By John Pollmann

Whether it's a fully plumed northern pintail or once-in-a-lifetime cinnamon teal, many hunters have an interest in pursuing particular waterfowl species. Serious waterfowl collectors often travel great distances to harvest trophy birds. Following are five destinations where hunters have high odds of bagging certain species that may not be abundant close to home.

Redheads on the Laguna Madre

Up to 90 percent of the continental redhead population spends the winter months on the shallow waters of the Laguna Madre, making this estuary along the south Texas Coast a hotspot for waterfowl hunters in search of this popular diving duck.

Redheads are drawn to the Laguna Madre by an abundance of shoalgrass, says Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist Matt Kaminski, who recommends that hunters scout to identify where birds are trading between roosting and feeding areas.

"Passing flocks of redheads seem to notice large decoy spreads with plenty of contrasting colors," Kaminski says. "But scouting is important to ensure that you're within that flight line. When you're in the right spot you may have hundreds of redheads decoying at one time. It really is something that every duck hunter should experience."

As much fun as Laguna Madre redheads are to hunt, Kaminski says they are equally enjoyable on the dinner table. "With so much food available, the birds develop a good layer of fat late in the winter," he explains. "Hunters should take care to clean the birds relatively quickly after a morning on the water, however, as a belly full of shoal grass can spoil the meat if left too long."

Golden State Sprigs

Graceful in flight and appearance, a late-season bull pintail is a trophy duck on the bucket list of many waterfowl hunters. The best way to turn that dream into a reality is by making a pilgrimage to California.

The Sacramento Valley winters the majority of California's pintails, says Andy Cacciatori, Pacific Flyway manager for Drake Waterfowl. But come late December, he often travels to the extreme southeast corner of the state-namely the Wister Unit of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Imperial Wildlife Area, on the banks of the Salton Sea.

"By this time of year, the drake pintails are absolutely stunning, with five- to six-inch-long sprigs," Cacciatori says. "But they've also been hunted hard for months, which means you have to mix things up a bit."

Cacciatori uses his pintail whistle sparingly on late-season hunts, opting instead for the soft feeding chatter and quacks of a hen mallard. He also employs a specific decoy strategy. "I choose realism over quantity when trying to work pintails late in the season," he explains. "I even set my decoys in pairs when I notice drakes and hens are starting to pair up."

Arkansas Specks

Trevor Manteufel, owner of Top of the Flyway Outfitters, begins hunting white-fronted geese each fall in the Peace River Country of Alberta before following the birds down to their wintering grounds in the southern portions of the Central and Mississippi Flyways.

Mallards may have put the Natural State on the waterfowling map, but Manteufel says "specks" are becoming an increasingly popular option for hunters on Arkansas' Grand Prairie.

"They seem to follow a fairly predictable migration pattern into the state, which can offer additional hunting opportunities when mallards may be hung up farther north in the flyway," Manteufel says. "White-fronts decoy well and respond to calling, which is probably my favorite part of the hunt."

Manteufel uses aggressive calling tactics at times, but always tempers the sounds he makes to reflect what he has heard while scouting. "I try hard to simulate realistic sounds, particularly based on where I'm hunting," he explains. "If I'm decoying geese in a winter wheat field, I want to mimic the sounds that white-fronts use while feeding. Ideally, we'll have three or four callers blowing a mixture of feeding and ground chuckles and a few yodels. It's a deadly combination for working specks into the decoys."

Canvasbacks on the Upper Mississippi River

Conservation efforts to improve water quality have fostered a resurgence of wild celery and other submerged aquatic vegetation on the upper stretches of the Mississippi River. This, in turn, has brought massive numbers of canvasbacks back to the region.

The large rafts of canvasbacks staging on the upper pools of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin can reach the hundreds of thousands, says Dr. John Coluccy, director of conservation planning in DU's Great Lakes/Atlantic Region, making the area a world-class destination for diving duck hunters.

"Watching a big mass of canvasbacks lift up off the river and work toward the shore is incredible-all those white-bodied drakes create quite a picture," Coluccy says. "It is a sight every duck hunter should see at least once."

Opportunities to decoy large flocks of canvasbacks increase during the first two weeks in November, says veteran Mississippi River guide Tony Toye, who encourages hunters to target a single drake well before the birds reach the decoys.

"Canvasbacks decoy so well, and when they make the turn after their initial buzz over the spread, you should have a chance to pick out a big, white-bodied bull," Toye says. "Keep your focus on him all the way into the decoys. Having so many targets can overwhelm a shooter and cause him to shoot at the flock and miss, or worse yet hit more than the one or two birds allowed in a daily limit."

Cinnamon Teal on the Great Salt Lake

Utah's Great Salt Lake is home to one of the most diverse combinations of wetland habitats in the world, attracting millions of migrating ducks and geese, including the elusive cinnamon teal. According to DU Regional Biologist Craig Garner, roughly half of the Pacific Flyway population of these colorful birds visits the Great Salt Lake each year.

"Among the best places to find cinnamon teal are the wetlands along the lake's eastern shore, including Farmington Bay and Howard Slough Waterfowl Management Areas," Garner says. "The birds seem to prefer the food found in this area's mix of freshwater and brackish marshes."

Garners says that the first cool weather of the season will send cinnamon teal packing for their wintering grounds to the south, but they often return in mid- to late January, providing hunters with the ideal opportunity to bag a drake in prime breeding plumage.

"The males are really colored up when they return, and that vibrant red color catches your attention when you see one in flight," Garner says. "A green-winged teal whistle works well to draw them in, but don't be afraid to add a few cinnamon decoys to your spread for that extra splash of color."