It doesn’t matter how good you can call. It doesn’t matter how pretty your decoys are. It doesn’t matter how well your blind is brushed.
The only thing that matters if you want to shoot ducks is that there are ducks where you hunt.
Sure, all those other things can go a long way to helping you leave the blind with dead ducks, but none of those things matter if you choose to hunt a spot that’s as barren of ducks as Brett Favre is of decision-making genes.
Want to test this theory? All right then, step out in your front yard and start blaring away on your duck call. See anything? Put out the prettiest decoy spread you’ve ever seen in your swimming pool. Did that cup them up? Brush your deck to the point that your neighbors call Desperate Landscapes (a show on HGTV that I know about only because my wife watches it. I promise. Really.). Are they committed and coming in?
It’s been said so many times that it’s bordering on becoming cliché. The most important rule of killing ducks is to hunt where there are ducks. Come to think of it, I guess you could hunt ducks anywhere you want to. But if you want to kill ducks, you’d better park your patootie in a place that the ducks want to be.
Looking back at last year’s hunter/harvest report compiled by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, one can’t help but notice that three of the state’s wildlife management areas stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Howard Miller WMA reported 2,725 ducks killed. Mahannah WMA reported 3,037. Malmaison reported 2,470.
The next highest number of harvested ducks came from O’Keefe WMA with 942. That’s a difference of 1,528 ducks from Malmaison to O’Keefe.
During the 2007-08 season, Mahannah and Malmaison boasted similar numbers with Howard Miller being back in the pack. And in the 2006-07 season, Mahannah and Malmaison showed the same dominance with Howard Miller not being included as the MDWFP was purchasing the property during this time period.
Granted, increased hunter efforts at these three WMAs has something to do with the higher harvest rates, but there has to be a reason these draw so many hunters who wind up going home with so many birds. Their proximity to the Mississippi River might have something to do with it.
But there is something else afoot at these three that make them such special public duck-hunting holes. According to Ed Penny, MDWFP waterfowl program coordinator, it might have more to do with lots of food, managed hunting pressure and sizable sanctuaries.
Take the newly purchased Howard Miller WMA for example.
“It was purchased in 2006-07, and is located in Issaquena County,” Penny began. “It consists of flooded cropland and moist-soil habitat (that is) managed for waterfowl. We intensively manage the area for ducks, and begin flooding the field in early November.
“Mahannah WMA is located in Issaquena County, and it consists of flooded cropland, moist-soil habitat and bottomland hardwood forest. Waterfowl populations and harvests are consistent for the same reasons as Howard Miller.”
Other than some common habitat and management characteristics, Howard Miller and Mahannah also share one more characteristic that makes them so productive. Both WMAs are located in the Delta region that borders the Mississippi River from Bolivar County to the north all the way down to Warren, Hinds and Rankin counties to the south.
“The Delta is far and away the most important area for wintering waterfowl in Mississippi and one of the most important wintering areas in North America,” Penny said. “One of MDWFP’s highest priorities is to improve habitat on WMAs in the Delta and to increase public hunting opportunities through (land) acquisitions.”
Malmaison WMA is just a little bit different, and, as Penny puts it, is one of the most historic waterfowl areas in the entire state. Located just a little bit to the north of Howard Miller and Mahannah, Malmaison consists of bottomland hardwoods and cypress/tupelo brakes in Grenada and Leflore counties in the Northwest Region.
It’s been said in sports circles that statistics are for losers, but in the waterfowl world, statistics don’t lie. These three areas are popular and productive for a reason, and if you’re looking to get in a little public-land duck hunting this season, one of these three should definitely be in your plans.
Howard Miller WMA
One of the best things about Howard Miller is that it once was a rice and soybean farm, the kind of hunting usually reserved for people who own camouflage and duck-call companies.
Today, those old rice and soybean fields have been divided into 48 fields separated by a series of levees and ditches that subdivides this 2,400-acre tract into 24 80-acre hunting units. The other 420-odd acres have been set aside as a permanent wildlife sanctuary.
Penny says Howard Miller is being managed as a quality waterfowl hunting area by a combination of moist-soil vegetation. Some of the plants that ducks find favorable are smartweed, sprangletop, wild millets, soybeans, corn and rice.
Hunting at Howard Miller is by draw only, and hunters have a chance of participating through preseason draws and stand-by opportunities. Preseason draws guarantee a hunter will hunt the day of his draw, but he must still draw for a hunt unit on the morning of his reserved day. Random drawings are held at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
“Howard Miller has also been selected for a multi-year study on waterfowl hunting management,” said Penny. “We’re trying to maximize hunting opportunity without reducing waterfowl use, hunter harvest or hunter satisfaction.
“This season, one half of the area will be hunted two days per week and one half of the area will be hunted four days per week. Then we’ll compare waterfowl use, hunter harvest and hunter satisfaction between the two.”
If Howard Miller is the new kid on the block, its neighbor to the south, Mahannah WMA, has been there and done that. Considered as one of the most ecologically intact and biologically diverse bottomland and hardwood ecosystems in the Mississippi Delta, Mahannah serves up everything from flooded timber to flooded agricultural land.
Of the 12,695 acres that make up Mahannah, 1,200 acres are dedicated to the management of waterfowl through plantings of millet, milo, corn and soybeans or maintained in native, moist-soil species. These areas are flooded every fall through a system of pumps and newly created levees that allow managers to more precisely control the water levels.
“This area is a habitat for a lot of different wintering waterfowls,” Penny said. “Puddle ducks like the shallow areas and diving ducks use the deeper areas. It’s mainly mallards, but we also get canvasback, bluewing and greenwing teal, gadwall, pintail, widgeon and wood ducks.”
Like at Howard Miller, waterfowl hunts at Mahannah are by preseason or standby draw only, and they are held every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
The only one of the big three WMAs that doesn’t require draw hunts, Malmaison is for the more adventurous at heart. Malmaison requires a freelancer’s spirit and a Freemason’s secrecy because successfully shooting ducks means getting in places within the flooded timber that other people don’t know about or don’t care to get to if they do.
Because of the increased pressure due to the no-draw hunts, Malmaison used to be known for hunters paying kids to sleep in their boats overnight to make sure nobody else cold move in on their hunting spots.
That’s all changed now, though, with new regulations that don’t allow hunting gear to be in the area any later than 30 minutes after sunset and the limiting of access to the greentree reservoir and the McIntyre Scatters section prior to 5 a.m.
Since it isn’t regulated through the draw-hunt system, some folks may feel Malmaison offers the best chance for a newbie to go out and shoot some birds. That might be a mistake considering that the sheer size of the flooded area requires some familiarity or at least a lot of map study prior to a trip.
Therefore, your best bet at shooting some ducks this season hinges on whether you get accepted to the draw hunts at Howard Miller or Mahannah. If you didn’t apply soon enough, or you didn’t get drawn, your next best chance will be to stand in line for the daily standby draws.
If all that seems like too much trouble, and you don’t own a camouflage or duck-call company, you should consider that the golden rule of duck hunting will dictate that you get up extra early and hope somebody didn’t show up. It doesn’t matter how good a hunter you are if there isn’t anything to hunt.