“It’s all about the show,” explains Strait Lake Lodge owner Max Sharp about greenheads in the timber. Strait Lake is Sharp’s build-it-and-they-will-come Arkansas duck camp, the culmination of a lifetime chasing ducks. We talk about his duck hunting origins to include old school outdoors, his vision for Strait Lake, what all goes into creating ideal habitat, and long-term conservation ideals. It really is all about the show.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere in Arkansas at Strait Lake with the one, the only, Max Sharp. You’ve heard it a million times, build it and they’ll come. That’s going to be the general gist of what we talk about and a whole lot more today here in Arkansas, because Max has built it and buddy, they came. Max, how are you, enjoyed this morning.
Max Sharp: Man, it was great, we had a great hunt this morning.
Ramsey Russell: It feels like coming home almost, I’ve only been here one time, but you walk in the door at the lodge and it’s just immediately comfortable and familiar, got them leather seats everywhere, fireplace roaring, taxidermy and folks gathered around the fire and gathered around the food and just having a good time and it’s what duck camp is supposed to be.
Max Sharp: It’s aesthetic.
Ramsey Russell: It is aesthetic.
Max Sharp: That’s what I say, it’s aesthetic, it feels good. It’s not formal, it’s informal and it just feels good. When you go in there, those old wood floors and all the taxidermy.
Ramsey Russell: You got some taxidermy there. And I like that big white bird you got, that big swan.
Max Sharp: Yeah, it came from Ramsey.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that looked familiar. I ain’t seen him in a while.
Max Sharp: Yeah, that’s a pretty good story. I was talking to Ramsey and Ed were in Utah hunting and I called Ed and I was checking on him and Ed does a lot of photography, Ed Wall. And he said, well, Ramsey got his swan this morning and I said, really, what’s he going to do with it? And he said, I think he’s going to probably clean it and breast it out and I immediately hung up on Ed and called Ramsey, I said, ship me that thing, don’t breast that thing out.
Ramsey Russell: You did. I’m like, dude, you want me to send this thing to Utah, you go, yeah, here’s the FedEx number.
Max Sharp: Yeah, it was a great story.
Ramsey Russell: We were sure fixing to go breast it out and eat it, man, because we were going to eat it for supper the next day. But hey, I want to talk a little bit about – let’s start talking about this morning, because this morning was a good hunt and it’s one of them years so far, it was warm, I think it was 65° and absolute bottom falling out raining, when I went to bed last night, I woke up this morning, thank God it wasn’t raining, but it’s still about 65°.
Max Sharp: Yeah, it’s been tough. It’s been just some horrible weather, the whole first split weather was pretty good, we went home, didn’t have any cold fronts during the split, come back, same old ducks, didn’t get any new ducks, but yeah, just cloudy every day, rain, overcast, it’s been some tough conditions to start out the second split here in Arkansas.
Ramsey Russell: You were saying even – we were talking about Dr. Osborne, who we’ll talk about in a minute, was talking about, he explained to me one time how a lot of these guys in these woods down here in Arkansas can tell their ducks, the ducks that are imprinted on their woods versus just new ducks or whatever like that. And you were saying this morning your ducks ain’t even here yet, really?
Max Sharp: Yeah. I can tell from where they go, the places they do, where they fly, the pattern that they fly in and the whole first split were photo ducks that we catch early. We had some water late October, caught some ducks and those ducks kind of hung around. But even the photo ducks arrived about a week or 10 days later this year than they did last year. Last year, boy 18th or 20th October before Halloween, I always say they’re Halloween ducks, but last year they were here early, this year, they were here about a week or 10 days later than we expected them.
Ramsey Russell: Well, this morning happened pretty much like we went out to a rice field you all got, went to a pit blind, nice pit blind, very comfortable and green wings come out to play at daylight and I expected after all that rain, they’d be out in the fields.
Max Sharp: Yeah, we had a great flight of green wings this morning and then the sun come out for 15 or 20 minutes and we picked up a few mallards.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, we did.
Max Sharp: That was kind of the icing on the cake there, but we shot pretty good this morning, too.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, we did.
Max Sharp: Those teal just didn’t, they wouldn’t get just quite right to call the shot on them and it was always, it seemed like it was one end of the blind or the other had most of the shooting.
Ramsey Russell: They were weird. They were just skirting a little bit and the mallards, I understand, they’ve been here long enough without, they know how the game is played, but the green wings is what surprised me, how they just wouldn’t, if they would just gotten in that pocket, we’d have worked.
Max Sharp: And you need that one guy to shoot early and flare them up and get them up there where everybody can pick them off. The timing of that was just pretty tough this morning. But hey, we had a great hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, my God. It was an awesome hunt.
Max Sharp: Yeah, it was great.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that something we’re sitting here talking about, like, oh, it was terrible hunt, I ain’t saying it’s terrible hunt, I’m just saying they weren’t playing by the rulebook.
Max Sharp: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: But it was a great hunt.
Max Sharp: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: There were a lot of ducks hanging on the straps as we walked back to the rig this morning. When will they get in your timber good?
Max Sharp: The ducks have been in the woods, they’re in the woods now, it’s just we try not to go in there and blow the woods up on these low overcast rainy days. We’re pretty anxious to get back there in the woods and get some sunshine here the next few days. And we’re fixing to get some cold front and we expect to pick up some new ducks.
Ramsey Russell: That’s your heartbeat, isn’t it?
Max Sharp: Yeah. Being in those woods, it’s something special. I always say I’d rather go in the woods and kill 3 or 4 ducks than I had go to a field and kill 20. And I don’t know if that’s totally true, but there’s just something special about those woods.
Ramsey Russell: I know what that special is. Arkansas green timber hunting has been written about, it’s been televised, it’s been everything, I would say one of the number one most requested hunts in the world that I don’t sell, that people come up and ask me about is Arkansas flooded green timber. And here’s the distinction to me, and I’m reminded every time I visit you and we’ve been off in your woods or every time I hunt green timber, Max is, you go out to that field and you shoot those days, you just shoot 7, 8 mallards, one of them days. Well, you just shot 7 or 8 mallards, you go into the green timber and you just shoot one mallard, that son of a bitch came down through the trees and landed in your lap, every single one of them does, that’s the essence of green timber hunt. And you put a lot of videos up on your social media of them ducks, it looks like somebody took the top off of black pepper like we do and just started pouring it in that timber hole.
Max Sharp: And that’s the most important thing for me, is right there at daylight, the show.
Ramsey Russell: The show.
Max Sharp: I mean, we don’t shoot, we let it get good daylight. Several of times, we’ve had just big bunches in the woods and in the woods for us, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about a quality hunt.
Ramsey Russell: Quality.
Max Sharp: A quality hunt. And we’re finishing ducks, we’re not treetopping ducks, you won’t see any – we just don’t do it. And we’re in there hunting over those cork decoys and it’s just nostalgic and we’ve got some gravel around the trees that we normally stand on and we’re using an old school jerk string, not much mechanical decoys –
Ramsey Russell: You don’t use mechanical?
Max Sharp: Not in the woods.
Ramsey Russell: Not in the woods, you don’t.
Max Sharp: No, we try not to. Made it all year without doing it last year and it’s old school, it’s Arkansas old school, there’s no blinds in the woods and we’re fortunate to have 5 blocks of woods that we can bounce around and we can rest a block and hunt another block. But that primary block up there, the 320 acre block, it’s a special place.
Ramsey Russell: Why?
Max Sharp: It’s just natural and the ducks just come to it, the way the rest areas are set up, they trade back and forth across that block of woods and it’s just special.
Ramsey Russell: What is it geographically about this particular location? Well, Bayou De View is right over here, you all own piece of it.
Max Sharp: We own 3.5 miles of
Ramsey Russell: The L ‘Anguille River just right down the road.
Land Development for Duck Hunting
It was going to be a duck hole, it had a natural swag on it with having this old lake bed.
Max Sharp: Yeah. We’re right here amongst the L ‘Anguille, the Bayou De View, the Cache River and the White River to our west. So we’re in the confluence of the flyway and it’s just a really special spot. And you can look at it on a topo map and immediately pick out and say a particular area is going to be a good duck location and that’s what this was. When I come to look at the first 300 acres up here, I knew immediately because of where it was at, that it was going to be a duck hole, it had a natural swag on it with having this old lake bed and looking at the maps and stuff, you can immediately tell that with a little development and a little hard know you can make it into a duck hole.
Ramsey Russell: How’d you find this place, Max?
Max Sharp: Well, it was just kind of happenstance. I had a friend that was in the logging business and he knew another guy that was in the logging business in Southeast Arkansas and the guy in Southeast Arkansas knew the guy from Alabama that owned this. It’s really a story of diligence, like being a bloodhound and following the trail. And when I finally got the guy from Alabama on the phone, he thought he had the property sold, a week later he called me back and he said, hey, I’ll show it to you, I don’t know if my other deal is going to go through and immediately I came up here, I mean, that day, I said, can you meet me there today? And it was right at the end of duck season in 2013. And that’s when we bought the first 300 acres. And then 9 or 10 land deals later, we’re up close to 3000 acres here.
Ramsey Russell: Just keep scaling.
Max Sharp: It’s all just great habitat, it’s mediocre farm ground, we’re farming it ourself, but it’s fabulous habitat. I would watch everything around us when Bayou De View would get out and flood and it would just be lots of ducks. And I just said, if we can emulate a bayou flood and pump all this stuff without the bayou flooding and put water on it incrementally through the season, we’ll have something special and that’s come to pass. We’ve built lots of levees, 40 miles worth of levees around this place, we’ve improved some of the dirt we’ve moved once and some of it we moved 2 or 3 times.
Ramsey Russell: Tell the story you told in the blind this morning about where we hunted at the end of that turn road, the local or somebody called it the duck field.
Max Sharp: Yeah, we bought the big farm here from the Morrie’s. And the Morrie’s are quite the family, they own the granary, they own lots of land here in Woodruff County, very well to do family and good people, they’re really good people, but they don’t sell any land. And I’d built a relationship with them for 6 or 7 years and they kind of watched what I had done up here with, at that time, 1000 acres. And they’re hunters too and they recognize the conservation efforts and everything that I was doing and not that we didn’t pay them for it, but they wanted us to have it. And I know you said, well, you paid for it, so they didn’t want you to have it that bad or they’d have to give it to you, but they didn’t give it to us, we paid for it. But those people have never sold any land ever. This is the only farm and this was one of the first farms that they ever owned way back through history. So it’s been in their family for 100 and something years, 3 generations.
Ramsey Russell: All these drains and waterways in the delta, it’s just rife with bayous and sloughs and creeks and rivers and it rains a lot and it’s low lying land and it gets up and it floods out temporarily, ducks get in it like do water and the water goes back down in time and there go the ducks.
Max Sharp: Well, that was what was happening up here. When the bayou would come up, there’d be lots of ducks, it wouldn’t stay but 5 or 6, 7 days and then the bayou would go down, it’d take all the water with it, then you’d have dry ground again. And that’s why the levees became important, that we could build levees and the levees serve 2 purposes, they allow us to have our duck water and then they also keep the marginal floods out of our crops in the spring, when the bayou does get out.
Ramsey Russell: When you started here with that initial 300 acres, that’s 300 acres?
Max Sharp: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: What did that 300 acres consist of?
Max Sharp: Well, it was here where the lodge is, it’s the field that’s south of the lodge, the little block of timber across the ponds here, the reservoir and the deadening.
Ramsey Russell: Okay.
Max Sharp: And then behind the deadening over there, there’s another little block of timber, it’s about 20 acres and we call it the death hole and it’s a really good spot. So it hunted big, the 300 acres was long and narrow and it hunted big, so you could hunt on one end of it and not really disturb the other end of it and it allowed you to get 2 or 3 days out of hunting a 300 acre piece and you might could hunt it 3 or 4 days a week, then you’d have to rest it because it just wasn’t big enough to handle the pressure. But that deadening up on the north end of it is a special place and it’s adjacent to our wood, so it just really kind of, all the pieces of the puzzle all kind of fit together and each piece of the property serves another purpose and it serves something else. Like ducks are resting here, but they’re traveling here, they’re feeding here and it’s all situated across those blocks of woods.
Ramsey Russell: You’re from Louisiana?
Max Sharp: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: Big LSU fan.
Max Sharp: Yes, sir.
Ramsey Russell: But you’re from Louisiana, when did you start duck hunting?
Max Sharp: I started duck hunting with a group of friends on the Red River, I was probably 18, 19 years old. My family, my grandfather wasn’t much of a hunter, my dad wasn’t much of a hunter, they were workaholics and just kind of got introduced to duck hunting. There was a decoy company, you may remember, that was Feather Flex Decoy.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Max Sharp: So that originated in my hometown of Blanchard, Louisiana. Anyway, I ended up working down there painting decoys as a high schooler and I just kind of got interested in it. And then I would take the seconds decoys that weren’t good enough to sell to the public and we’d take them out and rig them up and try to go hunting. And we were out there with Jensen duck calls, building duck blinds and it was always to me about, like, I loved the hunting, but I loved the getting ready and doing the work, like putting in the work and planting stuff for ducks and seeing if you can make something out of it.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Max Sharp: So we hunted on the Red River and I was just talking to one of the guys that I hunted with a couple of weeks ago at a Christmas party and we’re sitting there and we might sit there until ten or 11:00 AM and that was the strangest place that we ever hunted, because it would be a species hunt. One day it would be green wing teal, one day it would be mallards and you never knew what it was going to be. And it was just like if you sat there till ten or 11:00 AM you were going to get a couple of groups of something to come in there and decoy for you. We couldn’t shoot very good back then and we couldn’t call very good, but we had a lot of fun with it and we did that for several years. And then I hunted down on Toledo Bend, standing by a stomp, waste deep mud, 6 inches of water and waist deep mud, just tough hunting. Hunted a lot around northeast Louisiana, Jones hunted with Tommy Dansby over at the merganser plantation for several years. I’ve got a hunting partner, Chan Withrington in Monroe, he and I have hunted together for 27, 28 years and we hunted a lot. My kids grew up in an old farmhouse that we had there in Highway 15, just all over the place. I was a member at Greentree in McGehee at Arkansas for a couple of years. And I just really just wanted to own my own place. I wanted to farm it myself, I wanted to be able to manage it with lease ground. It just seemed like there was always some caveat that the farmer would take it or the son in law wanted it or something like that. And I just always had a vision for what owning it and farming it yourself, being able to leave some food for the ducks because the combines and stuff are pretty efficient now.
Ramsey Russell: They sure are.
Max Sharp: So you’re not leaving much food for a duck unless you’re intentionally leaving it. Well, with tenant farming and stuff, they’re trying to gather as much as they can, that’s their livelihood is gathering that grain and selling it.
Ramsey Russell: Because you bring up a good point, it’s almost like now, today you’re either farming or you’re farming for ducks. And there’s really not a lot of them. There’s a big void in between them two extremes, it ain’t like the 70s and 80s. I understand, because modern day farming is margins, man, thin margins and I understand that productivity if I’m a farmer. But as a duck hunter, I might want to be more over here farming for ducks than just straight up farm.
Max Sharp: Yeah, don’t get us wrong, we want that farm income in our farm we have a great farmer.
Ramsey Russell: You all found a balance.
Building a Levee: Lloyd Hicks’ Contribution
Lloyd Hicks, has built all but a few inches of all 40 miles of this levee.
Max Sharp: Yeah, we just found a balance. But you can make it work better if you do it yourself and you can leave that food and this fabulous farmer, this fabulous team that we have here, all the help that we’ve had up here building this, pretty much local guys, just an incredible team and just the tracko operator, Lloyd Hicks, has built all but a few inches of all 40 miles of this levee. Yeah, one guy over the last 3 years and just a really good team behind me up here and they really bought into the vision for what I had and how I wanted it to be and what I wanted to look like when we were done. And the Duck Tower is a special place and that was done by a local.
Ramsey Russell: What is a Duck Tower? Talk about that.
Max Sharp: We just wanted an observation tower, it’s down there where it’s looking over that deadening and it’s looking over the woods. So you get to see the ducks come out of the woods in the evening and it’s just a cool place to go hang out.
Ramsey Russell: How big is it?
Max Sharp: Well, it’s 50ft tall and it’s got about a 14 x 14 room on top of it. And we put some furniture and bar stools in it with refrigerator and a coffee pot. And my family likes to go down there and play dominoes, go down there in the afternoon and go hang out and it’s just a cool place to sit there and watch ducks and it’s entertaining.
Ramsey Russell: Reason I asked you how you started, what kind of habitat it was 300 acres, those habitats, now you got 3000 acres, but you’ve got within this property, you’ve got the complete waterfowl habitat complex. You’ve got flooded timber, you’ve got moist soil, you’ve got agricultural rice, you’ve got what I’d call a wildlife rice, it’s not clear field and you’ve got sanctuary.
Max Sharp: Yes, dirty rice and permanent water. There’s 4 parts to that ultimate compound and this summer we built a 40 acre lake over there that you hadn’t seen, but it’s on the backside of that lake and you need that for early ducks, gives you a place to teal hunt and it’ll kind of be a moist soil compound, but it’ll have water on it year round, we won’t ever take the water off of it.
Ramsey Russell: How do you all manage hunting pressure?
Max Sharp: Well, at Strait Lake we only hunt 2 groups of people per day.
Ramsey Russell: That ain’t much on 3000 acres.
Max Sharp: No, usually like this morning, low, overcast, cloudy, foggy, we kind of got both groups in the fields, but normally you got one group in the woods and one group anywhere else on the farm and that second group doesn’t necessarily go in another block of woods, we’re only hunting one block of woods per day and then they have the rest of the farm, which is 20 permanent hunting locations that they have to choose from to get the wind right where the ducks are. So it’s a pretty low pressure situation and I think pressure is one of the biggest contributing factors more than food and water, I think the birds are super sensitive to pressure nowadays and I don’t know what changed that. But I don’t think we get as much migration as we used to get in the 80s and early 90s. You could go to anybody’s camp and you could look up in the sky and you would see ducks in the air trading north, south, east, west, any time of day, you’d have ducks in the sky and I don’t see that as much anymore. I think the whole flyway hunts more like Canada. At daylight, you’ve got an open opportunity window and I think that window starts closing and birds start getting down and they don’t trade as know as they used to.
Ramsey Russell: I was talking to, I guess, your habitat manager last night, Jacob, who was a grad student under Doug Osborne and I asked him where a lot – I mean, they’ve band a lot of duck, you all banded a lot of duck here with Doug Osborne. How many ducks you all banded?
Max Sharp: We banded 2000 last year.
Ramsey Russell: 2000 ducks right here. I’m going to guess he’s banding 10,000 or 15,000 a season. But I asked Jacob, I said, where are a lot of band recoveries coming from back down here? Because Doug told me a story one time, one of the farms that they band on the landowner called him, the farmer called him and his son had shot a hen wigeon that had been banded, his son shot a wigeon 7ft from where it had been banded 3 years prior. That duck knew where it was going.
Max Sharp: That’s pretty site specific.
Ramsey Russell: And so I asked Jacob last night, I said, a lot of these birds you all are banding where the recovery is coming. He said, man, a bunch of them are coming mid flyway, they’re holding up there now, he said, and the band recoveries are showing that.
Max Sharp: After we’ve banded for 3 or 4 years and we start getting that data, you can kind of see where it very much defines the Mississippi flyway, that our ducks are Mississippi flyway ducks, but they’re killed throughout the flyway. But we’ve had 2 of our own and you talk about an excited guy, Max Sharp is pretty excited. The first time we killed a Strait lake band at Straight Lake that was banded here two years previous, pretty cool. Yeah, and that’s another reason that I’m saying, if you’ve banded 2000 ducks and you hadn’t killed one of your bands that you banded last year, then our ducks are not here yet. Because I feel like that’ll happen pretty quick after our ducks get here.
Ramsey Russell: Isn’t that something? I never thought about that. Well, you got your finger on the pulse on band recoveries just on your ducks?
Max Sharp: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: Get back on that habitat management. Is that why you converted from a – because you were doing a few commercial hunts and then you converted over more to membership. Was that a good way to do that?
Max Sharp: It was. I loved our day hunters, we hunted with some fabulous people over the years, day hunting. But I’m 52 years old and I’d accumulated quite a bit of debt doing all this and poured a lot of money into it. And I just thought it’s probably better for me to share this with some other families and boy, we really vetted members for conservation and how they wanted to hunt and were they team players and we just really evaluated the people that wanted to buy memberships. And I think we chose just a fabulous group, the group has a lot of camaraderie, everybody gets along well, we don’t have any wild cards and guys have just really became – ducks have brought people together to create friendships and business partners.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve got to meet some of the members and they’re good people, I sure enjoyed hunting with Ronnie and George today, having a lot of fun. Good boys out of Tennessee and the hunting ain’t quite in Tennessee what it used to. They’ve got a new lease on their duck hunting and their dog running right here.
Ramsey Russell: You reminded me of something last night, I was talking to, what is Old School Outdoors?
Max Sharp: Well, I was a host on Old School Outdoors and I kind of gave it up when I started guiding up here, when we started doing the day hunting and stuff, because we had to do a lot of filming with that. We were doing 26 episodes a year for a full year’s worth of episodes and we made lots of TV shows at Strait Lake up here and just fabulous hunting. There was a great group of guys that I was involved with, and Greg and Dennis are still doing it and then Lynn and Sid that were my partners in Old School Outdoors, they’re doing Kansas deer hunting and their show is now the way it was. And they’re doing a fabulous thing, they’re sharing the Lord with people and got our preacher at the church involved with their little TV show there and doing a really good job with it. But when I started doing the guided hunts, it was just going to kind of be tough to guide and have those camera people around all the time.
Nostalgia and Aesthetics
When I look around, I see the colors and I see the fabrics, I see the styles, I think old school. What is it about old school?
Ramsey Russell: Well, we’re sitting here, we’re recording in your little pro shop and got a lot of gear right here. When I look around, I see the colors and I see the fabrics, I see the styles, I think old school. What is it about old school? From Old School Outdoors to you personally, what is it about old school? You really ain’t got some great mossy oak, but I think a mossy oak is old school, I mean, that’s original bottom land right there, that’s bottom land, mossy oak. What is it about old school, Max? Is it a color pattern or is it an ethos?
Max Sharp: I guess, I’m just a traditionalist. I’m just old school is my core. I like the nostalgia, I like heritage, I like the history, we hunt over cork decoys in our woods, there’s just some things about it that is just, I don’t know, when I see old pictures, there’s 4 or 5 guys that –
Ramsey Russell: You got a lot of old pictures hanging in your lodge.
Max Sharp: There’s 4 or 5 guys that put some stuff on Instagram all the time and I look at those old pictures and I’m like, man, that’s who I am.
Ramsey Russell: The good old days.
Max Sharp: Yeah, that’s who I am.
Ramsey Russell: What about the practice of old school. Because that’s kind of what I’m digging at. Because when you start talking about cork decoys and no electronic and old fashioned pull strings in your timber, you could do it any which way you want to. You take the newest or the latest or the greatest or whatever. But it’s a choice to go into that habitat, into that type of hunt and hunt the way my granddaddy would have hunted. Why? It’s more sporting.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I want to do it the right way. I want to do it the right way. I don’t want to do it because we had something special or some device that caused it to happen. I want it to be because we called them in, we finished them, we earned it, we killed them in the hole. And that’s like the habitat stuff, too. I told Jacob a couple of times this summer, he’s looking at me like I was crazy when I told him to load up a tote in a buggy and fill it up with water and go water those trees that we’d planted in the woods. And I said, the difference is, what makes a difference is some people are willing to do more to achieve the goals that we have. And we water deer plots with 1000 gallon tank, I mean, it’s dry, powder dry. And I said, we’re going to do that, there’s a way to do it, it just may take more effort.
Ramsey Russell: Sometimes less is more. And that’s kind of what I think of, when I say a less is more approach to duck hunting. I think old school. And back in the day, those old guys, Granddaddy’s era, they were less is more because they didn’t have more, but it worked and they got the black and white pictures to prove it, it worked.
Max Sharp: Yeah. No, to me, it’s just nostalgic. It’s nostalgic, it’s the heritage, it’s the traditions and it’s just the way I like to do it.
Ramsey Russell: I heard a conversation the other day, somebody asked, I was up in Illinois a few weeks ago and man, God, the folk art that originated just a way for a man to go out and kill a duck, first market hunting, then sport hunting, but the decoys. And you jump around a part, go out to Chesapeake Bay, go to other parts of the country and they got this decoy culture from way back when. There really never was any decoys in Arkansas or Mississippi. And the conversation was Dr. Capooth explaining it out there in Memphis, he was explaining that that’s because a lot of this bottom land was covered with timber and you didn’t need decoy. There may have been a few live decoys, but mostly it was just guys out in the woods and boot kicking the water, calling ducks and really not even calling ducks, but that’s all you needed. And then they brought more decoys and stuff like that, they brought them down from Illinois or other parts of the world. But that’s why it’s not as strong, because of our cover type was wooded and it just didn’t lend itself to decoys, like big open water. So now to go off into these environments now, in the modern era, when you could use anything you wanted to, but you choose to use some local made decoys. Who carves those decoys? They’re beautiful.
Max Sharp: Yeah, they’re beautiful. Mac Rignan, he’s a great, dear friend of mine, lived in Minnesota, he’s since moved to Northwest Arkansas, but he’s a fabulous duck hunter, loves to carve decoys. And the first rig that I got, the decoys are cork and he told me, enjoy these, because this is the last cork rig that I’ll ever do. It’s just so hard to work with and so hard to shape. So anyway, I take care of them, they’re in slotted bags and we take care of them pretty good.
Ramsey Russell: How many do you put out?
Max Sharp: We have 36 and then he just made me 6 more that are wooden decoys and he made me some wood ducks and kind of some antique mallards, they’re pretty.
Ramsey Russell: I ain’t seen those yet.
Max Sharp: I’m proud of them.
Ramsey Russell: And use old pool string decoy.
Max Sharp: Yeah.
Ramsey Russell: And small bore shotgun you showed me last night collection of 28 and most of your members in the timber, shoot small bores.
Max Sharp: Yeah, we do. We’ve got a rule about shooting 20 gauges in the woods and it’s plenty. Especially with new shell technology.
Ramsey Russell: Go ahead and say Boss Shotshell, because one of your members opened his locker today and if you stack those cases up, it had been chest high in Boss Shotshell.
Max Sharp: Yeah, the Boss is good, I shoot some Migra, too. I’m not married to anybody with shotgun shells, but the technology that these guys are putting out is incredible.
Ramsey Russell: Come a long ways.
Max Sharp: Shoots a whole lot like the old days.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Max Sharp: Which brings me to, I like to shoot my nostalgic guns. I was shooting a 390 Beretta today, but I like to shoot an A5. And this nontoxic shot in Bismuth and TSS and all that, shooting it through those old guns is acceptable. And it adds something to my hunt to be able to take those old guns.
Ramsey Russell: Well, you get down to that final trigger pull, why not? Where now? You’ve built it, they’ve come, what now?
Max Sharp: We just take care of it, we’re going to farm it every year, continue to improve our levee system on our roads, we’ve got still some work to do. Not as much as the last 3 years, but we still have some projects, there’s some levees that need built up, there’s some roads that need fixed just to continue –
Ramsey Russell: Have you got any more habitat objectives?
Max Sharp: We might have a few.
Ramsey Russell: How important is it, like, where we’re located geographically, we start off talking about that. We’ve got the rivers, we’ve got the bayou, but you’ve also got a lot of, what I’d call keystone properties.
Max Sharp: There are.
Ramsey Russell: We’re not far at all from them. I remember talking to Kevin Nelms, a biologist, one time and it’s not just what you got on your property, it’s like, think a 12 mile radius, think a 20 miles radius and that adds a lot to it, doesn’t it?
Strategic Location Amidst Prominent Duck Clubs
We’ve got some really good properties within on with the Coca Cola Woods being 3 miles south of us and White Oaks Duck Woods being 7 miles to the west, we’re right here in the heart of some really good duck clubs.
Max Sharp: It does. We’ve got some really good properties within on with the Coca Cola Woods being 3 miles south of us and White Oaks Duck Woods being 7 miles to the west, we’re right here in the heart of some really good duck clubs. And I’m sure there’s some other really good duck clubs that I probably don’t know about. But there’s some great hunting on some public ground that’s here close. And this area, for the most part, is somewhat underdeveloped in Woodruff county. You don’t see it, it’s not like down at Stuttgart where every field has a blind in it. And as far as the local people hunting here, the locals have always hunted just the sloughs and the places where they’d always had natural water, they didn’t flood necessarily every rice field that they had and put pit blinds in them and really do a lot of development, they just had little places that they liked to go hunt.
Ramsey Russell: In your flooded timber, I want to talk more about this flooded timber hunting. When you hunted the Red River growing up, were you all hunting flooded timber or river?
Max Sharp: It was a slough, it was a slough. I’d call it an oxbow lake off of the river.
Ramsey Russell: More cypress and willows and things of that nature. When did you get into hunting green timber?
Max Sharp: The first time I ever hunted green timber was probably –
Ramsey Russell: Do you remember the first time? I remember my first time.
Max Sharp: Oh, yeah. I’ve got some friends that have a place that’s south of Highway 15 over Monroe, it’s called Salt Lake and we got an invite to go down there. Jane and I are friends with one of the owners down there and they had invited us down there and it’s something to fall in love with pretty quick, it was a great hunt that morning.
Ramsey Russell: What happened that first morning?
Max Sharp: Just seeing those mallards come through the trees and fall in there. I don’t think it was a great hunt, but we probably killed 7 or 8 ducks. But like you said, if you ever see one, do it the right way and finish in the woods and hitting the branches and coming through the trees and coming down into a hole in the woods and just parachuting straight down into a hole, it’s just something that just burns into you, it burns your mind, it burns your retinas, you’ve seen it and it’s like a kid on a merry go round. You just want to see it again and just push me again, just show me it again.
Ramsey Russell: As a younger man, more a deer hunter, rabbit hunter, things of that nature, the ducks I had shot had been past legal shooting hours or jump shoot or something. And a college buddy invited me over to hunt public land in Arkansas, that’s how he grew up cutting his teeth and the limit was 2 mallards and the first flock had ever come in – and those boys, Max, I’ve told the story probably before online, but man, those ducks started coming in, we were all sitting in boat because the water was deep and they got about all ball level and I cut loose. And the patriarch of the group, he said, very fatherly, thank good, he said, son, don’t shoot till I called a shot, yes, sir. Next bunch did it and, boy, I couldn’t stand, I cut loose again, killed one. And he said something, he said, it was a tight hole, couldn’t have been no bigger in these two rooms together and he said, son, Ray Charles could point a gun and shoot a duck at this range, he said, but our game, we want to own them, we want to land these ducks. Because it’s public land, you can hear other group, another shot, they wanted to land those ducks and own them. And then if there’s a kid or greenhorn like me or somebody called a shot and when the bird got up, boom, you’re done. But their sport was to own those ducks. And it followed me, but that one hunt, that first hunt, it hooked me for life. It sent me down into an orbit I never could have imagined at that stage of my life, I was not a duck hunter, I didn’t know how to blow a duck caught on that morning, I do now. Maybe not as good as yourself, you’re very practiced, but I know how to kill a duck and it just sent me down a trajectory that 2 mallard ducks.
Max Sharp: Yeah. If there’s anything in the world to be addicted to, I think duck hunt is a pretty good thing to be addicted to.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. We’re blessed with so many species of waterfowl and every time I hold a green wing, I think they’re gorgeous this time of year, the pintails, the wigeons, saw a few of them teal bank out there this morning, I see them blue wings, boy, I get excited because I love blue wings. But something about holding that mallard duck. What is it about that mallard duck, Max? That big old fat duck with that green head and those curls and those orange feet, it’s just something else. And like this morning, you’re talking about the show, even though we was hunting rice field, those ducks, they knew what was what, it was cloudy, we had almost nothing going to work for us at all.
Max Sharp: Yeah, West Wind.
Ramsey Russell: It was like everything to go wrong kind of sort of did. But just 3 or 4 ducks start working above us and they’d attract 3 or 4 more, 5 or 6 more, 10, before you knew it, there were time, we had 20 ducks and you call to them and even if they weren’t going to come in and finish it, they tip react and it stirs something inside.
Max Sharp: That’s right. Yeah, that’s what I’ve told my kids. I got 2 boys that are big deer hunters and I said, boys, if them deer could fly, I’d be all over.
Ramsey Russell: That’s almost the way I am about wild turkeys, man. My son Forrest, eat up with that wild turkey. I know a lot of boys that are, but I just can’t get mad at them.
Max Sharp: It’s just something about waterfowl, it’s just mystical to me. I don’t know, it just reaches the depths of my soul and I’ll just about do anything to be successful as waterfowler.
Ramsey Russell: Mostly mallards.
Max Sharp: Yeah, the mallards are really – and I guess that’s because for so many years hunting rice fields and we were void of mallards, we’d shoot gadwalls, we’d shoot pintails, we’d shoot teal and there was an occasional trophy mallard hunting in there. And then when I moved up here and we really started killing some mallards and even when I was hunting at green tree, we shot a lot of mallards hunting in the woods, there’s just something special about those mallards, the way they work, the way they respond to the call, you can line them up, line them up into the wind, break them around and just get them to do the –
Ramsey Russell: They wrote the playbook of duck hunting.
Max Sharp: Yeah, you can get them to do the trick that you want them to do.
Ramsey Russell: Mallard calls, mallard decoys, the whole game revolves around the mallard duck.
Max Sharp: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: And I’ve always said my favorite duck, hey, I shot a ring neck and a shoveler this morning, I’m not ashamed of it one damn bit, but the favorite duck is the next one in the decoys. But man, it’s something about a dang mallard duck, man.
Max Sharp: You’re right. It’s the trophy, it’s the king. And of course, you spent some time recently up on the Delta Marsh.
Ramsey Russell: You’ve been there before.
Max Sharp: Oh, yeah, it’s an incredible place. John Davis with Delta had us up, had Ken Lowry and I up a couple of years ago and I mean, it was just fabulous. But we got caught out there in a wind.
Ramsey Russell: Because you paddled out?
Max Sharp: Yeah, rowboats, there’s no motors on that marsh. And thankfully Ken was big old tall drink of water and he got us back in. But our rowboat, the ore came out, pulled the bolts out of the ore, so we were one ore.
Ramsey Russell: Spinning in a circle in the wind.
Max Sharp: And anytime you stop paddling, you lost 150 yards, the wind was whipping. And Ken basically got out of the boat and kind of motored us back in with his feet just barely touching the bottom. But an incredible place to hunt, incredible history.
Ramsey Russell: Did you all shoot canvasback?
Max Sharp: Yeah, that’s what we went for. And it wasn’t a lot, it wasn’t a volume hunt or anything, it was about the place, it was about history and it was just about being, it was really cool. Just hearing the stories of how the people would come over from England and they would pickle those ducks and send them back on ships, back to England and those ducks were prized possessions, they were protein, they were going to eat them.
Ramsey Russell: That would have been back in the day, that had they gone to a restaurant, they’d probably been paying close to $500, modern day dollars for a pair of canvasback.
Max Sharp: That’s right.
Ramsey Russell: That’s when there’s a lot of wild celery, a lot of Sego pond weed, a lot of that stuff up on that marsh. A very good friend, Scott Steven invited me to come up here and do that and I just told him, I said, Scott, he said, we know there hadn’t been a lot of weather time, weather hadn’t come yet, although it felt kind of cold compared to today, I can tell you, it was 20 something degrees, but just wasn’t a lot, it was flat and things that nature, the wind. And we showed up and it was canvasbacks were in and I told him, I just want one, if I can shoot just one drake canvasback on Delta Marsh, well, we shot more than that, but it was just an incredible experience. You know what got me, Max was as we were paddling in and talking like we’re talking now in a conversation in a boat without a whole lot of wind to drown it out canvasback, ring neck, redheads, whatever, ducks there were, they didn’t fly, they weren’t scared, they just swam out of our way. There were some of them, you felt like you could almost hit with a boat ore because they were just like pet, they just swim out of way. Being quiet, totally was a game changer.
Max Sharp: No pressure.
Ramsey Russell: I wonder. You hear about the madness on a lot of public lands around the country right now. Can you imagine some crazy, you’ve seen those videos on YouTube where 500 boats are running over each other, getting off the ramp at the word go. Can you imagine if you all had to paddle or walk? I think it’d be a big game changer continentally.
Max Sharp: It would be a game changer for sure.
Ramsey Russell: A big game changer. You all aren’t just running all over the place with all kinds of machines up in here?
Max Sharp: No, we don’t do much riding around. Like occasionally we’ll have some work to go do or something that needs to be fixed.
Ramsey Russell: Just scouting from your observation tower.
Max Sharp: That’s right. And even our boats in the woods, we’re running surface drive motors on those boats, but we’re idling them. They never get above idle. Just ease in, ease out. And we’ve built some additional access to our woods now where if the ducks are on the east side of the woods and we’re hunting there, we can slip out on the west side and back to the boathouse without having to disturb those ducks and that’s made a huge difference. It’s a culmination of little things in management, we don’t shoot towards the rest area. We don’t hunt certain places on certain winds.
Ramsey Russell: How late do you all stay out hunting normally? Win, lose or draw.
Max Sharp: Wind, lose or draw. We are back at the boathouse by 09:00 AM, which means you’re quitting hunting about 08:30. And it just allows the ducks to get in there and use it, they get comfortable. Like I said, we’re only looking for a quality hunt, our members goal is a quality hunt and the number is not important. If we can shoot our ducks, great, but if we don’t shoot our ducks, we’re okay, if we have a quality hunt.
Ramsey Russell: I was recently in a conversation with some folks that do not hunt, they were doing some film project and talking about hunting and what I tried to explain to them and we’ve talked all around us on your place here at Strait Lake, Max, is we duck hunters like to shoot ducks, make no bones about it, I like to shoot a duck, but we’re not trying to kill every duck. It’s like we’re trying to grow a massive principle so we can harvest some interest. Yeah, because so much of what you’re doing, when you’re creating this kind of habitat and running what you’re doing, you’re giving the ducks the habitat, except for just that much.
Max Sharp: I use the analogy of a hotel, a 500 room hotel that’s booked up on the weekend and one person in that hotel is going to have a bad experience. They’re going to lose their wallet, the car is going to get broken, something’s going to happen, they’re going to be next to the elevator and a bunch of noise or whatever, they’re going to have a bad experience. That bad experience is the ducks that we’re shooting or that are coming into our decoy that are having a bad experience, they had a bad experience here. But for the other 100,000 or 200,000 that are wintering here all winter, those ducks are having a great experience, they’re going back to Canada, they’re having 9 little ones and they’re bringing them back. So it’s really an exponential number every year. I’ve watched this thing since 2013 and it’s gotten better and better and every year. We’re banding more ducks the end of the season, every year, we’re looking to band more than 2000 this year.
Ramsey Russell: Speaking of banding, how did you start cooperating with Dr. Osborne? I know there’s a conservation story in that.
Max Sharp: Well, this whole thing for me is a conservation effort. I want my grandchildren’s kids, my grandchildren’s grandchildren to have a place to waterfowl hunt. And it’s getting more difficult to find that in the world, especially a place that’s this big, that has quality hunting, has quality people, quality lodging, it’s just built around, tried to build it around excellence, creating something special. But Dr. Osborne and I, we met at a waterfowl show and I told know about Strait Lake and that they were looking for banding sites and so we started talking to him and had him up here, showed him around and I hunted with him a couple of times. And it was a funny story, the first time I took him hunting, he had a US Fish and Wildlife guy with him and Dr. Osborne and then me and my son, there were just four of us on this particular morning and we went out and we were in the big hole, the Hornet hole and 2 mallard drakes just come floating in. And it wasn’t like a super good hunt. I remember that it was kind of slow and maybe it’s cloudy or whatever. So the 2 drakes come falling in there and just hunting with somebody that I knew was a hunter, I never thought about calling the shot. And me and Levi just raised up, they were 2ft or 3ft over the water, me and Levi raised up and he shot the one on the left, I shot the one on the right and Doug said, well, I see how it is. And I said, doc, I’m so sorry. I said, I just assumed that you knew it was go time and I said, I’m sorry, I apologize. And it was rude of me, it’ll forever haunt me that I did that. He and his guest and I told Levi, I said, I just feel terrible about that. I said, I just don’t know if I can even make it up. And I think that was the only 2 ducks we may have shot that morning.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, my God. I like his program. It’s like Jacob there, he’s turning out practical biologists that we need, this world needs more practical field biologists and he’s turning out a lot and much respect and we sure need a bigger dose of conservation. Some of the data and stuff he’s producing, some of the research he’s doing to me is just past due.
Max Sharp: It’s phenomenal.
Ramsey Russell: We need it.
Max Sharp: Yeah, it’s phenomenal stuff. Jacob was presenting his thesis over in Memphis and I forget what they call that program as they do, but it was all the grad students, not just from Doug’s program, but all a culmination of programs. And I went over there and I sit there just kind of in awe with those students, just exceptionally brilliant people that are studying waterfowl and they’re interested in it and they’re going to be able to provide lots of good knowledge, because when the hunter gets involved with the science of waterfowl, he immediately becomes a conservationist if he understands that. And that’s what we need, that’s what we need more of.
Ramsey Russell: Jake and I were talking last night and he’s a young man, just got out of college and it just reflects the trend of a lot of his classmates in undergrad were not hunters themselves. They’re in wildlife, and they’re going to be the ones that shake out and get jobs, especially in federal agency, they’re going to be our future policymakers and it’s really not important to me that they hunt or not, but it’s very important to me that they understand the importance of hunters.
Max Sharp: Right.
Ramsey Russell: We got to have them. Anyway, dude, I appreciate you having me, had a great time this morning, always eat good with Chef John.
Max Sharp: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: Always have a good time with you, got a beautiful place. How can folks connect with you, Max here in Strait Lake? I know you all got some social media presence.
Max Sharp: The Instagram is at Straitlake.
Ramsey Russell: Straitlake.
Max Sharp: At Straitlake is a good place to get me. And then my personal Instagram is Sharpmaxa, it’s just my name backwards.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Max Sharp: Sharpmaxa on Instagram at Sharpmaxa.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, you all been listening to my buddy Max Sharp at Strait Lake and it really is all about the show, ain’t it? Thank you all for listening this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, we’ll see you next time.
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