Recently I wrote about Swan Lake near Jonestown, Miss. That old lake/marsh has such a glorious and unusual history, it seems to me it ought to be worth another column or two.
As a duck wintering water, it has been famous as long as records have been kept. In fact, after I moved to Jonestown, some of the old-timers there told me that representatives of the old biological survey (which later developed into the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) made a lengthy and careful survey of the lake and surroundings in the late 1920s and reported that it was one of the very richest bodies of water in the United States for wild duck feed. They determined that was the main reason that, no matter how hard it was hunted, the ducks stayed around all winter anyway.
About half way around the eastern shore of the lake stands a rather famous monument in the small private cemetery belonging to the Alcorn and Russell families. An early state governor from the Alcorn family is buried there. I recall that hunters often described the place that they hunted with reference to its relation to the monument.
Old-timers used to tell me stories of standing on the railway track near the lake and at dusk shooting their guns hot at ducks flying by on their way to their traditional nesting water in the north end of the lake, where the water was shallow. I have stood there myself and watched hundreds of ducks blacken the water.
At the risk of being thought untruthful, I can say that one afternoon almost at dark, I was standing in the fork of a willow tree watching all of those ducks when an old hen mallard sifted down right into my hands! I got a pretty good grip on one wing tip, but then the panicked duck made it back up again, minus a few wing feathers but completely okay and maybe a bit wiser.
One of the peculiar rarities of Swan Lake was that for many years it more or less wintered a tremendous flight of ring-necked ducks — the little black and white divers that travel in big flocks and run on the water to take off.
Thousands of the birds used Swan Lake as a roosting water and would show up every afternoon right at sundown in one huge flight. They would appear from the south, and, believe me, you could hear them coming long before you could see them. They sounded like a small hurricane.
They would arrive at the lower end of the lake at about 80 feet and then dive in a huge mass almost to the surface of the water and continue right on down it like a great black cloud before every one of them dropped to the water and made a peculiar surging stop. It was a sight to behold.
Sometimes we would shoot into the mass as they flew by and knock down one or two. Frankly this little fellow is not so hot on the table, but he is a fast-flying and beautiful bird to look at.
The next morning, in the dark, they would take off and disappear to the south. We never did learn exactly where they spent the day but in the crops of what few we bagged we found corn, beans, rice, weed seeds, and little fish. This fish diet that he liked had something to do with making him not so good cooked.
In addition to ducks, in the summertime I would run trotlines baited with earthworms and catch baskets of small yellow catfish. These little fellows were excellent eating but rather difficult to clean. As a consequence, I usually sold the entire catch to Mrs. Alfred (Mag) Stewart, who ran a café in Jonestown. She was happy to pay me 25 cents a pound for these fish, and back in those hard-time days, I was quite glad to get it.
Swan Lake is loaded with good hunting stories. I believe I could write a book about it if I could work up enough energy. Long live Swan Lake to provide us outdoor people with stories to tell!