Hunter's work is never done

Monday, November 26, 2001

HANDLERVILLE, Ill. -- Along the river, men court ducks as if they were courting women.

Tell a man what he needs to do to make himself attractive and he'll spare neither time nor money to make himself irresistible.

For Dave Conway, getting ready for duck season takes extra effort. The owner of the Sprig Duck Club begins grooming in the spring, when he plants grain sorghum, soybeans, millet and corn in the holes of his 150-acre club.

"Actually," says Conway, whose land sits across from the waterfowl-rich rest waters of Crane Lake, "the work on a duck club is never finished. It starts again right after duck season."

One balmy afternoon, Conway tools around the Illinois River backwaters and lakes in a johnboat. He points out some of his neighbors: Club 54, a duck club owned by former major league pitcher Mark Clark; the Central Duck Club, a club with a long and storied history; and the Sanganois Conservation Area, a public hunting area owned by the state.

"I have a great spot," says the 41-year-old Conway, who purchased the land in 1988. "My family has killed a lot of ducks here over the past dozen years."

Restricted only to family use, Conway's club has never had any members; thus he's had to finance the maintenance of the Sprig on his own.

Recently, he decided to take on members.

"This is the first year I'm taking on members, and I hope to get 10 or 12. The fee is going to be $1,500 per month. I think once I get people over here to hunt, they'll realize it's a bargain."

Conway has always offered day hunts at the club and will continue to do so for $100 per day.

After docking the boat, the tour of the Sprig Duck Club -- the club is named after Conway's retriever -- continued on a four-wheeler. Conway drove into the holes, where construction of his five blinds had begun.

The bottoms are thick with sorghum, corn and other vegetation and grains that ducks find irresistible along their migration route.

When the time is right, Conway will turn on his pump and fill the holes with water.

"I think it's going to be a good year," says Conway, pointing out over his holes. "If the ducks come down, they'll come right through here."

Building a duck club from the ground up is not an easy task, as Conway has realized. Without membership dues, there is no money coming in and without membership, there is no crew of workers to prepare the club for the season.

"Just me and my family and a few friends," says Conway. "This is taking up most of my time."

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