Migration Alert: Stale, Low Overall Bird Numbers Plague Tennessee Hunters

Jan. 8, 2019 – Mississippi Flyway – Tennessee

By Paul Davis, WF360 Mississippi Alluvial Valley Migration Editor

“Slow and frustrating” is the best way to describe duck hunting in Tennessee this season, and the lack of birds has been puzzling hunters since opening day.

“Our numbers are down everywhere from last year,” says Dan Fuqua, West Region waterfowl biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

While state officials haven’t conducted an aerial survey lately (one is scheduled this week), he doesn’t think anything has changed for the better. “I hear the same story from everyone I talk to—they’re way down in numbers,” Fuqua says.

Tipton County Game warden Jake Yoes is more blunt: “It’s absolutely awful. I was expecting some ducks this past week when the temperature dropped, but it never happened,” he says. “It ought to be prime time, but nobody is killing ducks.”

While that me be an exaggeration, it perfectly illustrates the experience of most duck hunters in the Volunteer State. Hunters who have remained persistent—and maybe gotten a little creative—are having some success, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

“We’re killing about half of what we normally do,” says Parker Outfitting’s Ben Parker, who guides on Reelfoot Lake. In a typical season, his clients take a thousand or more birds in each of his blinds, but this year they’re struggling to take even half that amount.

Besides low duck numbers, an abundance of water on the landscape, a lack of cold weather, and stale birds have made duck hunting unusually tough this season.

“The Mississippi River is extremely high, so the ducks are spread all over, and that’s not helping,” Yoes laments.

“We’re also hunting the same old ducks,” Parker adds, “and they’re extremely leery and not finishing.”

To help fool stale ducks, Parker has changed his decoy spreads and calling tactics dramatically, likening his tactics to finesse fishing for bass.

“I’ve been removing decoys every few days,” Parker explains. After starting the season with upward of 300 decoys, he’s now down to four dozen at each blind. Doing so, he says, has enabled him to keep killing ducks while others on Reelfoot have maintained larger spreads.

He is also using spinning-wing decoys sparingly. “With all the hunters on this lake, I have to have robos to get the ducks’ attention,” Parker explains, “but we turn them off before we try to finish birds.”

He is also cutting back on calling. “We’re going more or less silent after we turn them,” Parker says.

Unfortunately, the cold weather that is needed to help move local ducks and push new ones into Tennessee doesn’t look like it’s coming anytime soon. Still, Parker isn’t giving up on the three remaining weeks of the season.

“You can’t kill ‘em if you don’t hunt, so you’ve got to just keep going,” he says.

Paul Davis is a writer and photographer with a lifelong passion for the outdoors, including waterfowl, turkey, and deer hunting. He resides in southeast Missouri and will be providing migration, habitat, and hunting information for Mo., Ark., Tenn., Miss., and Ky., through the 2017-2018 waterfowl season