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Banding Together for Waterfowl

The Sooner the Better

When the weather turns cold, thousands of waterfowl pour into Oklahoma’s northern tier.
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They are welcomed by the Ladehoffs. There are now gray ducks on the ice, in the hole, and one on the bank. The pup, whose Tennessee upbringing is reflected in her name—Our Lady Vol Kayla—is unsure which bird to pursue. First blood will do that.

“Gadwalls are a whole ‘nother story. They can be tough,” Calef says. “Sometimes they just don’t want to commit. Gadwalls can be really frustrating some days.”

And so plays out the morning into early afternoon. We benefit from a clear and sunny sky. Gadwalls—stubborn or not—account for the bulk of the bag, but barrel-chested mallards and green-winged teal add rich color to the mix.

“I’m surprised that we did as well as we did,” Art Ladehoff says. “It didn’t look very promising early this morning.”

True enough, but Halverson, also a native Iowan and former Ducks Unlimited area chairman, has been pursuing ducks in this region for 25 years. Headquartered this trip in Ponca City, his (at this point) one-man guide service (Big Creek Outfitters, 918-381-8468) has access to private lands north and south of town.

“Oklahoma is different from many other places because you have to be willing to be mobile,” Halverson says. “I do a ton of scouting. There’s a lot of work involved. But the last seven or eight years, we have had phenomenal duck hunting. The word has gotten out, and there are a lot more hunters coming to the area.”

Ponca City, Halverson says, is located within a metaphorical funnel. The nearby Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge (32,000 acres), Kaw Lake (17,000 acres), and Sooner Reservoir (5,400 acres) attract tens of thousands of migrating waterfowl. The Arkansas River also holds its share.

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