All was silent in the predawn darkness, save the splashing of water from several expectant hunter's waders. As they took positions around an old beaver slough and waited silently, a barred owl hooted out his early morning greeting and another day was dawning.

But would the ducks cooperate?

Seconds later, whistling wings buzzed right overhead like dive bombers before circling and crashing onto the surface of the slough somewhere in the dark water between us.

As the eastern sky showed just a hint of pink and orange, more ducks filled the sky and a cacophony of duck sounds filled the crisp cold air and echoed through the swamp. A lonesome mallard let his presence be known with an old familiar tune, and a group of wood ducks began whistling and calling from flooded woods and potholes around our slough.

The ducks were here, and shooting light was fast approaching.

A small flock of ducks whirred by directly overhead, circled twice and crashed onto the surface just seconds before Randy Pope and his partner raised up and took aim.

The woodies exploded off of the surface of the water like they were shot out of a cannon and shots rang out. Pope scored a direct hit on his first shot, swung quickly and doubled up.

The avid hunter is an expert wing shot, and has harvested ducks and birds all over our great land.

"A lot of people outside of our area may not be familiar with the land we call the Mississippi Foothills, and fewer still don't know about the outstanding deer and duck hunting action we have in this part of the state," Pope said.

He is a lifelong outdoorsmen, forester and land manager who now specializes in maximizing opportunities for recreational land uses, with an emphasis on improving habitat to produce more game and fish.

The Mississippi Foothills area is located in East Mississippi and surrounds Meridian. Its territory includes prime hunting and fishing lands up and down the east-central portion of the state along the Alabama line.

"We may not have as many different species of ducks, but we've got plenty of ducks right here at home if you just put in a little legwork and do your homework," Pope said. "You can readily access many places, both public and private, that provide excellent duck-hunting action. And there are plenty of private lands available for lease, if you so desire.

"If you manage a piece of property right you can have excellent hunting and fishing on par with anywhere in the world."

Wave after wave of ducks flew overhead following the Chunky River on a southward path. Occasionally a flock broke off of the fly pattern and dropped right into Pope's honey hole.

"If you have water and feed around here you can have ducks and plenty of them," he said.

For about 45 minutes the skies around the Chunky River swamp bottom and our beaver slough were awash with ducks and furious activity as they visited their feeding grounds for the day. Shots resounded all around as hunters filled the sky with shot on their way to securing their limits.

A group of ducks dove in on me, and I swung and followed them toward the timber and promptly dropped a couple back into the flooded brush.

Ducks were flying fast and buzzing several hunters across the slough, and they were really burning them up also.

It didn't take Pope and his partner long to harvest a limit of ducks, either. In fact, our group limited out on woodies.

"Mike, we've got plenty of wood ducks in the area, and you may harvest mallards, teal, ringnecks or mergansers," Pope said. "The early morning duck-hunting action is fast, furious and fantastic at times.

"If you don't put too much pressure on them you can have a productive honey hole that will produce ducks all winter long."


Early morning action on the Chunky River

Pope made a reconnaissance mission along the Chunky River one early winter morning in search of buck sign and climbed into a stand to watch a river crossing. The deer were in full-blown rut mode, but Pope found something interesting as a bonus.

As he watched for bucks from his tree stand perched high above the river, he noticed wood ducks flying by.

"In the morning wood ducks were flying by me on the river at my stand height, and they were using the river like a highway," Pope said. "In the afternoon they'd fly back by heading downriver to their roost site."

It didn't take the excited hunter long to set up an early morning wood duck hunt.

"We got down by the river at the crack of dawn and they came buzzing by, and we really got some shooting in," Pope said. "At times, the action is fast and furious, and you get plenty of shooting in; hitting them is another thing, but we usually get our fair share."

Another river hotspot and honey hole was found in much the same fashion. The Chunky is a shallow river, easily accessible by small boats and even waders in most places during normal fall and winter seasons, and this allowed Pope an opportunity to experience some of the most-unique duck-hunting action you'll ever find.

"We found an area where the eddies were holding acorns in little pockets under the canopy of trees overhanging the river," he said. "During the early morning hours, the ducks would fly to the river hole and come diving and darting down through the trees, giving us sizzling wing-shooting action. It was actually quite a challenge," he concluded. "In my estimation the wood duck is the most beautiful duck in the United States, and it's the best-eating duck, too, right up there with teal and mallard."

What started out as a deer hunt on the banks of the Chunky River ended up leading to some fantastic duck-hunting action, according to Pope.

Over the years, he has deer hunted all over the South and the United States, but his favorite hunting is right here at home.

And duck hunting the rivers, swamps and sloughs of the Mississippi Foothills area is one of his favorite things to do.

"We'll usually hit the ducks in the sloughs and on the river on early morning hunts, and deer hunt the afternoons," he explained. "It's critical to have several duck holes so that you can rotate hunting them every other week, so you won't put too much pressure on any one area.

"If you do that, you're sure to experience some of the best duck hunting this side of the Mississippi Delta."