On Christmas Day, after the presents are unwrapped, Hugh McLaurin of Elloree, S.C., packs his duck hunting gear and the dog and makes the 19-hour, 1,100-mile drive to Oklahoma.
It's a trip the 59-year-old McLaurin — one of South Carolina's top duck call makers — has made for seven straight years, sometimes two or three times during the waterfowl season.
While many duck hunters would stop short of Oklahoma at Stuttgart, Ark., a waterfowling mecca, McLaurin keeps traveling west. He would rather shoot ducks in Oklahoma.
“We come out here where there are lots of ducks and less people,” said McLaurin, who was bouncing around Oklahoma last week with his son and son-in-law, duck hunting at Fort Cobb, Canton, Kaw and Kerr lakes.
“We've done well in Oklahoma over the years. We just love it here. Love the people. Love the country.
“We have no ducks and no quail. You have ducks and still some quail. You have trophy whitetail hunting and are at the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains. If I lived in Oklahoma, I don't think I could keep a wife or a job.”
McLaurin said the only greenheads to be found in South Carolina are along the coast, where there is no public hunting.
Many hunters in South Carolina will buy half-grown ducks from a chicken house, feed them all summer then release them in the fall to hunt when the birds can fly, McLaurin said.
“People call them chicken ducks,” he said. “That's how bad the duck hunting is here.”
For that reason, more waterfowlers from outside Oklahoma are looking to the Sooner State as a prime duck hunting destination.
Over the last five years, almost one-third of all of the waterfowl hunters in Oklahoma were hunters from other states, according to statistics provided by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
And they come from everywhere. The agency has sold state waterfowl licenses to residents from 45 states.
When the ducks started disappearing from the Atlantic Flyway in the late '90s, McLaurin started traveling to Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas to duck hunt.
While hunting in Mississippi one year, he kept hearing that all of the ducks were in Oklahoma. He decided to give it a shot and called an Oklahoma duck hunting guide who had advertised in a waterfowl magazine.
“It was just incredible,” he said of his first duck hunting experience in Oklahoma on Fort Cobb Lake.
McLaurin didn't kill as many greenheads this time around, but it won't stop him from bragging to friends and customers of Big Lake Duck Calls about Oklahoma's duck hunting.
“Go west, I tell them,” he said.
Some are apparently listening. Last season, the Wildlife Department sold 135 state waterfowl licenses to hunters from South Carolina.
McLaurin even plans to return to Oklahoma later this week for four more days of duck hunting.