by Wade Bourne
"Sometimes the hunters win. Sometimes the ducks win. So far this year the ducks have won, at least where we hunt." So says Ricky "Stick" McLin, who guides at the Fuller's Hill Hunting Club near New Johnsonville, Tennessee. "We've killed fewer than 100 ducks so far this year. This time last year we were closing in on a thousand. We've been canceling our hunters because of the slow hunting. We have somewhere around 60,000 ducks on the refuge (Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, Duck River unit), but they're not moving much."
Other reports from west Tennessee echo McLin's comments. Hunter success has been sporadic. In many areas ducks have been here-today-and-gone-tomorrow. Widespread flooding earlier in December scattered the birds, but recently the Mississippi River and its west Tennessee tributaries have been dropping back to normal winter levels. However, a heavy rain the night of Dec. 26 spread slash water back into some area fields and will likely extend the above situation.
The one bright spot in Tennessee (although not too bright) has been Reelfoot Lake. Mike Hayes of Blue Bank Resort reports guides have been experiencing mixed success – "8 ducks one day, 15 the next, not too many blanks." Hayes says Reelfoot picked up some new birds on Christmas Day and the day following. "I think these ducks came across the river from Missouri," he reports. "This has been the pattern: ducks moving back and forth, feeding in the rice fields there and resting here on the lake."
This report is verified by guide Jackie Van Cleave. "We got 16 in our blind yesterday (Dec. 26). I think we're having a pretty good year compared to how other places are doing. We're not putting up many big numbers, but we're holding our own. I think most of our customers have been satisfied."
Bill Cooksey of Avery Outdoors reports sporadic success in the backwaters along the Mississippi River (especially on the Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge) the week before Christmas, but dropping water levels have caused the birds to change locations frequently. "I've heard of hunters having a good shoot one day, then going back the next day and doing almost nothing. It takes a lot of scouting to stay in the ducks when the river is going up or down."
Cooksey adds, "I just talked to one of our pro staff members in North Dakota, and he was hunting the week before Christmas, and he was covered up with huge flights of mallards. Also, I've heard similar reports from Iowa. So there are still a lot of ducks to the north of us. We just need some major cold and snow to move them down to us."