January 26, 2021
By Lynn Burkhead
A Monday morning double-homicide at famed Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee has left two men dead and the Mid-South duck hunting world in stunned disbelief.
Details began to slowly emerge late on the evening of Jan. 25, 2021, concerning the shootings that reportedly took place before 11 a.m. on Monday in the Walnut Log area of the lake.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the crime with assistance from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Obion County Sheriffs Office, and other local authorities. The TBI issued a series of late-night tweets confirming some details in the double murder as well as asking for assistance in locating a person of interest.
"TBI Special Agents are asking for help in locating a person of interest in a homicide investigation in Obion County," read the first of three tweets from the agency. "David Vowell, 70, of Martin, is considered armed and dangerous. If you have seen him or know where he may be located call 1-800-TBI-FIND."
TBI’s second tweet read: "The deceased individuals in this incident, which occurred on Reelfoot Lake in Obion County this morning, have been identified as Chance Black (DOB: 5/2/94) and Zachery Grooms (DOB: 5/5/95), both of Weakley County."
The third and final tweet in the series read: "If you were on or near the north end of Reelfoot Lake this morning and heard or saw anything that might help Agents in this investigation, call 1-800-TBI-FIND."
Final Flight Outfitters a well-known waterfowl and outdoors gear retailer from Union City, Tenn., issued a statement on its Facebook page confirming that one of the victims was a worker at its store, mail order and Internet hunting gear operation.
"We lost a member of our team today, Chance Black," read the Facebook report. "He was shot and killed, along with his friend, while duck hunting on Reelfoot Lake. Chance was a full-time manager in our gun department, and what an honor it has been for us to have him on our team. We ask for prayers for Chance’s family, friends, and all others involved as we navigate the impact of their deaths.
"Death is certain and so is our hope in Jesus, who gives peace that passes all understanding in these times of loss, hurt, and confusion," the Final Flight social media statement continued. "Praise be to God that because he loves us, he sent his only son, Jesus, to die so we don’t have to fear death but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
"What has taken place today is hard to process," the Final Flight statement concluded. "No duck is worth the life of a man. What we do know is that God is our refuge and strength, even in the hardest of times. #FinalFlightOutfitters #FaithFamilyOutdoors."
While details are sketchy in the early stages of the investigation, a number of local and regional duck hunters took to social media Monday night to provide speculation as to a motive in the shootings, which some believe to center around some sort of in-the-field dispute. The TBI and local authorities have issued no additional statements on a possible motive in the slayings or about the possibility of another person being potentially injured.
What is known is that the shootings rocked one of the country’s best known waterfowl hunting hotspots.
Popular Duck-Hunting Destination
According to the Tennessee State Parks website, Reelfoot is located in the northwestern corner of the state "…and is noted for its fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. The 15,000-acre lake was created by a series of violent earthquakes in 1811-1812 that caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a short period of time, creating Reelfoot Lake.
The state park website goes on to say that: "The park’s ecosystem is unlike any other place in Tennessee. Reelfoot Lake is a flooded forest. While Majestic Cypress trees rise above the water, below the surface are many submerged Cypress stumps. A variety of aquatic plants and flowers occupy the shoreline and saturate the shallow water. The lake harbors almost every kind of shore and wading bird as well as golden and American bald eagles."
The lake is also a hotspot for bass, crappie, and bluegill fishing. In fact, the so-called "earthquake lake" is known to many as "The Crappie Factory" due to its high abundance of the good-eating panfish.
But in the winter months, ducks by the thousands descend upon the lake and provide a wealth of hunting opportunity to waterfowlers who live near or travel to the region.
"Duck numbers at Reelfoot are not at historically high levels, but still remain strong," wrote author Paul Moore in a 2011 Game & Fish story. "When Mother Nature cooperates and winter weather in the northern states is cold enough to push good numbers of ducks southward, Reelfoot can literally get loaded up with birds. "Puddle ducks make up the bulk of the birds at Reelfoot. Mallards, black ducks, and pintails are always plentiful. Wood ducks and teal are also abundant at Reelfoot earlier in the year, and a few will even trickle through at this time of year. Other species such as ringnecks, bluebills, and the rare canvasback also are found at Reelfoot.
"Duck hunters can often pop in at Reelfoot and kill a few birds, but the better choice here is to go with a commercial guide. Permanent blinds are assigned at the lake and all of the best spots are pretty much locked up. Area guides build very accommodating blinds, which are comfortable, warm, and offer great shooting opportunities."
While the full details of Monday’s deadly shootings at Reelfoot Lake aren’t fully known at the time of this writing, the shooting brings to mind other homicides involving hunters at other spots around the country.
One of those crimes happened only weeks ago when the body of 54-year-old Joseph Bottino of Gloucester Township, N.J. was discovered just before Christmas. According to news reports, Bottino reportedly died of blunt force trauma and stab wounds as he hunted a property in the area.
A story this week in the Cherry Hill Courier Post indicates that 38-year old Shawn Massey was recently arrested in Pennsylvania in connection with the crime and is awaiting extradition to New Jersey.
Perhaps one of the most infamous hunter-related crimes took place in western Wisconsin back on Nov. 21, 2004. According to the Pioneer Press newspaper, the crime involved the murders of six deer hunters and the wounding of two others in Wisconsin’s Sawyer County after Chai Soua Vang opened fire after he was confronted about trespassing.
Vang had reportedly served in the California National Guard before moving to St. Paul, Minn., where he lived at the time of the rampage. Authorities were able to track him down after someone reportedly scrawled Vang’s hunting license number on a muddy ATV, a tip that helped authorities eventually arrest Vang.
Despite a claim of self-defense, the now 52-year-old Vang was convicted of the crimes in Sept. 2005 and is serving six consecutive life sentences plus 70 years.
In the aftermath of the Wisconsin slayings, a park was opened in 2006 in Rice Lake, Wis., that remembers the six murder victims and two others wounded in the event.
Operated by the City of Rice Lake, the .8-acre park has a picnic shelter, picnic tables, a basketball court, and a playground unit.
Dedicated to the slaying’s victims, the park’s signage reads: "Hunter's Memorial Park was dedicated to the hunters whose lives were taken on November, 21, 2004.
"These hunters are gone, but not forgotten. The Park represents what the hunters cared about most; family friends and enjoying the outdoors.”