Cordova Chronicles: Farewell to duck hunting legend Bobby Maxwell

Bobby Maxwell, Delta duck hunting legend, knew how to wear a duck hat. Photo courtesy family of Robert Maxwell
Bobby Maxwell, Delta duck hunting legend, knew how to wear a duck hat. Photo courtesy family of Robert Maxwell

Cordova recently lost a member of the Delta Duck Hunter’s Hall of Fame. Bobby Maxwell passed away on Sept. 7. He was 81. His stories of adventures on the Copper River Delta are timeless.

No one had more fun chasing ducks or the knack for telling tales about it than Bobby. His recollection of the glory days before the 1964 earthquake and history of the duck shacks was priceless. When the Delta duck shacks and Boswell Bay cabins were locked up for the winter, the B.S. Season was under way. Many a late fall morning was spent drinking coffee with he and Randy Bruce at the latter’s kitchen counter, while doing research for my book “Time and Tide.”   Truth be told, Bobby should probably have been listed as a co-author.

Bobby sat to my left, his hat slightly askew, as we asked questions. Often he would chide us with “Come on guys, don’t you remember?”

One of his favorite topics was his brother Les, a legendary wing shot who rarely missed.

“Les would drive us crazy,” said Bobby. “He would let us shoot first, and then routinely knock down a couple doubles and a long single after the birds had flared.”

Les was also famous for collecting wives like widgeons on a hot day at Walhalla, and his younger brother was at his best when trying to enumerate them all. Bobby would pound his finger on the counter top, as say “Let’s see. I think there were four. I always get them mixed up.  First there was … , etc.”  Of course he always had a few juicy tidbits about each mixed in, an essential part of the B.S. trade.

Much of Bobby’s life was spent gillnetting and seining. It culminated with a beautiful 47-foot Hoquiam Boat Shop seiner, named after his wife, Carol Ann. Believe me, she earned the honor.  They were a great couple with a sunny day-by-day outlook on life, and she would roll her eyes when Bobby got on a roll. Sometimes she would even cut him off. “OK, Robert, that’s enough.”

When the duck hunting was slow, trout fishing was always an option. Photo courtesy family of Robert Maxwell
When the duck hunting was slow, trout fishing was always an option.
Photo courtesy family of Robert Maxwell

Bobby probably missed his calling. He should have been a weatherman. He would call Randy at Eyak on the VHF from his place at Boswell Bay, and Randy would relay the info to me at Pete Dahl. Usually it was a gale warning. If a salmon berry bush was rustling in the wind, it meant gusts to 25 mph; when the branches on the hemlocks were swaying, look out, a hurricane worthy of a name was on its way.

Or perhaps he could have become a waterfowl biologist. Birds migrating south typically come through the nearby Cutoff, and Bobby would get us fired up with “… I’ve never seen so many cranes in all my life” or “There are thousands of geese out there.”

An excited Randy would call and say, “Better get ready, Shellhorn. Bobby says they’re coming.” He and I would race out to our blinds with boxes of ammo, and return birdless. How 10,000 cranes could sneak by without even being seen remains a mystery we debate every fall.

Bobby could also have hired on as a chef. He was great at cooking wild game. The Cordova Elks Duck Feed was a highlight of every fall. When top chefs Bobby Maxwell, Gary Raymond, Ralph Pirtle, Jimmy Webber and Pete Fridgen were at the ovens, you knew something beside mallards would be well roasted before the evening was over.

In recent years, as Bobby and Carol both fought health issues. I would see them less and less.  Most often it would be in their car outside the Post Office or A.C. Store. Bobby would wave at me from the passenger seat. I’d wander over, and he would crank down the window. Carol would turn off the engine to save gas, knowing it might be awhile. His cheerful first words were always “Shellhorn, how ya doing?” This, from a guy that was fighting heart, lung and cancer issues.

I’d give him the latest hunting or fishing report, he would offer suggestions laced with tales of the good old days, and we would both depart laughing — with Carol shaking her head.

That was the Bobby Maxwell that I will remember, often as I see a rare flock of widgeons, golden in early morning sun, banking into decoys over Walhalla pond.

He was one of a kind, and a Member of my Delta Duck Hunter’s Hall of Fame.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at shorn@gci.net.