Drew Burton and fellow hunters at the Cole Lake Hunting Club in Isola decided not to hunt on Sunday, the final day of the best duck season in Mississippi in his lifetime.
“To tell you the truth, we slept in, a decision we made Saturday night while eating a steak dinner at Doe’s in Greenville,” Burton said. “The reason was simple. On Saturday we had the greatest hunt we’ve ever had and we felt like it was the perfect way to finish the greatest duck season we’d ever had, or at least the greatest I’ve ever had and I’ve hunted them for most of my 28 years on this earth.
“Saturday, we had 15 hunters in four different blinds and everybody limited out on greenheads. It wasn’t just that we had mallard limits but that we had ducks working all morning. Seriously, we couldn’t get the blind closed before we’d have groups of 25 or 50 or even 100 working over our heads again. If we could have carried 10 cases of shells to the blind, we could have shot them all. It makes me feel good any time I have one or two of my hunters say that was the best duck hunt they’d ever had, and we got that a lot this year.”
Without a doubt, the 2013-14 duck season will be remembered as something special by most Mississippi waterfowlers, a user group that swelled as the winter progressed. Guys like Dan Smith of Jackson who hadn’t duck hunted in decades were drawn back to the pit blinds in the Delta.
“I joined our family’s hunting camp in the Delta to deer hunt, but ended up duck hunting,” Smith said. “We were hunting deer in November and started seeing ducks come in like crazy, and then in December it was nuts. We had mallards coming in wave after wave and it didn’t stop.
“Then in January, we had that early Arctic blast that really pushed ducks in and the hunting has been unbelievable the rest of the season. I hated to see it end on Sunday because we still have thousands of new ducks coming in every day.”
The good hunting wasn’t limited to the north Delta. Hunters all along the Mississippi River border reported excellent shooting, at least in the last few weeks.
“We started getting ducks in early January and the last two weekends we were pretty much covered up in mallards, gadwall and teal, along with the usual wood ducks,” said Keith Partridge of Terry, who hunts near where Bayou Pierre meets the river in Claiborne County south of Port Gibson. “We were deer hunting and it was like all of a sudden we looked up and said, ‘Hey, we got ducks.’”
Partridge said the hunting was good enough the last two weeks to limit out on mallards, and good enough to plan a youth hunt for Saturday (Feb. 1).
“Heck yeah, we’re getting the kids out for one more day,” he said. “Too good not to.”
Mississippi’s waterfowl biologists agree that it was a great season.
“Our observations, numbers-wise, we had record numbers,” said Houston Havens, the waterfowl program leader for the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. “It seemed like we had a weather front every week or at least every other week to move ducks, and mallards in particular, into Mississippi.
“And we had other factors, too, like we never saw high water levels, river flooding that is typical this time of year in the Delta and causes ducks to spread out. We had some rivers get high but never really out of their banks for an extended period.”
It’s like everything needed came together, said Burton.
“No doubt about it, it was perfect, beginning with the cold, cold winter,” Burton said. “I know it was hard on those folks up north but they have had a very severe winter with brutally cold conditions that basically froze ducks out from Missouri to Canada.
“We even had freeze outs here a couple of times. As a matter of fact, the only slow days we had in the Delta were a few days when our shallow water froze up and the ducks had to leave. I remember getting up one morning and it was 9 degrees here and we only had two ducks. The ducks had just about all left and went to the Mississippi River. So we went to the river, north of Greenville, and we limited there.”
That didn’t last long.
“Ducks will go to the river and ride it out,” said Havens, “that’s just natural and they know it won’t last long. They know this far south that it will warm up and they can go back to the fields.”
Waterfowl don’t have the valuable food sources on the river that they do in grain fields, and the hunting can be outstanding.
“They are easier to call and will fall into the decoys like crazy,” Burton said. “I guess that they know it’s hard to find a productive food source on the river and when they hear calling and see what they think are ducks, they come right on in.”
The best thing about that, Burton said, is that when they could leave the unfrozen sanctuary of the river they left hungry.
“It’s like they’re starving when they came back,” said Burton. “We couldn’t beat them off with a stick. They fly back from the river, and they did as soon as they could, and they hit the grain fields hard, wave after wave. That’s what our season was like.
“We probably hunted 30 of the 60 days in the season this year, and I would classify at least 20 to 25 of those hunts as quality hunts. That doesn’t always mean a limit hunt, even though it usually did. What I call a quality hunting experience is having groups of ducks to work, get them to respond to calls and then light in the decoys. On a normal basis, we’re lucky if we get that kind of hunting on half our hunts.”
The youth hunt — cut to one day this year after the state wildlife commission moved one of the two days allowed to the front end of the season — is open Saturday to only those children aged 15 and under. Adult supervision is required, and the older hunters can participate in all phases of the hunt except pull the trigger.
“It’s always fun, but this year, with the ducks we have, it will be even more fun to be out there,” Partridge said.