David Black grew up on the Fowler Farm. It was his grandfather’s when he was a kid, back in the days when Canadian goose hunts were what Ballard County and Paducah, Kentucky were known for. Back then, camo wasn’t camo, rather duck brown or red plaid, and the guns of choice were Marlin Goose or Super Goose bolt-action twelve-gauges or Winchester model 12 pump action.

Over the years, something changed.

Migration patterns, changes in farming, crops: something caused the Canadian geese numbers to dwindle. Guide outfits that made a living on large goose hunts started to shut down. Curiously, as the geese moved on, another waterfowl species decided to move in: green heads.

Mallard ducks soon became the commonly sought after prize. I have asked many local guides why the geese left and the mallards moved in, but no one seems to really know why. They are all just happy that the ducks decided to make Ballard County part of their annual migration.

The first time I hunted at the Fowler Farm, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I hadn’t hunted ducks in quite some time, and I had never hunted ducks outside of California, where I would take my black lab into the San Joaquin Valley and hunt the large reserves where many species migrated. I emailed David several times with no less than ten questions each time: everything from how close or far away we would be shooting to what type and shot-size of shells he preferred.

He patiently and graciously answered all of my questions. A couple of months later, the day arrived; we made our way up the 24 from Chattanooga through Nashville and into Paducah. The area was mostly farmland. We could see thousands of speckled geese high in the sky as we neared our destination. Little did we know that they would only tease us every day, always staying out of range.

We drove out to the farm, or we attempted to. The roads seemed to crisscross and curve all over. We were looking for a road strangely named Monkey’s Eyebrow. After a couple phone calls to David for help with navigation, we finally arrived. It was dark, but when we exited our vehicle, we could hear what sounded like a hundred thousand geese. The loudness of speckled and snow geese feeding in the fields was unbelievable.

We made our way around a couple of pickup trucks and into the lodge. A tall, slender man with a black beard met us with a friendly smile. “David Black, nice to meet you.”

We all shook hands and talked before heading up the stairs to the main living quarters. As we talked, I realized that David is passionate about two things; his family and duck hunting. The Fowler Farm represents those two passions for him. When David was a boy, the farm was his grandfather’s passion. He grew up learning about hunting and how to be respectful of the quarry, people, and guns.

He now has three young boys, and the oldest two have spent more hours in a duck blind than I have, despite being only ten and six. The oldest one has already taken close to as many ducks as I have. David is quick to point out that he is most concerned with them enjoying the experience and never wants to push them. He is true to his word; I have personally watched him kindly carry or walk the boys back to the lodge in the middle of a hunt when they get too cold (or maybe a little bored if the ducks aren’t flying).

Sitting in a duck blind all day gives you the opportunity to ask lots of questions and get to know someone pretty well.

It is through these conversations that I learned how passionate David is about hunting ducks and, more importantly, conservation of waterfowl. I was intrigued by how many bands he has collected over the years and the process of banding ducks and geese. He explained that there is only one private organization that is allowed legally to band waterfowl besides government wildlife organizations: the Jack Miner Foundation in Ontario.

I was amazed at all the places the leg bands first originated. He told me about the two bands of which he is most proud: he got them on the day he asked his wife to marry him. He had the ring and was working up the nerve to ask her. He was pretty sure that this particular evening was going to be the one.

He was duck hunting that morning, thinking about a lot of things—how his life would be different and how nervous and excited he was for that evening to come—and then it happened. He shot a duck so unique and rare that he had never encountered one before or since that day: it was double banded. He took one look at the bands and knew it was a sign. He asked his wife to marry him that night.

""After's back to carefully scanning the skies..""

Over the years, David has nurtured and improved the quality of hunting at the farm.
He is very aware of feeding habits and pressure. He is the first to tell you that the quality of the hunt is more important than the quantity of birds harvested. He has developed a number of premium blinds with nicknames such as the hot tub, corn crib, back blind, helmet-hole, doc’s, and the bottoms. He has also developed different locations to ensure hunters will be close to the action no matter the weather on a given day. His newest area, the bottoms, consists of one dry cornfield and one floating blind.

Once in the blind, safety becomes the highest priority. I know first-hand about getting called out when my safety clicked off before the shot was called. To this day, I am not quite sure how he heard it. David was calling in a group of greenheads, and six of us were in the blind. He must have supersonic ears. One always feels safe and comfortable in the blind with David. He is patient, always sharing information about how the ducks respond to certain calls and why they do what the do.

After watching thousands of ducks come into his fields and blinds over the years, I would say he is an expert on waterfowl, especially green heads. He is quick to point out the need to be careful and shoot only the males as they come in. That’s easier said than done, especially when the skies are dark and rainy. David never seems to have any problem, though. He can spot a group of ducks from what seems like miles away, always scanning the skies, searching for a potential opportunity.

Our day of hunting seemed to fast-forward when birds start working our spread. I am always amazed how all external discomforts, like the bitter cold and mental distractions, suddenly disappear when ducks are spotted. The thrill of watching them turn, work the decoys, and drop from out of the sky is amazing everytime I witness it.

When it starts to slow down, David fires up the George Foreman grill, lunch time. He typically cooks up an egg and bacon sandwich or ham and cheese. No matter the meal, we all agree that everything tastes better in the duck blind. While he’s cooking breakfast, he never completely takes an eye off the sky above. Ducks always take precedence over sandwiches that might get burnt.

After lunch is served and consumed, it’s back to carefully scanning the skies for pairs or singles that easily slip by without notice.

At the close of our day, I recalled our time spent in the blind: the ducks that outsmarted us, the bonhomie, and what we learned from being up close to nature. I could tell that it would be another memory, one that I would recall for many years to come and find joy as I remember a point in time when our external discomforts and mental distractions completely disappeared, even if for just a moment. Most of all, I think about how someday his sons will be calling in the ducks, sitting in these same blinds, talking about their dad who taught them conservation, safety, and more importantly, about life.