The Central Flyway is probably the most-utilized of all of the flight paths that bring numerous species of waterfowl from their prairie pothole breeding grounds in the United States and Canada to the southern wintering grounds.
Mississippi sits near the southern terminus of the flyway, so its annual duck migration is dependent on many factors. Each year, hunters in the Delta region hope for the conditions that will bring ducks and hunters together on frequent occasion.
Count Torch Tindle of Cleveland in that group.
A former duck-hunting guide, Tindle now focuses all of his waterfowling efforts on his own enjoyment, maintaining several waterfowl leases as well as hunting public lands along the Mississippi River. He also hunts in southeast Missouri, giving him an early look at the migration.
Tindle said this season’s forecast looked pretty good at the beginning of the first season in late November.
“Early season cold fronts pushed the birds down from up north early,” Tindle said. “Now, we need for conditions to stay right here in Mississippi for those birds to continue their migration down here and hopefully stay here for a while.”
Over his years of hunting, Tindle has found that ducks will only go as far south as they have to to avoid the harshest weather. The worst-case scenario, in his experience, is for the weather to turn cold early and then warm up.
“They don’t like thunderstorms and severe weather, which is what you get when it starts out cold and then warms up,” he said. “Thunderstorms will push birds on south, and we only get them for a short period.”
He also said that if it gets cold up north and freezes, and then warms up, birds will move back up, too.
“The ideal scenario is to have a hard freeze up north and for that freeze line to extend down to around Memphis,” Tindle said. “If we’re next in line and the weather stays cold but not below freezing throughout the season, we’ll have plenty of ducks to hunt here in the Delta.”
On the leases he hunts, fields have been pumped so water shouldn’t be an issue. Despite the dry conditions all summer, the long-range forecast was to have above average rainfall and snowfall to bring both cold and water.
As for his public-hunting forays onto the Mississippi River, Tindle said water levels have to reach at least 16 feet on the Arkansas City gauge, his personal indicator when he’s hunting the river along Coahoma and Bolivar counties.
“Any water lower than 16 feet, and you can’t get into the oxbows, sloughs and backwaters that are considered public waters once the water rises yet stays within the natural boundary of the river,” he said.
When the season approaches, Tindle spends as much time as possible scouting to see if there are ducks in the area and how they might be moving. He also relies heavily on the aerial surveys conducted by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and published each week on the agency’s website.
“Since all of our ducks usually stop off in Missouri before they come here, I’ll also monitor what’s going on with the surveys published by Missouri Department of Conservation,” Tindle said. “If they’ve got birds, and a decent-sized cold front comes through, you can bet we’ll see an influx of birds ahead of that system.
“Once we get birds, they tend to move back and forth in our state from feeding to resting areas, and they’ll even move up and down the river based on the amount of hunting pressure they’re getting,” Tindle said.
Dave Green is Tindle’s long-time hunting buddy and a member of the same club; they hunt all over the north Delta region.
Dubbed “Greenhead” by his hunting buddies, Green said that while he hopes for good duck-hunting weather in the area, daily weather and the way waterfowlers relate to it has a lot to do with success rates.
“If it’s a bluebird, sunny day, that’s the best days to be hunting on the river,” Green said. “On the other hand, if the forecast is for overcast skies, rain or other generally cloudy conditions, I prefer to hunt one of the flooded fields leased to our duck hunting club.”
Green’s explained that ducks have a hard time seeing when an entire area is covered with water and there’s a lot of glare coming off the river and surrounding areas.
Scouting beforehand and knowing the lay of the land generally gives him a good idea of how birds will approach; he wants to set up his blind and his decoys where the sun and the wind is in the birds’ faces as they come in.
“You want the wind blowing from behind you and the sun shining at your back,” Green said. “No animal likes to look into the sun. Glare in their eyes is some of the best camouflage there is. Ducks also land into the wind, so the wind at your back is going to put you in the best shooting position.”
Public-land hunting or getting permission to hunt private land off the Mississippi River is tricky. Green said to know which situation you’re in to make sure you are legal and not trespassing.
“As a general rule, we hunt out of a boat blind anytime we’re on the river,” he said. “It’s best if you can work the boat up into the willows or some other backdrop to help break out your outline. Just remember to keep the sun and wind at your back and stay in the boat to avoid any chance of trespassing.”
On cloudy, overcast or rainy days, he will go to one of his leases, which have permanent blinds that help him and other hunters stay concealed until time to shoot.
“In a pit blind on a flooded field, you start to get into more decoy strategies,” Green said. “You want things to look natural, but you also want to tip the suggestion to your advantage, so instead of landing away from the blind, birds will land within shooting range.”
Three strategies Green uses involve a “U” shape, a double line, and a smorgasbord of mixed ducks with an opening in the center.
“The ‘U’ provides a landing spot in the center, while the two lines create a kind of runway,” he said. “Mixing ducks looks more natural, but you always want to leave a target opening spot for ducks to land.”
Green said by January, the number of decoys he uses in his spreads decreases dramatically, as does the amount of calling he uses to get the birds to commit.
“We don’t call much at all,” he said. “No big, long, wound-up hail calls like you hear on TV — not this time of year.”