By Matt Young
Waterfowl guide and Avery pro-staffer Jake Latendresse grew up duck hunting in the Camden Bottoms of northwest Tennessee but later relocated to the Nebraska Panhandle. He has no regrets about making the move, especially in late fall when heavy flights of red-legged mallards sweep down from the northern plains.
"We have some good hunting during the first half of the season on local birds and early migrants, but the best hunting begins around Thanksgiving or the first week of December when our wintering mallards show up," Latendresse says. "The rivers and warm-water sloughs stay open most of the season, and there's lots of corn left in surrounding fields for mallards to feed on. It has to get really cold or we have to get a major snowstorm to push birds out of this area."
Latendresse primarily guides on the historic North Platte River. This shallow, meandering river system is constantly changing course, creating new braided channels as water levels rise and the current cuts into sandy banks. The myriad oxbows, side channels, and spring-fed sloughs along the North Platte are prime habitat for mallards seeking sheltered places to loaf during the day. Latendresse scouts extensively for concentrations of resting waterfowl by running the river in a shallow-drafting johnboat equipped with a Go-Devil mud motor. For concealment, he uses Avery Finishers and Neo Tubs brushed with natural vegetation from the hunting area.
"I like being right in the middle of the action," Latendresse says. "Whenever possible, I set my blinds in flooded weeds right at the water's edge. This allows us to hide in the ducks' comfort zone instead of having to set up on the bank away from the water where we would have longer shots."
While hunting ducks on river channels and sloughs, Latendresse uses a spread of six dozen Greenhead Gear mallard decoys and a dozen drake wigeon decoys. He places most of his mallard decoys in a large group slightly upwind of the blinds. He sets the rest of the mallards, as well as the highly visible drake wigeon decoys, as singles and in pairs and small groups farther downwind.
"Anytime you are hunting a slough or river chute, it's a good idea to completely block the channel with decoys," Latendresse advises. "Flights of ducks typically work along the main river channel and then cut into sloughs and side channels when they see the decoys. If you have the channel completely cut off, they'll often drop right in on the first pass. I also like to place singles, pairs, and smaller groups of decoys downstream along the edges of the channel to look like relaxed, loafing ducks and to create pinch points to funnel landing ducks toward the shooters. The wider the channel, the more decoys I'll place on the opposite side to force birds to land closer to our blinds."