He doesn’t hide it. Whether it’s the dirt under his fingernails, the HeyBo duck stamp graphic tee on his back, or the varnished-wood Echo Duck Calls dangling from his rearview mirror that tips you off, you’ll get the point eventually. For his clients, waterfowl season is the whitespace between two dates on the calendar. For Matt, it’s a love that lasts year round.
Matt Teal – a seasonal hunting guide at Whispering Oaks Lodge with the last name to back it up – spends his winters in northeast Arkansas. The days can be drawn-out and the winter weather can be frigid. In early October, Matt loads his truck and makes the drive north to his seasonal home in Waldenburg – 100-miles northeast of Little Rock. After prepping the lodge, brushing the blinds, and cleaning the pits, the clients – like the migrating waterfowl – come flying.
Matt’s decision to fly off of the grid for five months of the year wasn’t an easy one to make, but with an eye for spotting new birds, a knack for seducing call-shy birds, and a passion for wandering the flooded timber, it never takes him long to pack his bag and get out of town.
“Don’t let the lifestyle fool you – it’s not always full-limits, safe shooting, and big tips.”
Fast forward through a majestic sunrise, multiple warnings to “sit your butt down,” and a couple of hours of Matt playing guide, gun safety instructor, and babysitter – a shot rang out and plastic shattered everywhere. As an experienced hunter, Matt knew it immediately. As an inexperienced reader – here is a tip: if plastic is shattering and hitting people, something is wrong.
“It was a goose hunt won in a charity auction – not that that matters. As a guide, you don’t always get to pick your clients. But this time I wasn’t guiding, I was babysitting” he explained in between reflective chuckles and deep pulls of his tall Lonestar.
Matt was stuck guiding the younger partner in the father/son duo. With age brings maturity, nuances of hunting safety, and, well, the polished ability to tell plastic duck decoys and real ducks apart. One of these ducks flies, quacks, and doesn’t have paint peeling off of it’s face; the other sits motionless exactly where you left it ten minutes ago. After multiple attempts at coaching up the young hunter in between necessary flashes of discipline to not ‘crawl through the layout blind like Buzz Lightyear’s arcade fight scene,’ Matt heard the shot and felt the plastic shrapnel scatter his left side.
The kid shot the decoy – the fake, plastic duck – sitting motionless just inches from the end of the barrel of his gun – only a couple inches further away was Matt, now in the process of frantically getting the gun away from the trigger happy kid and making sure everyone was safe.
“It just looked so real,” the kid bargained with Matt before getting an ear full of discipline from the big, mean, hunting guide now covered in painted duck decoy plastic.
As a guide, safety comes first. Matt stripped the kid of his gun, picked the plastic from his waders, and left the heat of the moment with some choice words for the father – for, ultimately, putting everyone in danger by over-exaggerating his son’s experience and ability.
The Dad, once pale and stiff by the Arkansas winter wind, was fuming red. He reached into his pocket, handed Matt some spare-change as a tip, and left their free hunt.
“If that’s as bad as it gets, I’ll take it. My decision to become a guide was the best decision I’ve ever made. And, hey, three dollars a day keeps the doctor away, right?”
Matt can be found bellied up to a bar or on Instagram as @mteal1. He hates laundry – but loves getting it dirty – and is currently lobbying us for a northeast Arkansas location for his seasonal sabbatical up north. For more info on Matt, his babysitting services, or his guided trips, check out Whispering Oaks Lodge.