Whistling wings buzzed directly overhead an instant before a flock of ducks suddenly crashed into our decoy spread in the pre-dawn darkness. An old lone Susie who was now swimming amongst the decoys called out to a group of mallards flying overhead.
She was answered immediately, both by other ducks overhead and by some across the flooded field. Suddenly the dark night melted away and another group of ducks flew smack dab into us just as legal shooting time arrived.
Boom, boom, boom!
Our shotguns roared deep in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, as another glorious hunting day got underway.
Kenny Blakeney and several of his duck hunting partners were strategically located in the brush along the flooded field near Onward when the action began. They had prepared for this day months in advance and were now taking advantage of one of the best duck hunting locations in the country.
A flock of teal whizzed by and flared right in front of me as I watched a group of big ducks much higher in the sky. It was too much for me to handle so I took a fine bead and squeezed off a shot and a teal crumpled. As soon as they disappeared another group of teal buzzed up from the other direction and I swung instantly and dropped one of those, too.
Kenny Blakeney and Johnny Dewitt followed with a volley and dropped a couple of ducks.
Waterfowl filled the skies and many of them dropped down into the flooded field, several whizzing by our heads and crash landing into the decoy spread. Shots rang out as ducks rained down upon us.
The pitch-black Delta night had given way to a beautiful dawn and the skies were filled with thousands of ducks. If this wasn’t a duck hunter’s heaven on earth, it had to be the next best thing to it. There were so many ducks flying overhead that one could hardly concentrate on one flock. As I watched a flock of larger ducks slowly gliding down high in the sky, more teal buzzed just overhead, eventually crashing into the decoys.
If you love action packed duck hunting and deer hunting then the Mississippi Delta is the perfect place for you. Blakeney and friends prefer hunting ducks at daybreak and deer in the afternoon and they’re very successful at both.
On a typical day at Magna Vista Plantation you can view thousands of ducks at daybreak and watch numbers of deer during the afternoon. I was fortunate to hunt ducks with them at daybreak and then join Blakeney’s father Kenneth for an exciting afternoon deer hunt.
It was to be a day I’d not soon forget.
Ducks at sunrise
Such days come only after a lot of work, and the Magna Vista Plantation located near Onward does plenty. The only way to know where the ducks are feeding and resting is through research and scouting.
Our January hunt that occurred on the flooded millet field was made possible by scouting by Darrell Dew, who was keeping up with the ducks on a daily basis. This field was planted with brown-top millet and flooded later for the ducks.
“We’ve got some of the best duck hunting in the Delta and we have the feed and water for the ducks, but if you put too much pressure on them they’re going to leave,” said Magna Vista property manager Eddie Hatcher. “I don’t care where you’re hunting, you can’t hunt the same duck hole several days in a row and have great hunting. The ducks will move to another spot where they can feed and rest without being shot at.”
Dew is able to observe many of the flooded fields and sloughs at dawn and dusk from a distance and not spook the ducks. By watching each area he can also see where the ducks are flying into the holes and position his hunters accordingly.
“We may hunt a flooded millet field one morning and hunt a slough the next day,” Hatcher said. “We want to let the ducks have some places to rest so we’re not going to pound one area day after day. Two days in a row is about all we’re going to hunt one spot before we let it rest.”
The Magna Vista philosophy: Plant it and they will come. just add water.
“In order to have ducks you’ve got to have feed and water and we give them both,” said Hatcher. “During times of drought some areas will hold ducks because of the scarcity of water, but you’ve got to have the feed to consistently hold and shoot ducks.”
Hatcher plants a lot of brown-top millet for the ducks, because it provides food for the ducks without the deer eating it before it matures. Japanese millet is a good food source for the ducks, but once it matures the deer will eat the heads off of it and the duck feed is gone.
“We’re able to control the water here and put just the right amount on our fields,” Hatcher said. “Ducks prefer shallow water so that they can reach the feed, and we want to make it easy on them.”
Hatcher prefers hunting the fields when the ducks are using them, but when winter’s icy grip freezes the fields the sloughs and cypress brakes become duck magnets.
“We’ll hunt anywhere we find the best concentrations of ducks but we have enough places with deeper water to provide them a place to stay, even when most of the Delta is iced over,” said Hatcher. “We’ll concentrate on those deeper sloughs and cypress brakes then and usually kill a lot of ducks.
“Last year we had a lot of mallards and a ton of wood ducks on the place. Wood ducks are the most common ducks we see, but mallards are pretty close. We also have a few gadwalls and pintails occasionally as well. Teal come in spurts or waves and we’ll have them a few days and then they’re gone again.”
Hatcher is also a believer in putting some motion in his decoys, which will keep the water moving.
“If you’re going to attract ducks you need some water action,” said Hatcher. “That’s what it’s all about as they’re looking for movement on the water. We use a jerk string on the decoys so we can get some water movement and that works pretty good.”
Concealment is vital.
“Hunters need to paint their face or wear a camo mask for concealment,” Hatcher said. “The ducks have seen just about everything by the time they get down here to our area. It’s just like a light bulb to the ducks when you look up into the sky so you’ve got to take precautions any way possible.”
… Deer in the afternoon
Arriving at a secluded field deep in the woods, Kenneth Blakeney and I prepared for the afternoon hunt and opened the windows and got situated inside the portable blind. Though there was a chill in the air, it was warm and toasty inside thanks to a strategically placed portable propane heater.
Blakeney could scan the whole field and old logging road from his motorized perch. Though he was paralyzed on his left side from a stroke sustained during a surgery earlier in the year it didn’t stop him from pursuing his passion of hunting big bucks. Blakeney was outfitted with a motorized wheel chair and shooting rest that also helped him aim and shoot proficiently from inside the blind while sitting in the chair.
Our stand for the afternoon was actually an enclosed Look brand trailer that had been modified with windows to Blakeney’s specifications so that he could continue his deer hunting passion, albeit from a different perspective.
“My sons came up with the trailer idea after my accident,” said Kenneth Blakeney. “They came up with an idea of the portable blind which could be transported to different fields, but still keep me comfortable and able to hunt.”
It is a family effort.
“What we do is pull the blind to an area that Dad is going to hunt and leave it there until he gets ready to hunt,” said Kenny Blakeney. “Then we go and hook up to it and bring it to the camp and let him drive his chair up into it. Once he’s in there we strap the wheelchair down and carry him and the trailer back to the exact spot the trailer was sitting.
“That way the deer never suspect a thing, as it’s in the same exact spot it’s been in and they never know it has been moved briefly.”
As our afternoon hunt continued the elder Blakeney spotted movement in the far left end of the field.
Several more deer followed that one and browsed in the food plot.
“There’s a buck, a pretty good one I think,” he said.
The veteran hunter studied the buck, a trophy in most areas of the state, and sized him up.
“He’s not a shooter,” said Blakeney. “But he’ll be a good buck in a couple years.”
We scanned the field intently as deer constantly fed in and out during the afternoon. Most of the time there were deer in the field, but some were constantly filtering in and out. Blakeney wasted no time relating his hunting passion and what he looks for in regards to stand placement and hunting times.
“We’re going to place our stands in the best position possible and that’s usually going to be down wind of the prevailing wind patterns,” Kenneth Blakeney said. “We also want our stands placed where you can ease up to them and get in with a minimum of disturbance to keep from spooking any deer in the vicinity of the stand.”
How do you make a portable gray trailer inconspicuous?
“The guys put my stand in an area that I’m going to hunt and leave it there so it becomes part of the landscape, kind of like an old shed deer are used to seeing,” said Kenneth Blakeney. “I watch most of the deer and only harvest mature bucks so they’re not equating my trailer stand with danger.”
Blakeney also concentrates on the 4 to 5 o’clock hour when many trophy bucks come into the feeding area, some coming to feed and others searching for one more doe in heat.
By then, does were pouring into the field and several young bucks were sparring and chasing the smaller bucks and does around.
Suddenly a large buck burst into the field and chased two does out the other end. A few minutes later he came back in, took a nip or two and went back to chasing the does. This went on for several minutes and each time Blakeney tried to get on the buck he’d bolt and chase a doe out of the field.
“I’m going to try and shoot him when he comes through that lane,” Kenneth Blakeney said.
I opened the window just enough to allow him to get his rifle barrel out of the window and take aim. As the buck approached the opening Blakeney bore down and took aim and stared down the barrel.
The rifle roared, and the buck reared up before bolting and disappearing in the woods. A short time later we recovered the deer with the help of Eddie Hatcher and his trusty dog. Blakeney harvested a big 9-point buck, a trophy anywhere in the south.
“We’ve got plenty of food and cover available for the deer early in the fall so we try to supplement that by planting winter food plots and by selective harvest of the herd,” Kenneth Blakeney said. “If you have feed available for them during the cold weather, you’re going to have deer nearby.”
A buffet is always available.
“Due to the fertile soil we never have to lime our fields, but we do use fertilizer,” said Hatcher. “We plant clover, wheat and rape and we apply it liberally, planting about two bushels per acre and topping it off with about 200 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer per acre.”
While acorns are plentiful in early fall in some areas, they are scarce by January, and the does and bucks are all going to center their daily routines on their food sources.
“After the rut the bucks and does are going to be run down in January and most of them are going hit the feed pretty hard,” said Kenny Blakeney. “We plant as much forage as we can, not just small food plots to supplement their diet.”
While most of the food plots they hunt are bigger than average, some are 150 yards wide and a half-mile long, providing ample green salad for those frigid late winter days.
“Another important thing for us besides food, cover and stand placement is security,” Hatcher said. “We don’t allow folks to just go roaming through the woods. We go to our stands and hunting areas and stay put. Unless you shoot a deer that runs off into the woods we never venture out of the stand area. By keeping our human scent down to a minimum we’re able to watch a lot of deer feed almost every day.”
On one hunt with Blakeney I spotted some deer in one of those long fields and was able to skirt the edge of the field and ease into the stand with deer only a couple hundred yards from the stand. Those deer rarely raised their heads as they were eating as much as they could to keep their engines running. By keeping their stands as far from the action as possible and keeping traffic to a minimum the deer are much more at ease than in normal hunting situations.
“After the rut has dwindled, the bucks are still going to be around does so you need to hunt areas that have plenty of does,” said Gary Blakeney. “And I like to hunt out of the way places, or places other people don’t hunt much. Those are the places where you’ll have a chance to view a shooter buck during daylight hours.”
While those stands may be located far away on a property, they could be right near camp — stands left unhunted due to the proximity to camp or just because people don’t normally do any good there. Those are the type places where old bucks sometime take refuge to rest and hide from the crowds. Wise old bucks become accustomed to hunter pressure and pattern their daily routines as well, so the Blakeneys try to adapt to the time of year and hunting pressure and think outside the box.
“I prefer a small food plot because I bow hunt all season now,” Gary Blakeney said. “But, any food plot is good during the late season if you’re hunting with a rifle.”
He should know; his best buck to date is a 165-class 10-point that weighed 240 pounds.