By Wade Bourne
Hunters have until sunset on January 27 to pursue ducks in the last few states in the lower Mississippi River Valley where the general waterfowl season is still open. In addition, special youth waterfowl hunts will be held in several states in early February. Here are late-breaking reports from Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee about what hunters can expect in these states during the final weekend of the open season as well as upcoming youth hunts.
Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, expects hunting conditions to be about the same during the closing weekend as they've been over the past two weeks. "We flew a waterfowl count this week, and we didn't find any appreciable increase in duck numbers from our previous survey. We inventoried 800,000 ducks in the delta of eastern Arkansas, and only 450,000 of these were mallards. We were hoping to see more," he said.
Naylor says that the duck season has been somewhat disappointing for Arkansas duck hunters overall. "Our November duck count was high; we had good early numbers. But then things leveled out, and we never had a major migration, just a series of smaller flights here and there. There never really was that big push of birds that everybody hopes for," he said.
According to Naylor, a few areas are holding good concentrations of ducks, and hunters who locate these pockets of birds could have good shooting this final weekend. In addition, Arkansas' Youth Waterfowl Weekend is on February 2 and 3, and Naylor expects the youngsters (ages 15 and under) to have good success. "Hopefully, after five days of rest, ducks will fall back into more predictable patterns of feeding and resting that will make them more accessible to youth hunters. Traditionally the youth hunt offers a great chance for our young hunters to bag some birds, and I don't see any reason why this won't be the case again this year," he said.
James Callicutt, waterfowl program biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, reports that hunting success has picked up in both the north and lower Delta regions following the passage of strong cold fronts in mid-January. "We had a significant influx of new ducks associated with these fronts," Callicutt said. "But we also received a lot of rain, and the ducks scattered across a broad area. There was a lot of sheet water in the fields and an abundance of water in the woods. When concentrations of ducks received hunting pressure, they just went somewhere else.
"Now the water is starting to recede slightly, and hunting conditions are more stable. I've heard some good reports from people hunting in flooded timber. Two good public areas are Delta National Forest and its associated wildlife management areas and also Malmaison WMA near Greenwood.
"So the ducks are here; it's just a matter of getting on them. Overall, I'd say we're set up for a good closing weekend. There's a lot of habitat available, and hunters who do a good job of scouting should have a couple of days of good shooting."
Callicutt is also optimistic for Mississippi's Youth Waterfowl Weekend on February 2 and 3. "Prospects for the kids look great," he said. "Several WMAs have good numbers of ducks now, and they won't receive any hunting pressure for a week. Ducks normally concentrate in some pretty big numbers on the WMAs in early February. Two areas I'd recommend are Howard Miller and Mahannah WMAs, both in the lower Delta."
Tennessee hunters benefited from heavy rains in mid-January as rising water levels in Reelfoot Lake and river bottoms lured ducks off refuges. However, now that water levels are receding, the ducks are moving back into secure zones.
Dan Fuqua, waterfowl biologist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, believes hunting prospects for closing weekend are fair at best. "We've been hunting the same ducks for several weeks now. We have very few new ducks around. And the ducks we do have are call shy and decoy wise. They're also getting back into that old pattern of feeding at night and sitting on the refuges during the day. Add all these things together, and I'd say most hunters will have a difficult time this weekend," Fuqua said.
"We just never got a big push of new ducks this year. Counts on our state refuges showed less than half the number of ducks that we had last year. All of west Tennessee was very dry until we got recent rains, and this has had a negative impact on our duck count throughout most of the season."
One recent duck-hunting hotspot has been Reelfoot Lake, where guide Billy Blakely of Blue Bank Resort reports consistent shooting since the lake level rose above normal pool following mid-January rains. "We've had a lot of ducks moving and looking around the last few days," Blakely said. "I think we'll close out with a successful weekend."
Tennessee has a different calendar for its statewide Daniel Greer Memorial Youth Waterfowl Hunt, which will be held on February 2 and 9─two Saturdays a week apart instead of during one weekend. "In years past, when we had the youth hunt on back-to-back days, the kids would usually have a good shoot on Saturday, but then the ducks would be back on the refuges on Sunday. However, this year both Saturdays should offer good shooting since the ducks will have a week of rest between the two days of hunting. I anticipate a high success rate for our youth hunters on these two days," Fuqua said.
Find migration and hunting reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.