It wasn’t the first wave of wings that caught my attention, because I was doing my job. I was fooling with my camera trying to capture all the action before it was over.
No, it was the second wave when I took note that primer caps had started popping like tops off beer bottles sitting out too long in the sun on a Mississippi summer day. Shotshell hulls flew everywhere. Good thing we were standing on the edge of a section of a field flooded to attract ducks, and not in the tight confines of an enclosed blind.
This was the quintessential Mississippi Delta duck hunt. Four hunters with a well-seasoned guide, one well-heeled black Labrador retriever, and me. The guide had put out only a couple dozen greenhead decoys likely to satisfy the hunters as much as to offer an attractant to pull in some ducks, and the dekes accomplished both.
When waterfowl hunters in Mississippi think of duck hunting havens, naturally the Delta region comes to mind. However, not all of the best duck hunting is in the purest region of the Delta alongside the Mississippi River.
Some of the best ducking grounds in the Magnolia State reside further east in Tallahatchie County, where thousands of acres of harvested soybeans and corn along with water resources supplied by the Tallahatchie River and all of its river tributaries, combine to set an inviting table for migrating ducks.
It’s a perfect set up for ducks and the Duckmen of Tallahatchie County.
If you got it, Flautt it
Exuse the little play on literary prose. The truth is though, the Flautt family of Webb, Miss., does have it all in terms of duck hunting so they might as well flaunt it. Their duck hunting skills and outfitting operation did not come about by accident.
Anybody who duck hunts these days — and is honest — will tell you these two things: One, duck hunting takes a lot of work, and, two, duck hunting is an expensive sport. But then if you count it as a personal recreational expense or even a business expense, as it applies, duck hunting is no more costly than maintaining a deer camp, a fish camp on the coast, or taking a family of four snow skiing or to Hawaii.
Family patriarch Mike Flautt came by duck hunting nearly out of necessity. Growing up, he and friends would sneak off to potholes around their home area to take a few ducks for dinner.
“Who really knows which came first, the thrill of gunning for ducks or the desire to have some fried duck breast on the supper table,” said Flautt. “I suspect a growling stomach would make a kid figure out some way to find something good to eat. Since we had plenty of ducks settling onto ponds and creeks in the area, you might say we just took advantage of an available resource.”
Mike Flautt has added two sons to the family’s farming and duck hunting operations. Alben Flautt lives on site helping toil several thousand acres of prime Delta farmland into productive crops for fall harvests. Once the crops are in and duck season opens, he serves as one of the lodge’s duck hunting guides.
The other son Bolton Flautt was an out-of-state entrepreneur, but he put his business interests on hold to move home to help out with the duck hunting.
“Home is where the heart is,” Bolton Flautt said. “Sure, I love to duck hunt myself, but the real draw is helping other waterfowl hunters enjoy their experiences. I especially like to see the smiles on the kids’ faces the first time they down a darting mallard or wood duck.
“The real reward for me is to be standing on the edge of one of our flooded fields, a bayou or duck pothole watching and listening for ducks. There is nothing like hearing that far off quack of green-headed mallards out in the distance somewhere in the fog, then watching them pitch their wings into a layout of decoys. Sometimes they nearly land in our laps as they flare out to land. One move on our part and they regroup, burning for altitude as the hunters sight down on them and start shooting. It’s an amazing moment.”
Farming for ducks
The importance of location is not lost on Mike Flautt.
“We are so blessed to be sitting right here virtually in the middle of some of the best duck habitat in the whole state,” he said. To be honest, he could have said the whole country. “If waterfowl experts were to design an ideal region to attract and hold ducks, Tallahatchie County might well be used as a model format.”
Flautt Farms lies amidst tens of thousands of acres of some of the best farmlands in America. The soils are perfect for producing 100-plus bushels of soybeans per acre when Mother Nature supplies the right rainfall. Other crops prosper as well due in great part to the network of irrigation wells and watering units the Flautt family has installed. That water-producing capability also pays off big time later during duck seasons.
“I guess you could say farming is farming, but our mission has a little bit of a different twist to it,” Alben Flautt said. “Sure, first and foremost, our job at Flautt Farms is to grow production crops to create good yields to supply and sell to willing markets. That is after all how we make a living.
“However, I never turn the end of a row on a tractor/planter or a combine without thinking there will be ducks feeding here later in the year. That’s our other mission. We love to duck hunt for sure, but the outfitting efforts also result in a much-needed annual boost to our cash flow. Duck hunting is our business, too.”
Delta farming usually translates into creating duck habitat. If the ducks do not have food resources available when they arrive in the fall, then they are gone, sometimes overnight. Water brings them in; food holds them. You have to have both, but food is critical. The Flautts intentionally leave some crop rows behind or they may make special plantings just for the ducks to have extra food, and more ducks for hunters to shoot.
Time to hunt
Running a hunting operation as large as the Flautt’s is a lot of work. Success does not come easily, and the work begins as soon as the farming ends.
“After the crops are in, then we turn to duck hunting,” Mike Flautt said. “If we are short on water, then we start pumping up levels in our low fields and potholes. We may plow around the edges of the water and often add new plantings of duck-favored foods to hold them in the area longer. We hunt every day of the season and usually have over 1,000 hunters to come through the lodge. Last year we took 4,400 ducks, a record year.”
A typical day in the Flautt duck season begins with as many as two dozen hunters crowded into the kitchen staging area, where Mike assigns a half dozen eager guides to the groups, and gives each their hunting areas. They head out to hunt until noon, when they return to the dining area for a breakfast-brunch buffet.
The Flautts and their corps of guides comprise one of many duckmen groups in Tallahatchie County. It’s a way of life for these guys and a life they would never give up. Competition is high among the guides, making it sweet for the duck hunters. Time is even found for the Flautts to swing on a few flights, too.