OREGON — When Tanner Walker recently took teenagers Johnny Prunty and A.J. Hemingway teal hunting, it brought back memories of the not-so-distant past when he was wading in their shoes.
"I shot my first duck out of this blind," said Walker, 20, as he stood on a mound at the Nodaway Valley Conservation Area in northwest Missouri. "Now I'm back here at the same spot helping someone else get started in the sport.
"For me, this is my way of giving back. I'm just obsessed with duck hunting, and I'm totally committed to helping young people get involved."
With Prunty, 16, and Hemingway, 17, who both live in the St. Louis area, that mission started at last year's duck opener. In the daily drawing, Prunty, who was hunting with his father, John, and his good friend Hemingway, drew the first pill.
That meant his party had first choice of where to hunt. But that excitement quickly died when some of the veteran hunters began grumbling about a newcomer getting that honor.
"They were saying how it wasn't fair that a kid who couldn't even call could get the first choice of where to hunt," said Prunty, of Wildwood. "I was getting a little down until Tanner and Thomas (Flanders) stepped in and stood up for us.
"They told us where we should hunt, gave us some tips and even showed us how to clean the two ducks we shot. They were great."
Fast forward to recently, when the group rejoined for a teal hunt.
Since they met, Walker had opened a guide business, T'N'T Outfitters. And he did so with a goal in mind: To specialize in taking youngsters, accompanied by adults, hunting.
On his website, Walker advertises that he will take youth ages 15 and under hunting for free if they write a one-page essay describing why they want to hunt waterfowl and what it would mean to them. The accompanying adult, if hunting, would have to pay the regular guide fee.
But the recent expedition wasn't an official guide trip. Saying that he couldn't take compensation for guiding on a state waterfowl area, Walker looked at the outing more as a case of an avid waterfowl hunter helping recruit a couple more.
"We were out here at Nodaway every day of the duck season last year except five," said Walker, who lives in St. Joseph. "Thomas and I just love being out here.
"We hit it off with Johnny, his dad and A.J., and we kept in touch with them through Facebook. They wanted to come back out and learn, so we set this up."
Early morning, the group divided into two duck boats and made their way through the darkness to a blind on a mound. Walker and Flanders tossed out a couple dozen teal decoys and arranged the hunters in the tall weeds at the water's edge.
Before long, a squadron of the miniature jets buzzed over them, practically leaving a vapor trail. Surprised, the hunters weren't able to get off a shot.
"They'll do that to you," said Flanders, who lives in Platte City. "They'll come out of nowhere and just take off before you can even lift your gun."
Walker and Flanders were there to call and offer advice. They didn't even carry guns. They wanted their three guests to do all the shooting.
There were other small flocks of teal that buzzed the decoys. And there were shots fired by each of the three hunters.
One of the shots, fired by John Prunty, even rocked one of the speedy ducks. But in the end, there was nothing for Drake, Walker's young chocolate lab, to retrieve.
The dog settled into a cleared-out spot in the grassy cover, seemingly disappointed by the lack of work. But Walker took an upbeat approach.
"Hey, Drake, at least you got to see some ducks," he said. "We'll be back."
And so will the Pruntys and Hemingway.
"Before Johnny got interested in this, I was primarily a fisherman," John Prunty said. "But he's gotten me into hunting.
"We went duck hunting five or six times last year and we really had a great time. It was a good chance to bond.
"I owe a lot of that to Tanner and Thomas. If they hadn't helped us out, I don't know if we would be as passionate about duck hunting as we are today."