By Wade Bourne
Don Wright and I had driven from Kentucky
to hunt pheasants, towing my boat along in case we also found some ducks. As it turned out, the ringnecks were scarce, but we located a concentration of mallards on a nearby reservoir. These birds were roosting on the lake, flying out early to feed, and returning around mid-morning to loaf in the dead timber scattered throughout the reservoir's upper end.
Don and I launched the boat after the morning flight had departed the lake. We motored to where we'd seen the biggest concentration of ducks lift off, wedging the boat into a makeshift log blind that had been built long ago by other hunters. After tossing out a couple of dozen decoys
, we raised the sides on my portable blind, loaded our shotguns, and waited for the ducks to return.
It wasn't long before we were digging for shells. The ducks started trickling back in singles, pairs, and small flocks. Many came into our spread with little hesitation. Don and I took turns shooting
until we filled our bag limits. The colors on those greenheads were brilliant in the bright winter sun. From that morning on, our pheasant trip turned into a duck trip.
This hunt was no aberration. I've had many memorable hunts on reservoirs in other states, including South Dakota
, Kentucky, and Texas
. These reservoirs held plenty of ducks and were all in the public domain. Anybody could have hunted the same places we did, but we almost never encountered other hunters.
When it comes to public waterfowl hunting
, wildlife management areas and national wildlife refuges get most of the attention. These areas are usually intensively managed, strictly controlled, and highly publicized. These well-known hunting areas hold large numbers of waterfowl
, and not surprisingly, they also draw lots of hunting pressure.
This leaves a vast array of other public lands that are relatively uncrowded, even though many offer high-quality duck and goose hunting opportunities. These places include not only reservoirs but major rivers, coastal waters, national forests, military installations, utility properties, and private lands enrolled in public access programs. Together they offer millions of acres of public waterfowl hunting. Here's just a sampling of underutilized public hunting areas that exist all over the country, just waiting for hunters to explore them.