Beginning as a relative trickle in northern Minnesota and snaking its way south approximately 2,300 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River features extremely diverse waterfowl habitat. The northern reaches include lakes laden with wild rice, vast open water pools along the Iowa/Wisconsin border, fertile backwaters in the Mid-South, and the sweeping marshes of southern Louisiana. And that's to say nothing of the many islands and sandbars. Depending on the timing of the fall migration, waterfowl hunters may find large canvasback concentrations at Pools 9-11, set their sights on mallards and wood ducks farther downriver, and then wind up chasing pintails, green-winged teal, and gadwalls at the far tip. Many other species can be found along the way. Private land dominates the landscape for the most part, but there are many sites with public hunting access. The Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, for example, stretches for 261 miles and is composed of 240,000 acres in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The Pass-A-Loutre Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana is open to the public and covers 128,000 acres. Check with state wildlife agencies regarding regulations and access points.
If embracing American waterfowling history is your deal, look no farther than the Susquehanna River, whose "mile wide, and a foot deep" description has been part of the Atlantic Flyway's legend and lore for generations. The area where the river empties into the northern end of Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace is called the Susquehanna Flats, which once hosted more wintering canvasbacks than any other locale. Much of the river's natural vegetation has been lost to habitat degradation and compromised water quality, but the cans still visit, albeit in leaner numbers. So do Canada geese, black ducks, and scaup. This region is the cradle of American decoy carving, boasting a who's who of carvers perhaps unmatched anywhere else in the nation. Stop by the Havre de Grace Decoy Museum to check out an amazing collection of decoys and other artifacts. The waterfowling tradition runs deep here, even if the river does not. Public gunning is allowed at Two Sands Island in the Susquehanna Flats State Park, but a permit is required. Call ahead for details.