The Mississippi Flyway is well-known for its public-land opportunities and this guide will help you get your next adventure started.
Door County, Wisconsin
The Door Peninsula extends 80 miles north from mainland Wisconsin. This massive spit of land is sandwiched between Green Bay on the west and Lake Michigan on the east. Washington Island, located off the tip of the peninsula (and accessible via ferry), is surrounded by mostly rocky shorelines and shallow coves, while the eastern shore of the peninsula is characterized by a series of marshy bays that attract an impressive number and variety of waterfowl species during migration.
"Redheads are often the star of the show, arriving in early to mid-October, followed by bluebills in early November. Buffleheads, goldeneyes, and longtails are the last ducks to show up, and they will stay around through the end of the season," says Captain David Heath, guide and owner of Heath Outdoors based on Washington Island.
Hunters unfamiliar with the hazardous conditions frequently encountered on the Great Lakes would be wise to hunt with someone with suitable experience or hire a licensed captain who specializes in dealing with fickle weather and potentially dangerous boating conditions. Waterfowlers regularly employ layout boats miles offshore on shallow reefs and near islands that surround Door County. Scouting for rafts of ducks offshore, then setting up on those areas is standard practice as birds will typically return to feed "The wetlands associated with the bays on the Lake Michigan side of Door County, including Moonlight, North, and Rowley's Bays, were recently named a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, which usually equates to good duck hunting," says DU Regional Biologist Brian Glenzinski.
For more information, visit the Wisconsin DNR's Public Access Lands page. For additional information about hunting on Green Bay, click here.
Western Lake Erie, Michigan
Lake Erie's western basin attracts impressive numbers of waterfowl during the fall migration. Whether you're after grain-fed mallards, coastal black ducks, or big-water divers, this region has it all.
"The Lake Erie marshes are some of the most productive in the Great Lakes and support an abundance of fish and wildlife," says DU Regional Biologist Russ Terry. "Expansive wetlands once lined the shores of western Lake Erie, and despite an estimated loss of 95 percent of these coastal wetlands, tens of thousands of acres remain."
While the Michigan portion of the Lake Erie coastline is far smaller than Ohio's, plenty of public hunting options are available to waterfowlers. They include Pointe Mouillee State Game Area (SGA), located where the Detroit River feeds into Lake Erie (which was highlighted in the 2017 DU flyway hot spots), and the 200-acre Pointe Aux Peaux State Wildlife Area near Newport, Michigan. Farther south, near the Ohio border, is Erie SGA.
"Erie SGA totals over 3,000 acres and offers both puddle duck and diver hunting opportunities," says Joe Robison, supervisor for the Michigan DNR's Southeast Region. "Usually, peak scaup numbers occur around November 10–25. Average scaup counts range from 15,000–25,000 birds off Turtle Island. A few walk-in opportunities are also available."
For more information, visit Michigan DNR.
Bordered on each side by the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Iowa is located at the nexus of two of North America's most heavily used waterfowl flyways. The state also lies on the southern edge of the Prairie Pothole Region, also known as the Duck Factory for its importance to breeding ducks. Consequently, Iowa wetlands receive a lot of attention from federal and state agencies and private conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited.
This is certainly the case in western Iowa, where properties along the Missouri River are being improved and expanded annually, as conservation easements become a more attractive alternative for landowners.
"There are expansive public wetland complexes adjacent to the river, some of which are owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers and others by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). These are mostly walk-in areas, but they can be productive for hunters willing to put in the work," explains Regional DU biologist Mike Shannon.
Southwest Iowa's Riverton Wildlife Area, on the other hand, is intensively managed specifically for waterfowl and hunters. With nearly 40 water-control structures and two large pumps, DNR staff have the ability to direct water to specific parts of the area and flood them as needed. "Riverton Wildlife Area is a very popular waterfowl hunting destination where DU has completed a lot of enhancement work, with more currently under way," Shannon explains.
Riverton has about 2,200 acres of marsh that are accessible by wading or by boat. "We get a nice variety of ducks throughout the season—a lot of teal early, and as the season progresses, plenty of gadwall. Of course, mallards are number one, but we also get more pintails than any other area in the state," says Iowa DNR biologist Matt Dollison. "This is open hunting. We do not have any controlled hunting, and there are no motor restrictions on the impoundments."
For more information, go to the Iowa DNR Waterfowl page.
West Tennessee is located on the northern end of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, which is among the flyway's most important waterfowl wintering areas, especially for mallards. The state has an abundance of public hunting areas, including greentree reservoirs, intensively managed moist-soil areas, and flooded agricultural fields that are managed specifically for waterfowl.
While Reelfoot Lake WMA is well known to many waterfowlers, there are several other public hunting areas in the region that can also be highly productive. These properties include Gooch, Three Rivers, Obion River, Bogota, Thorny Cypress, Ernest Rice, Tigrett, Moss Island, and John Tully WMAs, as well as Chickasaw and Lower Hatchie NWRs.
The state offers an interactive map with a wealth of useful information about waterfowl hunting opportunities on these WMAs, including explanations about each hunting zone with details such as vegetation type and blind locations.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) uses a tiered system to allocate hunting opportunities that may seem complicated at first but is designed to maximize hunting quality and success.
"Both Bogota and Thorny Cypress are computerized draws," says TWRA wildlife manager Josh Emerson. "These WMAs are a mix of flooded corn, moist soil, and Japanese millet. We also have a couple of open pools that are available for walk-in hunting if you are not drawn."
"This year we're excited about some changes at Three Rivers WMA, where we just finished a new project with Duck Unlimited," says TWRA wildlife manager Rob Lewis. "We feel this new area will be a great success for the state and DU and will give hunters the opportunity to draw for an entirely new area with flooded corn and millet."
According to Lewis, some of the WMAs that he manages are connected to the river and therefore are dependent on river levels. "Gooch WMA Unit E is an old impoundment with flooded cypress trees," he says. "We have eight boat-only sites available through electronic draw. Anything that doesn't get confirmed—similar to Gooch Unit A and Thorny Cypress—will be allocated by on-site drawing."
For more information on waterfowl hunting in West Tennessee, go to the TWRA website.
Northwest Mississippi offers waterfowl hunters ample public hunting opportunities in a variety of settings. Several WMAs feature walk-in style hunting in flooded moist-soil units, agricultural crops, and greentree reservoirs, while others are accessible by boat.
"Malmaison WMA has roughly 950 acres of flooded GTR habitat, but we also have some natural wetlands. DU has done some project work on this property and it's a big draw for waterfowl and waterfowl hunters," says MDWFP regional biologist Brad Holder. "We usually see an increase in duck abundance about mid- to late December, but sometimes not until January; it just depends on the weather to the north. Mallards and wood ducks are two of our main species, but gadwalls are also present in good numbers."
Holder says the WMA can pump water in as needed, but sometimes the river naturally floods the area, so maintaining ideal water levels can be challenging. The greentree area is typically flooded sometime in mid- to late November.
Farther south, standout WMAs include O'Keefe, Charlie Capps, William C. Deviney, and Muscadine Farms. "O'Keefe has three types of units, including 250 acres of moist soil, close to 350 acres of flooded agricultural fields, and 950 acres of greentree walk-in areas," says MDWFP regional biologist Weston Thompson. "Ag fields vary but may include soybeans or rice, for example. Farmers are contracted to leave 10 percent of the crop, which typically will consist of strips of corn left as cover for hunters to use, as well as cover and food for ducks.
"Charlie Capps WMA, in my opinion, is one of the best duck hunting spots in the North Delta. It's about 400 acres of moist-soil habitat, but it has a lot of willows mixed in that offer great cover for ducks and hunters," Thompson says. "This is a draw style hunt with no standby drawing opportunity, so areas that are not drawn, or have no-shows, are not hunted."
Muscadine Farms WMA features 90 retired catfish ponds, which are separated into 21 units, all managed for moist-soil vegetation. This property offers walk-in-style hunting and is very popular with waterfowl hunters. Draws are conducted to allocate hunting opportunities, and this property does provide standby draw opportunities for unclaimed spots.
For more information, visit the MDFWP WMA page.