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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Insider Guide to Public-Land Duck Hunting

Veteran public-land waterfowlers share their secrets for finding great hunting
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By Wade Bourne

“I don’t have a good place to hunt” is an all-too-common lament among North America’s waterfowlers. Many duck and goose hunters don’t have access to private lands, leases, or clubs, so they are relegated to public areas and the vagaries that come with them. Hunting pressure can be heavy. The number of birds using an area can change quickly. And the shooting can be anything but consistent.

But hold on! The other side of this coin is that many public areas offer great duck and goose hunting. Some are managed intensively and attract large numbers of waterfowl. On these areas, hunting pressure may be heavy, but hunters who learn to work around it can still enjoy reliable action. Other public hunting areas draw fewer birds, but they may also attract fewer hunters. As a result, the birds-per-hunter ratio may be just as high as it is on the more popular public areas, but the competition may be less intense.

Virtually all states have public areas where any waterfowler with a license and minimal gear can enjoy good sport. Granted, hunters have to learn when and how to hunt these places. But if they’re willing to work and have the expertise to handle the competition, they can find good waterfowl hunting on them.

Michael McGowen, Marc Murrell, and Mike Checkett have considerable experience hunting waterfowl on public areas. McGowen, an insurance agent from Albemarle, North Carolina, hunts both upland reservoirs and coastal marshes. Murrell, who manages a nature center in Wichita, Kansas, focuses on wildlife management areas, public reservoirs, and rivers. Checkett, a communications biologist on Ducks Unlimited’s national staff in Memphis, Tennessee, was formerly the waterfowl project leader for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and he still hunts often on this state’s public waterfowling areas.

By borrowing from the knowledge and experience of these three waterfowlers, you may be able to find excellent public hunting for ducks and geese. As these hunters will tell you, “public” can still mean “productive.”

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