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Going Public

Many of the author's favorite waterfowling memories were made on public lands, open to one and all 
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  • photo by Jack Unruh
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Taking Our Chances 

You could read the anxiety in their bleary eyes. A hundred or more hunters huddled in small groups in the bare-lightbulb-lit room of the management area headquarters. They were whispering strategy and studying maps. Soon it would be time to assign spots to hunters who had reservations and allot leftovers to those waiting in the "poor line."

We were at the Grand Pass Conservation Area in west-central Missouri. Word was out: mallards were here in big numbers, so more hunters than usual had shown up long before daylight to take their chances in the drawing. Some would get to hunt. Others would have to go back home. That's just the way it was.

Missouri is one of several states that manage public hunting via a draw system. In this tradeoff between quality and quantity, a fixed number of hunters get a better shot at experiencing a primo hunt. My hunting partners and I hoped to draw a low number and get a spot. If we didn't, we'd come back the next morning and try again.

We got a spot that first day, but it was one of the last assigned. By the time we poled our layout boats into the flooded cornfield, the best places were taken. We set up in a less-than-prime slough, where we bagged only a couple of greenheads.

Back in line the next morning our luck improved. We drew a much lower number and claimed a better spot—a pool that had produced quick limits for all its hunters the day before. We poled out again, scattered our decoys across a shallow flat, and dragged our layout boats back into the standing corn. Then we crawled inside our boats to await shooting time and the morning feeding flight.

This time everything clicked. Dawn arrived cold and bright with a chilly west wind. The ducks worked our spread with little suspicion. We took turns shooting drake mallards, their green heads shining in the sunlight.

Like this one, many public hunting areas are operated according to special rules and restrictions: extra permits, drawings for spots, limited hours and days, and hunting from fixed locations only. Patience and perseverance are two keys to success on these areas. Often you have to endure some slow hunts to experience the good ones.

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