Lynn Burkhead — It’s all for the ducks once again in North Texas

Herald Democrat
The first ever Ducks Unlimited Expo is this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, featuring what organizers say is "Everything Outdoors." After the event was postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers rebooted the DUX Expo for this weekend in North Texas.

When the founders of Ducks Unlimited gathered in 1937 against the specter of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl drought, and gathering war clouds on foreign shores, the future in many ways seemed gloomy indeed.

But while there were numerous societal concerns present in the late 1930s, it was the plight of plunging waterfowl population numbers, the loss of uncountable acres of vital wetland habitat necessary to keep ducks migrating south every fall, and the unknown of what tomorrow might bring that gave DU’s original members their inspirational battle cry.

“For the ducks,” was that cry, a mantra that fueled the growth of one of the greatest conservation organizations in North American history and launched a continent-wide recovery for ducks, geese, and even some other species of wildlife that ranks among the most impressive achievements of the 20th Century.

Even so, working hard for the ducks in the years that followed DU’s founding, it’s doubtful that those first conservationists peered into the future, rolled up their sleeves, and went to work envisioning a day when the ducks and geese would still be flying in the 21st Century as grandkids and great grandkids rose hours before dawn, trekked their way towards duck blinds, and waited with breathless anticipation for a cold sunrise and the whisper of wings overhead.

It’s equally doubtful that those same quacker backers could have envisioned the kind of things duck hunters take for granted today as a Lab whines in the cold blind and mallards begin to chuckle and circle the spread: decoys featuring amazing realism and intricate feather detail, space-age camouflage and insulating materials, breathable waders, mud motors, semi-auto shotguns that spit out lead-free pellets effortlessly, and acrylic duck calls that sing the greenhead’s siren song every fall.

And I’m all but certain they couldn’t have envisioned what’s about to descend upon North Texas this weekend, all in the name of ducks and conservation as DU hosts its first ever — and long anticipated — Ducks Unlimited Expo at Texas Motor Speedway just off I-35 between Fort Worth and Denton.

As the world continues to return to normal as the worst of the pandemic continues to fade away, in short, it’s the duck party of the year. No, make that the duck party of the century.

In fact, if you have even the mildest appreciation for hunting, fishing, and the outdoors, hopefully, you've made plans to attend the first ever DUX Expo this weekend because it is truly a can’t miss kind of event, even if you’ve never been duck hunting a day in your life.

A three-day event originally scheduled for last year until COVID-19 said otherwise, DUX is arguably the largest outdoor expo type of gathering that has ever been attempted in Texas or anywhere else in the United States, for that matter. Months of planning, training, and preparation — actually, thanks to the pandemic, it's really years of planning, training and preparation — have gone into this event, a spectacle that features a world class Who's Who list of sponsors, exhibitors, and participating talent.

All that's left to do now is see if the rain will hold off until the doors are closed on Sunday evening and if the fans will attend like they did a couple of weeks ago in Fort Worth when the 51st Bassmaster Classic drew more than 147,000 in three days. If quacker backer fans and outdoors enthusiasts do show up like that, they'll like what they see at DUX, what they get to experience in a hands on kind of way, and for some, what they can listen to with their ears as live tunes serenade it all.

All of this is possible this weekend at DUX 2021 thanks to one of the most ambitious efforts any conservation or outdoor group has ever tried to put on in luring tens of thousands out to sample all that there is in the world of hunting, fishing, and conservation.

To put on a DU party that is Texas big — think the Texoma banquet on steroids a million times, added to the type of gathering more typically seen at the State Fair on Texas/OU Game Day — and it's been a massive undertaking that includes tons of DU staff.

In fact, DU organizers have been on site at TMS for nearly two weeks now, building the event's massive footprint and getting everything ready for the doors to open up at 12 noon today.

So big is this three-day DUX gathering that the program shows more than 50 DU staff members from local and far, workers who are necessary to put on this 10-gallon hat sized DU event. And that doesn't even begin to include the hundreds of DU volunteers from across Texas and the U.S. who can't wait to showcase the ultimate DU event.

Those names include some local DU reps — rumor has it that Sherman's Jim Lillis may even come out of retirement to help with the putting on this one — along with one former Texan that many Texoma DU regulars might remember.

That name is David Schuessler, who now lives in Memphis and is the National Director of Event Fundraising for DU (www.ducks.org ), one of DU's best workers and someone who found a way to keep the fundraising arm of the organization going strong last year despite the pandemic shutting down local and statewide events and doing its best to curtail the dollars flowing in for the ducks.

Schuessler found a way to get the job done and DU had a very strong year of fundraising in 2020, thanks to the can-do spirit that founded the organization in 1937 and keeps thousands of chapters going strong each year, including many hear in the Texomaland area.

Now that same drive and spirit is hard at work and the results will be seen beginning later today as the crowds began to gather.

The party reaches its peak tomorrow as country music takes center stage at the DUX Expo, much to the liking of thousands of live music fans who saw their options quite limited a year ago. Those music listening options are wide open tomorrow, however, in the Expo’s Duck Jam event slated for Saturday, June 26 at TMS.

Headlining the day-long Duck Jam will be multi-platinum artist Gary Allan, who will be launching his brand new C&W album entitled Ruthless! and thrilling thousands of his fans who love listening to the band crank up the volume.

But Allan won't be the only big name at Duck Jam this weekend. And that's because the DUX Music Village is a dedicated performance and retail space, one where you can see live music from a variety of artists, purchase the latest fan gear and music goodies associated with their acts, and hear some of country music's top and rising stars courtesy of the Universal Music Group (UMG) out of Nashville.

I’ll certainly enjoy the tunes coming from Duck Jam. But I’m also looking forward to shooting a few bows, seeing if I can powder a few clay targets, test driving a new 4WD pick-up truck, figuring out where my dog training skills have gone wrong, and listening as contestants call in eight different duck and goose calling contests and try to win some hardware, cash prizes, and maybe even a spot. this November in the World Duck Calling Championship Contest on Main Street in downtown Stuttgart, Ark.

It’s the ultimate Ducks Unlimited event here in our North Texas backyard this weekend and I for one, wouldn’t miss it for all of the world. And neither should you, since once again, it’s all for the ducks.