I knew I wanted to write an article honoring Mr. Robert E. Goodwill and, as I considered what to write, an entire section of my memory began to unzip from its archives and spill out in floods for the next few days. It began to occur to me just how influential Mr. Goodwill and his grandson Nick had been in shaping me as a hunter. The extent became obvious as I looked through a pile of old photos. The memories brought on by those pictures were an eye opener for me and an ego check. The skills I possessed and considered to be the result of God given skill and determination were in part due to the decade of learning from Tuby and his grandson. So, with all the respect and admiration due him, this article is an acknowledgement and statement of gratitude to the man I know as Tuby Goodwill. The name given to him by his parents was Robert E. Goodwill but, Tuby was what his black nanny called him and is what stuck. The first time I met Tuby Goodwill was one Saturday in May after I accepted an invitation to go bream fishing with Nick and his papaw on Lake Bistineau. I eagerly agreed to go along. At age 7 or 8, I wouldn’t have turned down the chance to go hunting or fishing with anyone. My dad dropped me off at Mr. Goodwill’s house on Claiborne Avenue early that morning and after loading up the old tan Toyota pick-up the three of us made our way down through the town of Sibley, down Saltworks Road to Dr. Campbell’s property where Mr. Tuby kept his boats.
I had been bream fishing many times but, had no idea what I was getting into. Mr. Tuby wasn’t just a weekend fisherman with good knowledge of a few areas of the lake. He hunted or fished almost every day of the year and has knowledge of Lake Bistineau that is probably second to none. He knew exactly where the bream beds were and how to approach the area without disturbing the underwater action we were there to exploit. He only lacked one bit of knowledge that prevented us from catching more fish that day. He did not know me. I got hung up 1 out of every 2 or 3 casts and I quickly learned that Tuby Goodwill did not suffer incompetence silently. He wasn’t mean or rude but, he let me know his frustration by letting me wait with my bait in the tree above the bed until he and Nick caught all that was there to be caught. I was embarrassed and a little relieved as I sat there. By letting me sit hung-up while they fished, he saved me from the agony of ruining the spot until they had done their work. Every now and then my bait would fall short of those Cypress branches and when it hit the water I would have a fish. Usually it was a big ole bluegill with a Neanderthal forehead, a fish my uncle Charlie would call a Nuclear Bream. I had a blast and would have gone every day with him but, for some reason, I was never invited back to fish with Mr. Tuby.
The next time I saw Mr. Tuby was back on Lake Bistineau a year later when a friend of mine and Nick’s, Chris Frye, invited me to duck hunt with his cousin, dad and himself one cool Saturday in November. We ended up hunting Mr. Tuby’s “close blind.” It was a stationary, what we called “permanent”, duck blind constructed out of metal pipe and plywood and covered with Wax Myrtle, Willow & moss. All of Mr. Tuby’s blinds had three sections. The boat shed, the cabin (what I’m calling it. I’ve never heard it called by any name) and the shooting deck. The wall in front of the shooting deck was just high enough for a grown man to poke his head up over the brush when the birds got into range. Because of Mr. Tuby’s dedication to his grandson, Nick, all of his blinds were equipped with benches where us kids could stand and shoot. That was the least of Mr. Tuby’s adaptations. He had little cushioned perches that would swing out of the cabin and onto the shooting deck. Around 8:00 AM, he would swing his out to sit while he looked for birds. He also had a 6” strip of plywood nailed to a piece of 2”x4” that he used as a sun block as well as a small tin can that he would pee into and pour over the side. He had at least one of each of those items in every blind that he had on the lake and also had a comfy recliner in a few blinds. Those were little conveniences that were worth their weight in gold when they were needed but, weren’t valued enough by the ordinary redneck to warrant stealing.
When I first started hunting with Nick on Lake Bistineau, Mr. Tuby had three blinds that I can remember. They were all in good working condition and always had plenty of brush. This didn’t just happen by itself. Tuby would work on these blinds during the summer and by teal season they were ready for action. They all had a spread of decoys including at least a dozen or so milk jugs painted black and white to coax at least a buzz from the hundreds of “blackjacks” that the lake maintained in those days, which happened to be the target of my first hunt with the legendary Tuby Goodwill.
Some time in December, I think around 1998, he had located a congregation of bluebills that were feeding on the flats at the North end of the Lake. It was a school day so, none of Nick’s usual hunting partner’s parents would let them go. My father, however, knowing the importance of such an invitation, allowed me to go. I was pumped up and determined not to squander this invite like I had the fishing trip. As he guided the small john boat in the pre-dawn darkness down boat roads barely wide enough for the boat to fit, I got the sense that this was not an ordinary man. Years later when I tried to navigate the same waterways in the daylight, as the prop grinded away at stump after stump, the full weight of his ability became evident. Not only did he know the general route to take in the darkness but, he knew within inches where each stump and sub-surface log was hidden. Nick possesses the same knowledge of the lake but, takes it up a couple of notches, taking the same boat “roads” at full speed even in the dark. This is equivalent to riding Space Mountain at Disney World for the unaccustomed.
We got to the flats just in time. As we got situated under the overhanging branches of a Cypress tree (probably some that still held my rusty fishing hooks) I heard the sound of what I thought were jet fighters approaching at low altitude. That may sound like an exaggeration but, anyone that has ever heard blackjacks fly low overhead at full speed can testify. The next twenty minutes were exhilarating. The birds piled in just as Tuby had predicted and, the three of us pounded away until our limit of birds and possibly more lay dead out on the water. It looked like a pillow fight had taken place in the decoys. The best thing of all was that I had performed well and, that day marked the beginning of an era. Nick, our buddy Kyle and Myself, under Tuby’s watch, maintained a seasonal presence on that lake. I learned how to kill ducks, not only in good times when ducks were plentiful but, also when they were scarce. Mr. Tuby would hunt every day and would sometimes only see a few droves of ducks in a full day ( predawn to 2 or 3 PM) but, other days, when weather pushed mallards South out of Arkansas, it was better than anywhere else you could be.
Tuby and Nick’s talent for hunting and fishing were no secret. Everyone knew how well they could both shoot and call ducks. But, I am blessed to have seen it firsthand. Not just a few times but, every weekend for a decade or more. I’ve seen Tuby get his limit out of one drove of ducks more than once. I’ve witnessed him call in a snow goose with his own vocal chords and, anyone who has hunted snow geese know how impossible that is. I’ve tried for almost twenty years to replicate the calling of Nick and Tuby without success. Don’t get me wrong, I can call ducks but, I don’t even approach the level of this grandfather-grandson duo. When most people would put down their duck call to grab their gun in anticipation of cupped mallards, Tuby and Nick would be waiting for the exact moment to give a final soft cadence of quacks that would result in not just a shot. It would result in the whole wad of ducks hovering in-your-face before landing on the water if you let them. This is a move I’ve tried many times to duplicate with only moderate success.
Tuby is now an old man, deaf and almost blind but, he still hunts. He goes out by himself most of the time and sits on the water waiting for a shot and, although he can’t see very far, if he gets a glimpse of a bird, it is sure to die. He is still one of the best shots I’ve seen if he can lay eyes on the target. I had the opportunity to hunt with him this past teal season. With me there to spot the ducks and tell him when to call we limited out on those fast fliers in no time. To my surprise, we killed five birds out of one bunch with Tuby bringing down three of the five. It was a hunt I will never forget. Sitting in a blind where I had made so many memories and, killing ducks with one of my heroes was one of my most cherished memories.
I did have the great honor of sharing with Nick and indirectly Mr. Tuby one of my great passions, Turkey Hunting. Tuby didn’t turkey hunt or deer hunt because the shots were just not sporty enough. He would always say that he might go turkey hunting with me if he could jump the gobbler up and shoot him flying. Tuby was a wing shooter and, grew up hunting ducks and quail back when they were more than plentiful in North Louisiana. – Let me sidetrack a bit – There was an article published in Field & Stream in June 1902 titled “Murder in the Marsh” detailing a hunt that occurred in Northwest Louisiana on Bayou Dorcheat where three men killed over 1300 ducks in one day. One of those men was Mr. Tuby’s father and, although their exploit doesn’t meet the conservation standards we abide by today, it is a testament to the waterfowl hunting heritage that Nick and his Grandfather, Tuby possess. – Back on track – I knew that Nick and Tuby’s mastery of waterfowl vocalizations would easily translate to turkey hunting and, with stories of close encounters with thundering old gobblers, I talked Nick into going along. It didn’t take long for Nick to bag his first long beard and, was hooked for life. Shortly there after, Nick convinced Tuby to sacrifice a day of catching spawning bass to go after turkeys. After a few seasons under their belt, Nick and Tuby quickly surpassed my turkey hunting skills and, then I was back to learning from them. Now days, with Mr. Tuby barely able to see and hear, he just sits under a big oak calling every so often until a gobbler shows up. Since the two started going after wild turkeys, not a season goes by without them filling their tags.
All in all, there’s no way that I can do this man justice with my limited writing ability or even put half of my memories with him and his grandson down on paper but, I can tell you that I will never forget Tuby Goodwill and Nick Rowton and, the influence they have had on my life. Just this June, Tuby had a Great-Grandson born, Hank Goodwill Rowton and, I can’t wait to see the kind of hunter he turns out to be. Hank’s Great-Grandfather is an honest man, the best hunter I’ve ever known & a true legend in his own right.