CLINTON, Mo. -- A duck hunter was born early Saturday morning.
Sitting in a blind during a youth hunt at Johnny and Linda Everhart's Wilderness Lodge, 10-year-old Malakai Lawrence was immersed in a new world.
He watched how ducks responded to the calling of volunteer guide Dennis Fellhauer, how gadwalls and teal swept down out of nowhere on the decoys, and how quickly a hunter had to react.
It was all a bit intimidating at first. But the moment Malakai rose up, fired his shotgun and hit his first duck, he was hooked.
"A couple of minutes ago, he was saying to me, 'Dad, I can't do this,"' said Malakai's father, Joe, who was with his son in the blind. "But look at him now.
"I think he's become a duck hunter. I don't think I'll be able to keep him away from this now."
Moments like that are exactly what the Everharts had in mind when they established the special youth waterfowl hunt 16 years ago.
Johnny, an avid duck hunter himself, wanted to provide an opportunity for youngsters to discover the fun of waterfowl hunting in a controlled setting.
He found that in a special duck hunt that has become an institution in west-central Missouri.
He and an army of volunteers decided to establish an event that would be divided into two weekends. On the first, kids and their parents attended a clinic, learning everything about duck hunting from calling to species identification to shooting. The next weekend, they graduated to an actual hunt, set up to coincide with the Missouri youth waterfowl season.
On Saturday, 21 kids, accompanied by parents, were treated to the part they had been waiting for--a guided waterfowl hunt on Everhart's wetlands along Big Creek.
By daybreak, the youngsters, their parents and their guides had scattered to eight blinds in the bottoms. And it wasn't long before the boom of shotguns echoed through the timber.
Lawrence was one of the young hunters firing those shots. After sitting back and taking in the action for the first half-hour, he worked up enough courage to get involved.
By 9:30 a.m., his first duck hunt ever was a success. He had taken two ducks--a gadwall and a blue-winged teal--and he was already talking about his next hunt.
"I can't wait to do this again," he said. "I didn't know how I would like this at first, but this was a lot of fun."
Other youngsters in his blind were saying the same thing. Jackson Williams, 10, found similar success, shooting two ducks. And 14-year-old Sarah Fellhauer, Dennis' daughter, had three.
"Sarah has been hunting here with me since she was 10," Dennis said as he hunted the pool on his land, which is adjacent to Everhart's. "She shot her first duck at the same place I took my first one years ago.
"My grandpa got me started and we had some great times. Now this is my passion.
"I just try to pass it on. I've seen a lot of kids shoot their first duck, and that means everything to me. I've seen a lot of big smiles."
Brady Munsterman, 12, was wearing one of those smiles Saturday.
Hunting with his grandpa, Robert Umstattd, he was among the youngsters who felt the excitement of becoming a duck hunter. He rose to shoot when a flock of six gadwalls swept down on the decoys. Then he squeezed the trigger and watched as his first duck fell. Umstattd sat back and took in the whole scene. During the youth season, adults aren't allowed to shoot. But that was fine with him. He just enjoyed watching his grandson discover a new passion.
There are moments like those every year, Everhart will tell you. When he greets the youngsters, he sees shy, often intimidated boys and girls. By the time the hunt is over, he sees many future duck hunters.
The kids receive everything from free duck calls to decoys to ammunition to meals, thanks to sponsors such as the Kansas City Chapter of Safari Club International, the Clinton Wal-Mart and the Missouri Department of Conservation.
But many of the young ones view their greatest gift as the guided hunt they won't soon forget.
"I've done a lot of duck hunting in these bottoms," Everhart said. "But these youth hunts have been some of the most fun days I've had out here.
"Duck hunting has always been a big part of my life. If I can help get some kids involved in something I love so much, that's great."