Bayou-Diversity (17 February 2019) On the morning of December 20, 1987, I was working near the mainline Mississippi River levee in Tensas Parish. Waterfowl hunting season was ongoing, and I was prowling about in search of those who might violate federal laws that protect the long-term well-being of migratory ducks and geese. Before daylight I walked a mile into a swampy, forested area that consisted of oak flats and meandering cypress sloughs. Palmetto blanketed the subtle ridges and drapes of Spanish moss hung motionless in the still, pre-dawn darkness. I squatted down and leaned back against a cedar elm to await the morning chorus. There was no sunrise on this cloudy day; objects just grayed into existence. Crows got up first and shouted monosyllabic insults at each other as they flew east toward the river. A pair of pileated woodpeckers were roused from their separate roost trees by the commotion and rattled morning greetings back and forth across the swamp. The twittering notes of a tiny winter wren followed her in and out of a nearby hollow log. As wood ducks began to fly over at treetop height squealing their high-pitched cries, I figured they would soon reveal the presence of any hunters in the area. Sure enough, shotgun volleys abruptly splintered the natural sounds of the swamp.
From the sound of the shooting there appeared to be two hunting parties several hundred yards apart. They continued to fire intermittently for a while until the morning flight of ducks tapered off. I had a hunch which direction they would leave the area and moved to intercept them to conduct a routine field check. About 8:30, according to my field notes, I saw two hunters walking through the woods directly toward me. It turned out to be a man and his juvenile son. Not long after I had conducted my business with them and sent them on their way, I saw two more hunters approaching. In a similar scenario it was a man and his young son.
The encounters were not unusual except for several coincidences that bound them in my memory. Both men had the same last name except for the spelling by one letter. Both were from Shreveport but claimed to have not met before the previous evening when they stayed at a nearby hunting camp. Each father and son collectively exceeded the daily bag limit of ducks. In each case the father claimed to have shot the extra ducks though the sons carried those birds when confronted. As I wrote citations for the men and seized the ducks for evidence, it occurred to me that the boys were about the age of my own two sons. Old recollections stirred in me, and I remember it being hard not to preach to the men. Months later in court they expressed remorse at their behavior in the presence of the boys. I often wondered if things changed afterwards between the men and their sons, if their bond was altered, if maybe a lasting conservation ethic surfaced for all of them in the wake of the incident. I know the latter is possible, as I am my own example of youthful reformation.