Longtime Texoma area duck guide J.J. Kent was a man that was passionate about hunting, especially when it came to ducks.
Ironically enough, that waterfowling zeal started years earlier in of all places a Texas deer blind.
In a recent Hunting Blog post at MossyOak.com, here’s how Kent described his transformation from the deer stand to a duck blind.
“Years and years ago I was sitting in a deer stand with my dad, and I decided I was tired of deer hunting,” wrote Kent, a Mossy Oak pro-staffer since 2011. “I’d taken enough deer to know that I could. I decided to look for a different type of hunting.”
And that’s where the Good Lord intervened and changed Kent’s future.
“A couple of days later, some friends of mine invited me to go duck hunting,” indicated Kent. “When I watched my friends blow those duck calls and saw those ducks respond to the calling, change direction and come back and try to light on our decoys, I thought that was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
“I bought a couple of duck calls, went to the local city park and started blowing duck calls to the ducks in the park. I could tell that the people in the park thought I was crazy from their reactions to my calls.”
As it turned out, Kent was indeed a little bit crazy, crazy about duck and goose hunting that is.
After he graduated from Highland Park High School in 1991, Kent went on to Lubbock to attend Texas Tech University and study business management.
Oh, and maybe to chase the waves of ducks and geese that migrate every fall and winter to the grain fields and playa lakes that dot the High Plains Mallard Management Unit of West Texas and the Panhandle.
After graduation from Tech in 1997, J.J. continued to chase ducks and geese all across the Lone Star State, finding himself in dozens of blinds on countless fall mornings.
Whether it was early season blue-winged teal along a river sandbar, mallards on a timber hole in the Red River Valley, gadwalls and wigeon on a reservoir flat, canvasbacks and redheads on a cattle stock tank or Canada geese over an old grain field, Kent was a man on a mission to learn all that he could about ducks.
How to hunt them, how to call them, how to decoy them and how to put a limit on the duck strap.
Sometime after I met J.J. in the mid-2000s, we got together to go duck hunting for the first time. And when we did, I began to learn several indelible truths about the man.
First was that he always seemed to be smiling, usually after telling a funny story or pulling a duck blind prank, the latter always being followed by a hearty laugh that could brighten up even the gloomiest of mornings.
Next was the love affair that J.J. had with Honey Buns, the early morning breakfast of champions in many duck blinds across the country. But with J.J., Little Debbie Honey Buns were a must-have staple to start each morning.
Then there was Kent’s love affair with Labrador retrievers. First, there was the duck dog of a lifetime in a Lab named Whiskey. Then another special retriever for Kent, this one named Brandy. And most recently, J.J. had a strikingly handsome black Lab named Bo, a dog that went everywhere with Kent over the last several years.
But what good is a duck dog if there are no ducks to fetch? Fortunately, that was rarely a problem in Kent’s elaborate blinds thanks to his ability to work a Zink duck call over a spread of Avian-X decoys.
And when it came time to shoot, I rarely saw Kent miss on our hunts together.
Over time, Kent got so good at all of this that he started guiding, eventually turning it into a multi guide, full-time, year round hunting operation based out of the Bucks and Ducks Hunting Lodge near Bellevue, Texas.
From deer and ducks in the fall to Rio Grande turkeys in the spring to hogs all year long, J.J. spent the last few years building up a top-end outfitting operation from the ground up.
So much so that Kent began to guide hunters – and outdoors media – from all over Texas, Oklahoma and the rest of the U.S.
As J.J. became busier in recent falls, our time together in the duck blind dwindled. But during that same time period, we talked frequently, to the point that Kent became one of my best friends, a kindred spirit who loved getting out to see what the new day might bring as the sun rose over the Creator’s grand outdoor canvas once again.
Unfortunately, one of those new days this past season – opening weekend, in fact – brought more than Kent, his wife Carla, his son Brandon, his guiding staff or any of his army of friends wanted to experience.
After a wave of duck blind chest pain, a quick visit to a local rural hospital brought a transfer to Wichita Falls and then a trip on to U.T. Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
As it turned out, what was first feared to be a heart attack was in fact a heart valve that was greatly constricted, necessitating the replacement of his aortic valve.
After doctors determined that surgery wasn’t immediately necessary, Kent was able to let his guides do most of the work and make his way through the rest of duck season, including the Sure-Shot Game Calls Media Hunt in early January with Charlie Holder and his crew.
When the season ended, Kent was still smiling big, insisting that he felt good and was still in good spirits as he awaited open heart surgery to replace the malfunctioning valve.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good times began to end as Kent had surgery on February 8. What followed was an up-and-down recovery as complications set in and began to take their toll.
To the point that last Friday night, at the Texoma Ducks Unlimited Couple’s Dinner in Sherman, we stopped what we were doing and prayed for Kent, hoping that the downward spiral could somehow be reversed.
But it wasn’t. And just moments after the night ended, our mutual friend Jim Lillis approached me with an ashen look on his face.
“Lynn, I’m sorry…but J.J. didn’t make it,” he said.
In that moment, a flood of memories washed over me – just like they did for dozens of family members and friends – as I began to try and soak in the reality of a world without J.J. Kent.
I bit my lip, retreated to a corner of the facility and began to cry, something I’m not ashamed to admit. Because my friend J.J. was gone, something that a memorial service on Wednesday in Dallas and another one this afternoon in Pottsboro both confirm
(Editor’s Note: Kent’s local memorial service is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 at Georgetown Baptist Church in Pottsboro).
Because of his Christian faith, I’m convinced that I’ll see J.J. again someday on the other side of eternity.
But for now, the autumn duck blinds will seem more empty and hollow as they miss the smiles, the laughter, the duck calling – and yes, the Honey Buns – of a man named J.J.
So long for now J.J., I’ll see you on the other side.
And by the way, those folks in that Dallas-area park may have thought you were crazy when they watched you blow a duck call.
But I never did.
Lynn Burkhead is Senior Writer for the Outdoor Channel, World Fishing Network and Sportsman Channel and lives in Denison, Texas