Lake Calcasieu, Louisiana
Few places in North America offer better duck hunting than that found in south Louisiana. The coastal marshes surrounding Lake Calcasieu, near the town of Lake Charles on the Texas border, are famed for their consistently outstanding gunning.
While commercial duck clubs abound in the area, few offer as much privately owned marsh to hunt as Hackberry Rod and Gun Club, started by former Miami Dolphins linebacker Terry Shaughnessy and now run by his three sons, Kirk, Guy and Bobby. Well-made blinds for his special duck boats are spotted over a huge and lightly hunted salt marsh where shotgunners typically harvest gadwalls, teal, wigeons and mallards.
Hunters pay a flat daily fee for hunting, lodging and outstanding food. Shooting peaks in December, but good hunting is available through the seasons, with geese available late in the year and teal early in the season. Hackberry is a classic, rustic, on-the-water duck club, great for taking business clients, family and friends.
Most people don’t think of Florida as a choice waterfowl state. But the Sunshine State is loaded with open water in winter, and no place is more than 75 miles from tidewater and its coastal attraction to migratory waterfowl.
Some years during severe winters (and that is key to the best duck hunting), up to 25 percent of the Atlantic Flyway ducks hole up in the state until conditions improve farther north. The state’s general duck season runs from mid-November into January. The most abundant species are teal, ringnecks, wigeons, wood ducks, shovelers and pintails. Mallards are rare.
Most water in the state offers at least some opportunities for duck hunting, with abundant opportunities for public shooting on lakes and rivers better known for choice fishing. For example, Lake Tohopekaliga and East Lake Tohopekaliga south of Orlando at the town of Kissimmee are outstanding duck-hunting lakes, and so is bass-famous Lake Kissimmee. Farther east, the upper St. Johns River is stiff with ducks, especially on lakes Puzzle and Winder, and in the maze of winding St. Johns River marsh to their south.
Farther north along the St. Johns, famed bass spot Rodman Reservoir has plenty of ducks, mostly teal and ringnecks. And sprawling Lake George at Welaka can be good, too.
Lakes Orange, Lochloosa and Sampson near Starke can harbor plenty of waterfowl, although their bass and panfish reputations are better known.
Lake Okeechobee near Miami can have more freelance waterfowl hunting opportunities than a shotgunner could pursue in a lifetime. Duck guides work out of fishing camps along the south and west shores. Great shotgunning for teal and ringnecks can be had.
Small Florida lakes and streams offer much overlooked opportunities for freelance waterfowlers. Hydrilla infests many little lakes, and it is a choice waterfowl food in winter. The more choked tangles of hydrilla, the better it is for ducks. Forest streams statewide can teem with wood ducks in winter.
To learn the locations of unsung Florida duck hotspots, quality county maps are an invaluable aid. The best I’ve found is the Florida Atlas & Gazetteer (DeLorme Publishing Co., 800-561-5105).
Some superb state and federal waterfowl-hunting areas are open, and they can give up limit bags of birds when conditions are good. Hunters must bone up on area regulations, such as open days and times, and any special permits that may be needed. But the effort is often well-rewarded. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge at Titusville is undoubtedly the best such spot in the state, offering great public hunting on many thousands of acres of marsh and coastal river impoundments.
Other public hotspots for Florida ducks include the T.M. Goodwin Wildlife Management Area (321-726-2862), a DU Marsh project in the upper St. Johns River; the Storm Water Treatment Areas near Palm Beach (www.myfwc.com/duck/Duck_Hunting/waterfowl_areas); the Guana River WMA north of St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast; and the PotashCorp WMA at White Springs.
Stuttgart, Ark., is synonymous with classic American waterfowl hunting, most notably standing in green timber with hip boots taking close shots at greenheads as they parachute down through treetops.
Several factors are necessary for quality “green timber” duck hunting. First, cold weather farther north is needed to push ducks south. Second, hunters need water. Rising river levels are required to flood the most choice green-timber areas so wade-in hunting is possible. The point here is to check with local residents before spending time, effort and money on a Stuttgart trip. The Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce offers up-to-date info on many lodges and guides in the area.
While many visiting hunters want flooded-timber shooting, other great hunting is available in flooded rice fields that abound in and around Stuttgart.
One of the best commercial hunting operations in the Stuttgart area is Buckshot Duck Lodge operated by Greg Hackney. This operation offers classic green-timber hunting, as well as duck shooting in sloughs and rice fields. The operation is first-rate, with lodging and meals available in addition to guided hunts.
Mississippi River Delta, Mississippi
Mallards and wood ducks pretty much make up the winter duck population in Malmaison WMA and in several nearby public hunting areas close to the Mississippi River in a Mississippi state region affectionately known as the “Delta” (located just northwest of Jackson). Greenheads in green timber at Malmaison separate the WMA and much of Mississippi’s Delta region from other public duck areas throughout America.
Malmaison has great hunting, but it’s by no means the only good spot in the Mississippi Delta for greenheads. Worth noting, too, is that not all good public duck hunting in Mississippi is only accessible via boat. Hunters in hip boots can enjoy sensational shooting at Malmaison (and some other nearby public spots like Mathews Brake and Hillside NWRs), as there are a number of easy-access walk-in spots.
Other choice public duck spots include Sardis Game Management Area near Oxford, Morgan Break NWR, Sunflower Waterfowl Area and Panther Swamp NWR, all south of Greenwood near Yazoo City. The Yazoo NWR, O’Keefe Waterfowl Area and Leroy Percy Waterfowl Area also offer exceptional duck hunting.
Another excellent way to get in on some of Mississippi’s great duck hunting and enjoy some waterfowling history, too, is to hunt famous Beaver Dam Lake. The place was made famous by the late, great writer Nash Buckingham, especially in his classic book “De Shootinest Gent’man.” Beaver Dam Lake is private, but duck guides Lamar and Mike Boyd offer exclusive and superb hunting from condo-like blinds in flooded timber looking the way Buckingham described it. It’s easy hunting, with pampered gunners. Sportsmen headquarter in Tunica where casino hotels and restaurants abound.
An early winter up North can make for sensational Mississippi mallard hunting almost any time. But usually from Christmas to the end of the season in January, mallards are in good supply.
The Mississippi Division of Tourism will provide hunters current information on licenses, season dates, public hunting areas and maps.
Port Aransas-Corpus Christi, Texas
This “Big Bend” region of the Lone Star State coast is shallow and attracts many thousands of migrant ducks. The rougher the winter up North, the better it is for Texas hunting. All types of ducks are found along the coast, with teal, redheads, pintails, gadwalls, shovelers and wigeons among the most common.
Freelance duck hunting is good, but gunners must rig super-shallow in tidewater areas. Many guide operations are in the area, hunting from blinds, and most work from airboats because of the unpredictable depths of the Texas coast. You can get by with a small johnboat, canoe or kayak. But an airboat is far better, or a guide who uses one.
If you’re new to the Texas coast, you’re wise to hire a guide to learn the waterfowl ropes. One does not step on private land in this part of the world. And you can get into a world of trouble far from shore if you run a boat into a mud-bottom flat and the water pushes out.
Good places to headquarter are Port Aransas, Rockport and Corpus Christi. For guides and lodges, many are available, and Kris Kelley (www.coastalwaterfowl.com, 888-618-4868) out of Port O’Connor has a good reputation.
The Show-Me State is best known for great deer and turkey hunting, but it shines for ducks, too. And with a wealth of public hunting spots, the odds for top duck busting are good in many areas, especially along the eastern part of the state where the Mississippi River flows. The Missouri River bottoms also can be full of migrating ducks. Plenty of raucous mallards flock to the state’s flooded fields, and reservoir backwaters abound with ducks in the south-central region.
Abundant open water and plenty of duck food dictate when and for how long ducks linger in Missouri. But when there’s water and food, mallard hunting can be excellent in many places.
Truman Reservoir is one prime place, but it’s big water, and local knowledge is often important to success. Flooded timber makes navigating Truman a challenge, even for resident gunners. The South Grand River and Deep Water branches of Truman Reservoir are notably good for ducks. About 100,000 acres of land surround the lake, and the state game department manages 54,000 acres, much of it wetlands habitat. For info contact the Missouri Dept. of Conservation, (660-885-6981).
Other choice public hunting spots in Missouri include Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in Mississippi County (573-649-2770), Four Rivers CA in Vernon and Bates counties, Upper Mississippi CA near St. Louis and Grand Pass CA in Saline County along the Missouri River (660-595-2444).
Some top-notch duck lodges and guides are available for Missouri hunting. One of the best is Tony Vandemore of Habitat Flats headquartered near Brookfield.