The 2015 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Trends in Duck Breeding Populations Report indicates a record year of waterfowl production, with an estimated 49.5 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey areas.
That’s 43 percent above the long-term (1955-2014) average and the highest count on record.
Mississippi hunters have plenty to look forward to this year as the north-south migration of waterfowl makes plenty of stops in the state’s Delta region. It’s up to the hunter to make sure he’s doing the right things to bring migrating waterfowl within gun range.
Rusty Shaw of Crowder runs a part time waterfowl guide service and said that one of the most important aspects to hunting ducks along the Mississippi Delta is finding places that have water. It’s a pretty simple equation:
No water equals no ducks.
“We mainly hunt flooded brakes and cypress sloughs,” said Shaw. “It’s all privately leased areas, but if you’ve got a cypress slough or brake, whatever you want to call it, ducks are naturally attracted to that for resting areas. If you’ve got water, they’ll come.”
Shaw said the areas around Coahoma County where he hunts have had a drier than normal summer but then received some much-needed rain during the fall prior to the season. Due to the nature of the terrain, he relies on naturally occurring water bodies because he is unable to manipulate the area either to plant food or store water.
“The places that I hunt are all dammed up by beavers so we’ve had water all summer; I’m one of the few that has that,” said Shaw. “We mainly hunt natural areas. It’s all private land. It stays flooded pretty much year round so there’s pretty much not any way to grow anything.”
The available food sources for ducks that are migrating south come from local agriculture production. Rice and soybeans are produced locally as well as some other grains ducks use. Shaw’s strategy is to be set up in locations between these feeding areas to catch ducks commuting back and forth.
“Most of these sloughs or brakes are narrow and may be less than 100 acres in size,” he said. “It creates a good resting space. Ducks go out and feed in the early morning or feed all night then they’ll come into these brakes to rest.”
Shaw said it’s important to get into the areas early in order to be set up and ready for legal shooting light. Typically, he will get flights early as well as later in the day.
“We’re always there at shooting time, but your mallards will start coming in later, sometimes 8:30, 9 or so,” he said. “In January, we get some canvasbacks, quite a few red heads and a lot of mallards and gadwalls.”
Shaw hunts every opportunity he can get, but favors a cold north wind with lots of sunshine for the best hunting. He said that unlike other areas where birds may only fly in inclement weather, the Delta sees birds trading all day long regardless of the conditions.
“I prefer to hunt on a real cold and blue-bird day,” said Shaw. “The layout of the places that I hunt set up best on a north wind, you can put it to your back and you still have a lot of area to hunt.”
The guide said that the difference between hunting a cloudy, drizzly day and hunting a bright day is that ducks can see better in overcast conditions. Cloud cover tends to make them fly a little lower but it also makes it hard for ducks to see his spreads. Bright sun shining off the water highlights decoy movement as well as blinding the ducks from picking out hunters.
“On a blue-bird day, you don’t have to limit your movement,” he said. “The trees are creating shadows and the ducks can’t see you as well. On a cloudy day, they can see everything. The least little movement, they can see it.”
Having grown up around the town of Greenville and hunting public land most of his life, Bobby Gault recognized in his late 20’s that he had to break away from the status quo if he were going to be successful as a duck hunter. While his college hunting buddies were going to the same old spots and returning with the same results, Gault knew he could do better.
“Most of public land hunting where I live is in the rivers and only accessible by boat,” said Gault. “No matter how much marsh grass you put on a boat blind, it sticks out like a sore thumb if you’re not hunting in marsh grass. The best boat blinds are those that allow you to blend your boat in with the natural surroundings and look like part of the scenery. Spend some extra time hiding the boat in natural cover and then use the available cover to help brush in the boat even further.”
Gault also suggests that when ducks get scared and are preparing to fly out of an area, they bunch together in a tight circle. This is the same look most decoy spreads have when the hunter tosses dekes out in a random ring around the blind. He suggests mixing full bodied decoys in with floaters, arranging them in a more relaxed fashion so you aren’t putting ducks on alert the moment they see your blocks.
“Ducks standing on the shore, laying around on stumps and spread out across an area is the way real ducks behave when they are relaxed,” he said. “Some will be loafing, some will be sleeping, and some will be bathing and preening, which is where a lot of splashing and motion comes in.”
Gault was quick to point out that even the best spread and the best blind in the best looking location are an exercise in futility if there aren’t ducks in the area.
“Guessing at an area is no substitute for scouting,” he said. “After every hunt, I burn a lot of boat gas or truck gas scouting the area to see where the ducks are loafing and rafting. Big flocks usually come in with the weather so it’s important to put your time in and identify at least the general area ducks are using.”
While arriving before the crack of dawn is the duck hunter’s motto, Gault learned that it was much easier to kill his limit of ducks, especially in a crowded area, if he waited until mid morning to go into the duck grounds. This is the time that most hunters are packing up and leaving. Even if the hunt time is limited to 11 a.m., he prefers the last two hours to the first two.
“It’s thinking outside the box that will put you in a better situation,” said Gault. “Almost every duck hunter out there today is using spinning wing decoys and I believe ducks that have been hunted awhile put this together with getting shot. I kill more ducks using a jerk cord than an electronic motion decoy. The movement of 4 to 6 ducks on the water is more natural than a spinner and that attracts even wary ducks.”
Most waterfowlers understand that ducks prefer to land into the wind but they fail to realize that a rising sun behind the back of the hunter also makes him virtually invisible.
“I’ve hunted crosswind situations plenty of times so I could get the sun at my back,” said Gault. “A right to left shot is much easier if the duck has no idea you’re there.”
Where To Hunt: Mississippi offers a wide variety of waterfowl hunting opportunities. From state, federal, and privately owned lands managed intensively for waterfowl to the various public waterways, there are numerous waterfowl hunting opportunities located within the Delta Region. Each of these areas is subject to their own rules and regulations. For a complete listing of public hunting lands that are available, as well as any rules and regulations that apply, visit www.home.mdwfp.com/ContentManagement/
Best tactics: Waterfowl habitat in the Delta is a mix of flooded fields, standing timber, sloughs, brakes and backwaters of the Mississippi River. Before setting up on any piece of land to duck hunt, it is advisable to first make sure you have permission to hunt there and that the area is currently hosting ducks. Allow yourself a day or so ahead of hunting to scout for areas ducks are using. If you have access to a number of private lands, make sure the ducks are in the area and preferably locate the exact position they favor before getting set up the next morning. Being mobile and having gear that will accommodate moving your hunt site from one area to the next with just a day’s notice is important. Strong weather events, such as rain, snow, ice or cold fronts may push local ducks out and bring migratory ducks down. Knowing how to conceal yourself, using the wind to your advantage, and when and how to call to ducks are important pieces of the equation.
More Info/Guides: Rusty Shaw, Cold Steel Guide Service, (662) 645-6822;