While the Mississippi River was far from setting any kind of record for flood stages, duck hunters from all across the state agreed that the 2009-10 duck season was a wet one. Many hunters reported that there was just too much water, especially in the Delta region, for ducks to have to commit to just one area to feed and loaf.

Probably more so than any other outdoor pursuit, duck hunting's biggest influencing factor is the weather. Rain, wind, snow - it's all good. However, based on the last few months of measured rainfall and the prospect for the future, this winter looks to be much drier than last. Even the Farmer's Almanac is calling for 3 inches below-normal rainfall in the Deep South for the start of duck season.

Since waterfowl of all manner have been flying the banks of the Mississippi River and its associated flyway for eons, it's unlikely that a little less water at one stage of the trip will make much difference to them. It will, however, make a huge difference to Mississippi duck hunters. According to local duck experts, the key to killing ducks this season will be making use of what you have.

Torch Tindle has been plying the waters around the Mississippi Delta his whole life. As a full-time guide, he's on the water every day of the season either hunting ducks or scouting for ducks to hunt. Tindle believe this winter will be a dry one, and that will greatly influence where he and his Dixie Ducks Guide Service partners hunt when the season opens.

"Last year at this time, there was water everywhere, and this year it looks like we're going to be in a drought," he said. "That means a lot of areas that have held water in the past will be dry. One good thing is that the (Mississippi) river has been high all summer, and has put a lot of water into the oxbows. Even when the river goes down, those oxbows will still hold enough water to draw ducks."

When Tindle and his partner Buck Burroughs talk about hunting oxbows, they are referring to Desoto, Whittington and Beulah near their base of operations in Shelby. He'll also hunt sections of the Sunflower River that offer pools of water near heavy cover.

Tindle says all of these locations offer public water, but first-time hunters need to be aware of the water levels to make sure they remain within public domain and do not float over onto private property.

"I don't think the water will be that high this year, but check the gauge over in Arkansas City or at Helena," he recommended. "The flood stage at Arkansas City is 34 feet and 44 feet at Helena. At those levels, you'll be on private property even if there's enough water to float you."

Tindle favors local oxbows because they offer much of what he feels will be lacking this year - water and food. The drought conditions have left little residual food sources for ducks even if they could get to them.

"The oxbows are full of duckweed and other natural vegetation that ducks eat," said Tindle. "Anytime I've ever been on a sandbar that had cockle-burrs on it, the ducks were always in there eating them. Our farm leases are in sad shape, because of the drought - the farmers have already cleared everything off of them and tilled the ground for next spring. There's nothing left to eat out in the fields."

Tindle says the better sides of the Mississippi oxbows are usually on the west side of the lakes, where there's plenty of willow trees to tuck back into. Ducks tend to fly the tree lines and drop down when they find company. He prefers a location that has an indention in the tree line, where he can get back off the main lake and hunt in the trees from a boat blind. Then the guide likes to place several dozen locator decoys in front of the boat toward open water and more decoys behind him in the forest of trees, especially if they are movement decoys.

"I'll use a few more decoys for public water," he said. "Up to four dozen if we're on the rivers and maybe as many as six dozen in an oxbow. I started using these Dakota decoys that have flocked heads and putting a bunch of those out to fill up the smaller holes in the trees, then put the mojos behind us back in the trees."

The No. 1 factor in deciding where he is going to hunt will be the results of his scouting the day before. Once he wraps up the morning hunt and drops off his clients, he heads out in his boat to scout for the next day. He maintains that ducks have to be using an area before he will go try to hunt them.

Oxbow and river ducks are less likely to spook from boat traffic compared to ducks residing on private impoundments because they are accustomed to seeing boat traffic during their migrations. Tindle motors out from the landing and use his binoculars to check "holes" in the tree line. If he sees ducks rafting in the open areas or flying in the trees, he'll consider coming back to that spot to hunt.

"The ducks are pretty consistent where they like to hold in the oxbows," he said. "They'll be up in little pockets away from the main lake. You can find them between about 2 and 4 in the afternoon rafted up. Even if you get too close and jump them, they'll usually circle back and you can see where they go back in to a hole."

Because he has no exclusive right to hunt, Tindle wants to be set up well before daylight the next day. He's at the ramp by 4 a.m., and prefers to be setup early. He'd rather be wasting time waiting on daylight than running late, especially on public water.

Farther south, Josh Jones of Chatham guides for ducks around Lake Washington and surrounding areas. He says he sees more ducks around Washington later in the season, depending on how much water they have. As a non-connected oxbow, Washington's levels do not fluctuate with the Mississippi River as the others do.

"We get in behind the cypress trees inside an old brake," he said. "Ducks will fly right over the tops of the trees, looking down, so the more decoys the better. A lot of guys like the spinners, but I don't think they're as effective as they used to be. I'd much rather have some of the wobble ducks or the feeding ducks that spray water, and even the old-school jerk cords work well out there."

Another location that Jones is quick to suggest is the 80,000 acres of public land available inside the Delta National Forest. Water is pumped out of the Sunflower River into this WMA to sustain several impoundments and greentree reservoirs.

"We get in there early and wade in," said Jones. "Usually, I'll take a layout boat to pull decoys into where I'm going to hunt. It's best if you can get in there a day or so before and find where the birds are working and then go set up. Use lots of decoys and get covered up. A heavy overcast day with light rain is great because ducks will fly all morning long."