Hardcore Duck Hunting Stories

Georgia’s duck hunting has made a resurgence in recent years with the re-opening of multiple Ducks Unlimited chapters. As a result, our state’s bountiful public lands will inevitably become more impacted in the upcoming years. However, this does not necessarily mean a decrease in productivity or an increase in frustration. As any outdoorsman knows, the more pressured the game is, the more adaptive and innovative the hunter must be.

Opening Day of the 2011 Georgia Duck Season

It’s 2 a.m. on a bone chilling November morning, and the only sounds are the soft chirping of crickets and the haunting sounds of a lone hoot owl. A light breeze begins to whisper, spurring the swaying and crackling of frost-bitten Georgia pines. Throughout the state, most sensible individuals are fast asleep, while others may be leaving the neon glow of downtown bars. As the big cities are in a slumber, a group of Georgia duck hunters are wide awake and ready to start a long day.

For this group of Georgia outdoorsmen, the early morning is one filled with promise, adventure, and uncertainty. Every year, these men and women choose to leave the comfort of modern indoor amenities and venture into some of the most unforgiving, desolate and habitats. After almost a year of excessive anticipation, the 2011 waterfowl season finally begins in Georgia.

As the frozen grass and loose gravel crunches beneath the footsteps of duck hunters Josh Hammock and Joel Seagraves, only the bright Georgia moonlight aids the loading of their boats and trucks. As they hike up the collars of their camouflage jackets against the crisp breeze, they go over their plans for the upcoming morning. Regardless of the weather, water level, or any other adverse conditions, this duck hunting duo is going to get to their hunting spots.

Duck hunting is a true art that takes years, and often decades, of trial and error to master. While the casual duck hunter, without question, can occasionally have the good fortune of coming across a large number of quality birds, only the most diehard and daring duck hunters experience continued and consistent success. 

Often times, being adaptive means taking very precise, calculated risks and simply “going for it”. Whether it is traveling through treacherous waters in order to reach an unmolested or unknown hunting spot, pushing one’s body to its absolute physical limits, or making spur of the moment mechanical improvisations – serious duck hunters are willing to do whatever it takes to make a hunting season successful.

This “never give up” attitude is where the prominent Middle Georgia duck hunting duo of Josh Hammock and Joel Seagraves excel in countless ways. Being some of the most gutsy and spirited duck hunters this state has to offer, these tried-and-true outdoorsmen have had their fair share of trials and tribulations that act as a living testimony to their extreme dedication and reverence for the sport we all love.

Things That Go “Bump” in the Night

It was 2:30am on a cold, winter morning as the team backed their fleet of camouflage mud boats into the frigid Altamaha River. With their gear loaded into boats, there was hardly anywhere for a grown man to sit. As life-long waterfowl hunter Joel Seagraves turned the key of his mud motor to warm it up for their dark, treacherous run, he noticed that it took a little longer than usual to crank. After several minutes of choking and endless key turning, the motor roared to life in a deafening way, shattering the surrounding solitude of the Georgia wildlife. A startled Seagraves jumped back while turning off the engine, and quickly regained his composure after making sure his buddies had not seen his dramatic response. Now prepared for the thunderous engine noise, Seagraves cranked the engine again and had the same result – the engine was pegged at 3,600 RPMs.

After close inspection of the mud motor’s intricate mechanics, it was soon realized that the 17 degree weather had frozen the throttle body open. Armed with only an almost-empty cigarette lighter and a remote hope of a MacGyver-like fix, Seagraves successfully melted the thick ice surrounding the throttle body. With the ice melted and the engine back in operation, all was right and the disaster was evaded – for the time being.

The crew shrugged off the morning’s minor setback and made haste to their morning hunting destination. The first three miles went off without a hitch – the moon was aiding their travel through the tangled, flooded hardwoods of the South Georgia swamp, the water was smooth - it was the kind of boat ride that every duck hunter yearns for. As the duo came upon the more “hairy” part of their journey – a two mile, one foot deep stretch of cypress trees with no pre-cut boat channels, Seagraves preparedly loosened his iron grip of the engine’s throttle. As his grip decreased, however, his worst nightmare came to fruition. The throttle handle had not moved. The throttle body was frozen wide open.

There was no stopping the boat. No lighter. No tools. No hunting comrades to bail him out. Seagraves was in severe danger and had to think fast. With the stump field approaching at an alarming rate, Seagraves did the only thing he could do – hold on. As the moonlit trees, limbs, and stumps whipped within inches of his stubbly, painted face, Joel ducked and dodged with every turn. The adrenaline pulsing through his veins made the task of pulling and pushing his gargantuan mud motor seem like child’s play.

With the first phase of the trail over, the real “fun” began – a weaving maze of 90 degree turns that should usually be taken at no more than a slow idle. With the boat stuck at an excess of 25 miles per hour, Seagraves was forced to face the menacing maze at terrifying speeds.

As the first sharp turn approached, Joel trusted his instincts and quite possibly made a life-saving decision. As he tightened his grip and swallowed hard, Seagraves purposely slammed into an enormous cypress tree in a last-ditch attempt to slow the boat down. Surprisingly, the plan worked to perfection and the boat ricocheted into the next turn with pinpoint accuracy.

Totally disregarding the extensive cosmetic damage to his boat, Seagraves smashed his boat into an even bigger cypress knee, and then another - all the while wrestling his heavyweight, high powered motor. As the glow of the moonlight revealed the end of the deadly swamp trail, a shaken Seagraves spotted his salvation; an isolated, sandy island and launched the boat onto it and immediately shut down the motor. Without paying the least bit of attention to the numerous dents and cuts on his new mud boat, extreme fear and thankfulness overwhelmed him. The Middle Georgia duck hunter simply sat still and prayed – thanking God for his safety and decision making that allowed him to live to see another duck hunting opening day.

Pushing the Limits

As the days begin to shorten and the weather starts to cool, Joel Seagraves and Josh Hammock have just one thing on their mind – their annual Rhett’s Island duck hunting trip. With miles upon miles of premier duck hunting habitat, Rhett’s Island is a landmark destination for every serious Georgia duck hunter. Unfortunately, this year’s hunting foray was one marred by a frightening, yet humorous conundrum that either duck hunter will have a hard time forgetting.

Following an ill-advised dinner of less-than-stellar chicken tartar (yes, that’s chicken tartar) from a hole-in-the-wall South Georgia Chinese restaurant, Hammock wasn’t quite able to make the duo’s final morning hunt of the trip. Being the wily outdoorsman that he is, Seagraves wasn’t about to let his partner’s unfortunate gastric distress come between him and his ducks.

As Seagraves arrived alone at the boat ramp that morning, he began sharing some old stories and rubbing elbows with some local duck hunters. After comparing notes with him on the last few days of hunting, his newfound friends helped him muscle his boat over the preliminary dike and he was on his way to enjoy the solitude of the day.

As the morning progressed and Seagraves managed to bag a few quality green winged teal, he reached for his phone in order to check on his fallen comrade back at the hotel. “That ain’t good,” he mumbled as he plucked his phone from a three inch deep puddle in the bottom of his boat. With his cell phone rendered useless and an approaching low tide, Seagraves makes the smart decision to call it quits for the morning as to not risk being left high-and-dry by the outgoing tide.

With just one more dike to conquer before he made it home safely to his sick hunting partner, Seagraves was as happy as a pig in mud. He had a quiet, peaceful morning, made some new friends at the boat ramp, and managed to kill some beautiful South Georgia ducks. It doesn’t get much better than that.

As he pulled his boat onto the dike and attempted to winch it upwards, the Milledgeville native discovered the clutch burned out of one of his boat’s winches. Unfortunately, the mechanical failure wasn’t realized until Seagraves’ boat was sliding backwards down the dike, filling the back half with frigid water. Suddenly this initially-comical morning was turning into a hazardous situation. Being alone with no cell phone, an outgoing tide, in a vast South Georgia swamp is a situation that no duck hunter envies.

After taking a moment to think through possible solutions, Seagraves was forced to use his collegiate rugby days to his advantage. Squatting underneath them, he placed the abrasive, stiff cables onto his bloodied shoulders and proceeded to “squat” the entire weight of his boat, inch-by-inch, up the dike.

For over three hours, a dangerously exhausted Seagraves shimmied his 16 foot boat up the impediment, little-by-little. With very little potable water onboard, Seagraves was forced to push far beyond his body’s physical limits. Imagine jogging a few miles in full duck hunting gear. Now, imagine squatting the entire weight of a 16 foot boat up a 25 degree incline for over three hours. Who says hunting isn’t a sport?

As another hour passed, an increasingly discouraged Seagraves often had thoughts of staying put and spending the night. Josh knew where he was, as did his family, but he did not want to worry anyone. On top of that, he had to be at work in the morning. He was going to get out, and get out now. He didn’t care what it was going to take, as long as he made it home.

Squatting under the cables, bloody shoulders and all, Seagraves lifted upwards. With one final heave, Seagraves was able to manipulate his boat the final inch and ease down the dike.

Five hours, two fouled spark plugs and a spent rev limiter later, Seagraves made it back to the hotel to find his long-time buddy giggling at Sunday morning cartoons. It was the last thing that Joel wanted to see after being stuck in the mud all day.

“What in the world happened to you?” Grinned Hammock. “You look like swamp thing!”

“Shut up Josh. Just shut up. Pack your stuff. We’re leaving.”

Land, Land Everywhere - But Not a Place to Stand

During a mid-season hunting trip to their home lake of Oconee, the duo was prepared to see a lot of quality birds in one of their historically productive holes. Although Oconee’s Sugar Creek can receive a good bit of hunting pressure, the duo looked forward to hunting their secret spot that is seldom hunted. While their minds were filled with quick limits of mallards and wood ducks, little did they know that a quick, hometown morning hunt would turn into a full-on anxiety attack and claustrophobic conundrum for one of the hunters.

As the pair eased into the back of the popular Sugar Creek, they were taken aback that the “creek” had turned into nothing short of a stream. They were expecting low water, but nothing of this nature. Stumps, once-hidden brush piles, and soupy mud littered the once-aquatic landscape. By miracle and a lot of boat pushing, the hunting team made it to their desired spot and swiftly pulled the boat onto a concealed bank. With stuffed decoy bags, dove stools, and shotguns in tow, the two hunters looked like a pair of redneck Santa Clause impersonators.

“Josh, let’s walk down the bank a little bit and then cross,” pleaded Seagraves.

“Don’t be a wuss. Let’s just get the hard part over with,” exclaimed Hammock in a loud whisper.

Reluctantly following Hammock’s lead, Seagraves started across the mud flat to their desired spot. While it was particularly taxing to manipulate the thick mud, the duo was making great headway. Things were looking up. That is, until Hammock disappeared up to his armpits in mud.

As Seagraves let out a muffled snicker as if to say, “I told you so”, he quickly realized that it wasn’t a laughing matter. His buddy literally could not move an inch.

“Just crawl on out, we’ll turn around and go the other way,” scoffed Seagraves.

“I can’t move my legs, man. I’m seriously stuck,” answered Hammock

Every time Hammock tried to move his legs, they just sunk further into the mud. Just like quicksand, except mud. Starting to feel claustrophobic due to the mud pushing against his chest, the usually rugged Hammock began hyperventilating uncontrollably. Still laughing, as only a true hunting buddy would do, Seagraves tried his best to calm his friend down.

“Relax bud. You’re not going to drown in the mud! Take deep breaths, gather yourself, and get on out of there. We’ve got ducks to kill and you’re holding us up!” offered Seagraves.

In an attempt to distribute his surface area, Hammock began using his dove stool as leverage against the glue-like mud. Thanks to his mud covered hands, however, Hammock dropped the stool into the muck, never to be seen again. Trying to gather himself and think of an alternative way out, he immediately reached for his decoy bag. Using the bag to pull himself on top of the mud, Hammock wiggled for about fifteen minutes and emerged from the mud unharmed. Finally free from his muddy, claustrophobic nightmare, the next step was to get Hammock clean. After all, the ever-supportive Seagraves wouldn’t let a muddy Hammock in his truck or boat.

“Looks like you need to get in the water and wash off!” laughed Seagraves.

“The water is 45 degrees Joel. It ain’t happening.”

“Have fun walking then!”

As a humbled Hammock reluctantly plunged into the frigid water in nothing but his underwear, Joel made sure to take plenty of pictures. Why, you ask? So he could make sure to embarrass Josh every chance he got. After all, what else is a hunting buddy good for?

Because Josh Hammock and Joel Seagraves duck hunt the hard way, episodes like these are bound to happen along the way. While some are funny and some can be life threatening, it is of the utmost importance to remember that duck hunters are a different breed. These rugged outdoorsmen thrive on the adventure and danger of the journey - the killing of ducks is only a small part of the sport for them.

In order to hunt public land effectively, it is important that the hunter is mentally and physically prepared for every possible situation. The duo advises, “Spend as much time in the outdoors as possible, whether it is hunting season or not. Situations like these cannot always be predicted or avoided, so it is important to become intimate with your surrounding area and learn how to improvise. There is no substitute for time in the woods. No amount of books or lessons can prepare you for some of duck hunting’s hairy situations.”

The duck hunting buddies also believe in taking care of one’s body. “If I weren’t in good physical shape while I was stuck on that dike, I would have been toast. You’ve got to be in good shape in order to have the necessary confidence in your body to overcome adversity,” testifies Seagraves.

If you plan on duck hunting the hard way, it is always imperative to bring your sense of humor along. You would be surprised how much more enjoyable and successful your hunts will be if you remember to laugh along the way. As the old saying goes, “Never get so caught up in the results that you forget to enjoy the journey,” and most importantly, stay safe out there.

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