By Gary Koehler
They are the most common of North American ducks, by far the most extensively researched, and certainly the most sought after by waterfowlers. Geography fosters rare exceptions, but in general, if you hunt flooded timber, agricultural fields, marsh, or open water, mallards probably are not too far away. The bread-and-butter birds of many a duck camp in all four flyways, they are universally identified as greenheads and susies. This year's fall flight is expected to include nearly 10.5 million mallards. It's time to put together a plan. These crafty veterans will tell you how they do it.
"Those big mallards had come roaring into the decoys as though they planned to live there all their lives." -Robert C. Ruark, "A Duck Looks Different to Another Duck" Garry Mason claims to have missed only 32 days of duck season during the past 26 years. Christmas holidays account for the bulk of his absences, with the other anonymous dates simply written off as lost to the vagaries of memory or perhaps the odd bout with exhaustion. As a full-time Kentucky Lake guide, he is paid to be on the water. In his case, open water.
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"What works here may not work in the timber or on potholes," Mason says. "But I personally feel that river hunters can call ducks anywhere."
While mixed bags are the rule rather than the exception on these Tennessee River secondary waters (located off the main channel), the bulk of Mason's bag is comprised of mallards and gadwall. Getting the birds' attention is job one.
"We do a lot more highballing when we call," Mason says. "On open water, you can see birds a long distance away. And we'll call to them even if they are way off or way up high. I have heard lots of people tell others that they call too loud. I don't believe that, at least not out here. I have called loud at ducks all the way down to the decoys. When you have a lot of wind, you have to call loud or they aren't going to hear you.
"But my biggest call is probably the comeback call. That's a confidence call to the ducks. Out here, I don't think you can call too much. Two or more callers in the blind are fine, as long as they know what each other is doing. One guy should be the lead caller, and the others should follow his lead."
Because there is little or no natural cover on these waters (unless one anchors along shore or adjacent to an island), Mason, like most other locals, uses a sophisticated floating-blind setup. His roomy, comfortable hide took an entire summer to build, and the cost ran into the thousands.