Fowl play on the Mississippi flyway
FEATURE | October 2014
Delta Duck Hunts
Interview and Photos by: Casey Hilder
On a misty Mississippi morning, a chorus of three hunters sits blind-bound in Dundee, Mississippi, quacking away into their calls and bracing in anticipation of the incoming storm of wingtips and feathers so familiar to those who frequent the top of the Delta flyway. Themelodic morning ambiance is soon shattered by a crescendo of thunderous shotgun blasts, followed by a plink, a splash and the enthusiastic huffing of a canine companion.
For duck hunting patriarch David Melton, it’s just another day in the field. Melton, an experienced outdoorsmen and CEO of Delta Duck Hunts, has provided guided duck hunts for the past 20 years. For those seeking the authentic Delta flyway experience and variety in waterfowl, Melton and his crew provide the total package for enterprising outdoorsmen. The foggy, scenic Mississippi landscape backs a variety of waterfowl such as teal, mallards and snow geese. Even a few banded ducks have been claimed on Melton’s turf, with the camp playing host to the first-ever livefeed stream of this rare mark of pride for sportsmen captured on ESPN Outdoors Duck Trek.
Melton says his business represents a tradition that existed before the casinos, before Highway 61 sliced through Tunica. “It all started when a guy from Pioneer Seed Company called me one year,” he says. “He asked me to carry around seven farmers from South Carolina on a corporate trip. He said they used to go to Stuttgart but wanted to check out the casinos down here. And then it hit me – damn, I could get paid to duck hunt every morning.” Melton tells stories of growing his clientele by pulling up to nearby casinos clad in camouflage and driving a six-wheeler ATV which, of course, required valet parking. And by the time he’d sat down to cash in his meal ticket at the buffet, a crowd of curious would-be hunters had already gathered. “We’d throw on some waders and put them out in the blind the next morning,” he says with a laugh. “But that’s just how it started.”
A lifetime spent in the small Delta community plays in Melton’s favor, with a strong sense of family and tradition that lends a sense of authenticity to the business. It’s no coincidence that 20 years ago also marks the birth of Melton’s first daughter. After all, he doesn’t do this for his health. “These guided tours – and the reason I get up at the crack of dawn every day throughout the season – that’s her college fund, her insurance,” he says. And though Melton and his crew sport a classic sensibility when it comes to hunting, a little heavy-duty modern gear doesn’t hurt. Melton’s vehicle of choice is the Polaris Ranger, a metal beast equipped with treads to handle swampy surrounds of the land and navigate to the sweet spots of the area. “If I don’t have it, it’s because I don’t want it,” Melton says of his small fleet of nine all-terrain vehicles. Converted catfish ponds contain portable blinds, plunked in the middle of rows of cleverly irrigated corn, rice, and milo. A typical hunt can be over in a flash, with many groups hitting their limit within 16 minutes of setting up. While the time on the flyway may be fleeting, it's about the total package for Melton and his crew. It's about a hearty breakfast of thick-cut bacon and scrambled eggs at the nearby Blue & White Café.
It's about trekking into the crisp winter air and looking up to see ducks forming that V-shaped call to action. “A day spent duck hunting is better than a day spent anywhere else,” Melton says. “And I don’t see myself retiring anytime soon. The kids need school and I don’t think many out there can meet the standards we’ve set.”
deltaducks.com; 4101 Dundee Rd, Dundee, MS 38626, (662) 357-5152