Ducks and hunters pass through time like water drops in a river’s flow.
Ducks and hunters pass through time like water drops in a river’s flow. Waterfowl reproduce new broods while hunters follow traditions from their fathers that introduced good shots, expert calling, cold duck blinds and wet, smelly dogs. Memories, good and bad, are made in duck blinds as legends are created.
Migrations of ducks and geese have always returned down the Central Flyway to the Northwest Missouri Squaw Creek area. Hunters approached this productive location with different ambitions. Some just wanted to feed their families.
Lewis and Clark noted populations of abundant game in the area of Squaw Creek on their journey up the Missouri River. Native Americans discovered this productive region centuries before. Later, a few market hunters took large numbers of ducks and geese throughout the region until it became illegal and then it was all sport hunting.
The Squaw Creek Wildlife Area, close to Mound City, Mo., has long become an annual fall pilgrimage for hunters, some famous, some not. The best hunters rose from this group, most unknown to the world. Yet, in many ways some contributed to the very existence of modern-day waterfowl populations while others were just darned good hunters.
The Mound City Waterfowler’s Hall of Fame was first conceived to attract tourists off nearby Interstate 29. Meetings were held several years until the Hall of Fame idea became bigger than tourism and more of a passion. People started to realize that this dream was something special and a way to honor the best.
“Doc J. Bruce McRae, a passionate waterfowl hunter introduced the Hall of Fame idea in a town meeting,” Hall of Fame President Joe Laukemper said. “This eventually led to the Hall of Fame banquets and inductions. Waterfowl hunting legends of the area are awarded plaques and their names are posted with past members. Our organization became bigger; soon we were receiving all kinds of antique waterfowling equipment, pictures and other items requiring a permanent building.”
The McRae Community Center was the answer, with plenty of space and a hall big enough to accommodate several hundred hunters and families that attend the annual inductee’s banquet. The community center has a fine restaurant and most of the Hall’s displays. Exhibits showcasing veteran hunters’ equipment and pictures are a fitting tribute to accomplished waterfowl enthusiasts.
Sons and daughters who hunt this region proudly point out their dad’s displays, including Laukemper and professional waterfowl hunting guide Danny Guyer, who hunted here with their fathers who are both inducted.
I have heroes here, too. I always look up one of my mentors in outdoor writing, Bill Bennett, outdoor editor of the St. Joseph News Press, a man who helped me get started in professional writing 33 years ago. Paul Knick, a top duck caller, my father’s friend and mine too, and his partner, Bud Burrows, helped create better waterfowl marshes on Squaw Creek through generous donations.
Inductees are always overwhelmed when added to a list of the nation’s best hunters, including individuals who have excelled in other professions.
“I am honored to be inducted in The Hall of Fame with my father and his friend Ted Willis,” said Tom Watson, Professional Golf Association legend. “Inductees are comprised of around 125 people who have been hunting ducks and geese around the region for years. Five are added annually. This hall is about friendships, too, and that should always be remembered. My father took me there when I was seven years old and I fell in love with the entire experience. I am an avid duck and quail hunter. Duck hunting here was and still is a very important part of my life.”
Other celebrities who discovered hunting in the region include Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Hank Bauer, Ted Williams and Roy Rogers, who some say brought his pal, Clark Gable. Air Force generals from SAC Air Force base in Omaha, Neb., including Jimmy Doolittle, hunted there too.
“Remarkably, Ted Williams used to hunt and then visit a local restaurant where no one paid attention to him,” Laukemper said. “They knew who he was and just didn’t bother him. Tommy Watson is treated the same way at the induction dinners. Everyone just mixes in as waterfowlers.”
Many inductees have won national duck calling contests, like 1982 World Champion Sam Hoepher, while others made a living shooting or trapping ducks in the 1930s.
Buster Johns, another Hall inductee, was a market hunter during his youth and has excellent stories. He remembers bringing ducks to a plane waiting in mud. They placed boards down the runway so the plane could take off to a private dinner for some powerful people in Kansas City. He is still hunting ducks in his 80s.
“I consider the Waterfowler’s Hall of Fame a place for people to strive to be inducted while bettering this resource, no matter who they are,” Laukemper said. “We have members from all walks of life including guys who are millionaires that are inducted with guys living on $250 a month in Social Security.”
Laukemper remembers his father talking about hunting with a Flying Tiger who flew against the Japanese in China just before the United States declared war with Japan. Many of the fighter pilots hunted here too and marked little zeroes or other characters to tally the ducks they shot, the same as marking their planes with air victory symbols in war. Sadly the pilots never signed their names.
“The Waterfowler’s Hall of Fame will continue to add decorum by building oak cases for various items,” Laukemper said. “We have cases of the stuffed waterfowl species that pass through the area. We even have decoys from foreign countries and other unusual items. Many ask where the Hall is going. Not sure, but we plan for it to last while there is interest in duck and goose hunting and maybe longer.”