hunter Ziegler and Three Rivers Duck Club, which would soon become our Southern home for at least 1 trip per season. Stories abound from these characters but the one worth mentioning here is the story of “The Banded Coot”. We convinced Hunter by text that we had harvested a banded coot. I’m not sure how this story started exactly but I think it began with Hunter attempting to convince us that the coot he shot was some other sort of rare diver duck. The story ended with us showing him a picture of our “Banded Coot” which may or may not have been a bare assed picture of someone with their pants down. Hunter laughed so hard we nearly got kicked out of the restaurant where we met for lunch!
I don’t hunt as much as I could or as much as I should. Life and the limitations of finances, at times, pull me away. One trip I will never miss until I can’t walk again or am no longer welcome, and maybe not even then, is opening day in Arkansas at Three Rivers Duck Club. We have been hunting at Three Rivers for upwards of 10 years now and they have become another family to us. Every time I come here, I see a group of people who I am proud to associate myself with. These men, women, young adults, and children are always welcoming, loving, and respectful. We always feel at home. We always feel welcome.
I don’t know what it is about Arkansas that makes me slow down and reflect on the things that are really important to me. The things that don’t fade with time or distance. The things that hold true through thick and thin: faith, family and friendship. If you recall my last entry was almost a year ago to date. Also written on opening weekend.
I think it’s because when I’m with the Three Rivers family, it’s more about family than the act of hunting. Yes, we invest a lot to make this trip possible and we want to harvest our limit every day, but, as you can see, hunting is about much more than that. Notice that the shooting of guns and the killing of animals was mentioned minimally in this piece. You know why? Because hunting isn’t about killing things. Hunting is about growing closer together in community and sharing an experiences in the midst of our beautiful country very few people in this world get to enjoy with some of the people I love the most.
I’ve seen sunrises that had to be custom painted by God’s hand for our enjoyment. I’ve had conversations about faith, life, and love in pit blinds, cornfields, and corners of duck clubs that would trump any counseling session one could pay for. I’ve learned through questioning my family for this entry, that they started hunting together in 1963 with my Grandpa Dokter. I heard stories of my family carrying canoes over their heads and up hills to get to where they could hunt. I learned my Grandpa Dokter was sort of the patriarch of it all as his love for the outdoors was passed down to my father and uncles. I’ve learned that he had a passion for trapping and used to rabbit hunt with ferrets. I’ve learned about more his time in WWII as part of the ground crew in Britain that repaired and helped land and refuel the beat up B-Type bombers that fighting for the freedoms we have today.
Hunting is about the love of family, friends, and a deep, deep respect for God’s beautiful creation.
I want you to know where the inspiration for this blog came from. This past Saturday night (November 21, 2015) we had a feast of “Grover Ribs” smoked for 24 hours, cowboy beans, paprikash (yes I know I said pepper kash in a Facebook post but that’s only because Grover has a Rebel accent), German potato salad, a variety of Momma’s cookies and cakes, and Grover’s peach cobbler cooked in Dutch Oven style (see Facebook for pics). Hunter’s brother David “Grover” Ziegler Jr. created all of this deliciousness for which we are extremely grateful. Before dinner was served, everyone gathered in the common area and Hunter’s other brother Jason “Moo” Ziegler welcomed the club to dinner. Moo read from his fathers hunting journal an entry from the early 80’s, which chronicled their father Dave’s purchase of the swampland and green timber first hunted by the Ziegler family. His entry was heart warming. His love and passion for the beauty of our Creator, his children, and the sport was abundantly clear and again, brought me back to some of the things that are really important in my life. Thank you Hunter, Grover, Moo, Momma, Beefy (our amazing guide and one of the best guys with one of the biggest hearts I know), the cleaning crew that cleaned up after 20 dirty guys all week, and everyone else in the Three Rivers Family for all that you do and have done. You have created an environment that produces unforgettable experience after unforgettable experience which couldn’t all possibly be listed here.
Thank you to my wonderful girlfriend Aubrey for being supportive of my passions and my desire to continue creating and solidifying bonds with friends and family that will last for life. I love you, Nugget!
Guys, take care of your girl, make sure she knows she is loved, bring her back fuzzy pink blankets and socks from the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid in Memphis, and you can go hunting anytime you want…except for maybe the birth of your child, that one you may have to compromise on. Also, Pro Tip: if your significant other ever says to you something ludicrous like – “The times for trips like this in your life are over” – run away. Run far, far away.
Most importantly, thank you to my father, Jim Dokter, my uncle, Jim Reek, and my uncle, Tom VanHuis. I have hunted with you fine gentlemen more than anyone else and you have all played a role in growing my love for this great sport, my love for nature, my respect for this great land which we are privileged to live in, and my love for God.
It’s clear now. It’s not Arkansas that makes me fall in love with this sport over and over again. It’s my family, both here and at Three Rivers.