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Mallard Heaven

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By Eric Keszler

A journey to one of North America's most famous waterfowling regions reveals why eastern Arkansas is still so important for greenheads and those who would pursue them.

Like most of us, I've done some interesting things in my time. But, like most of us, I've also missed out on many of life's grandest experiences-those activities seemingly reserved for the very gifted, the very fortunate, or the very wealthy. I've never pitched a shutout in Yankee Stadium. I've never taken the checkered flag at Daytona. I've never climbed Everest. And I've never faced down a charging Cape Buffalo in deepest Africa.

But when it comes to waterfowling, I can proudly say that I've played in the big leagues, reached the apex of the sport, and rubbed shoulders with the best in the business . . . because I've hunted mallards in Arkansas.

It's simple really. Eastern Arkansas has long been one of North America's top destinations for duck hunters because of one basic fact: It is also one of North America's top destinations for ducks.

As the Mississippi and Central flyway's waterfowl head south every fall along the continent's longest river, they find themselves funneled into the famous Mississippi Delta, that legendary region of swamps, bayous, and flooded forests. Historically, this region provided a perfect blend of food, shelter, and weather-just what you look for if you're a duck in search of a winter home.

Today, of course, much of that landscape has changed. Only 20 percent of the original natural wildlife habitat in the Delta remains. In spite of that, the Delta is still an extremely important area for ducks-especially mallards.

Approximately one-fifth of North America's mallards spend the winter here. And of the seven states with Delta land, Arkansas is by far the most important. Arkansas has 9,000 miles of streams statewide and contributes around 8 million acres of land to the 24 million acres of the Mississippi Delta floodplain.

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