PINE BLUFF — It happens every September. Duck hunters across the country begin to feel the need to dig through their gear and make plans for opening day. Sporting goods stores begin moving waterfowl-hunting equipment from storage to their shelves, and hunters are bombarded with the latest realistic decoys promised to make their next season a success. But what happens to the old decoys left behind in the garage? Eric Maynard, assistant chief of education for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has a solution to the situation – the AGFC decoy adoption center.
It’s not really a center unless you count the bed of a pickup as a dropoff location, but thanks to volunteers who have donated their used decoys, Maynard and other members of the AGFC’s Education Division have been able to rehome these “outdated” dekes in the hands of aspiring duck hunters and birders participating in educational programs.
“We’ve done programs involving decoys for years, from duck identification to conservation and hunting techniques, and decoy painting always is a hit with new hunters and conservationists,” Maynard said. “We are always on the lookout for used decoys our participants can paint and take home with them.”
Maynard said he’s received many decoys during the last few years from Carlos Carter of Lost Island Hunting Club. Each year, Carter rounds up decoys that are shot or otherwise unwanted from the club and hands them off to Maynard for the program.
“People are always wanting to buy fancy, new decoys as part of their waterfowling fun, so we can patch up their old ones and have them ready for the next time we conduct a class,” Maynard said. “I’m always on the lookout for old decoys near the end of duck season and right about now when people start looking to buy new ones for the next year.”
Another great haul for Maynard came from a couple just outside of Stuttgart who saw a post from the Gov. Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center requesting decoys.
“Beth and Jerry Earlywine saw our post and got in touch with us,” Maynard said. “They owned property that was leased for hunting and over the years, many hunters had left decoys behind when their lease expired. They had hundreds of decoys in their barn that they were needing to get rid of. It took three truckloads to get it done, but they have their space cleared out and we have decoys to use for future programs.”
In-person classes at nature centers have been suspended or restricted to small groups in outdoor settings in the wake of COVID-19, but Maynard hopes classes can resume again on a small scale soon. In the meantime, the AGFC has focused on videos through its Virtual Nature Center at www.agfcnaturecenter.com and on virtual instruction through Zoom and Google Meets.
“We’ve worked hard to keep promoting the conservation message throughout the pandemic and we are seeing a resurgence of people looking to the outdoors as a recreational option again,” Maynard said. “We want to help them learn about hunting, fishing and conservation, and decoy-painting classes are just one way to help them become more comfortable with the outdoors.”
Anyone interested in donating their old decoys to the AGFC for educational purposes is encouraged to contact Maynard at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he can make arrangements to have them picked up.
Virtual and in-person classes will be added to nature and education centers’ schedules on their Facebook pages as they become available.
Visit www.agfc.com/nature centers for a list of locations and contact information.