Daylight began breaking through the eastern tree line as Chuck Smith stuck his call to his lips and released a cacophony of duckspeak into the cold morning air. Not long after that, the shrill cry of a wood duck echoed into the early light and was soon followed by the morning’s first flight of woodies. The trio of hunters crouched low, waiting for the birds to work their way into the standing timber.
Photo by Phillip Gentry.
When the group of four ducks was within range, the hunters raised their 12 gauges and were rewarded with two of the brightly colored birds. Not a bad start to a morning duck hunt, all things considered.
Young, who’s from Little Creek, on the outskirts of Nashville, was lucky to be hunting today. A last-minute change of plans had left him and two of his hunting partners with time to hunt, but no time to plan. Fortunately for his group of hunters, some good public duck hunting was available just a couple hours’ drive from their homes, so they packed up and spent the previous afternoon scouting out a likely spot on one of Tennessee’s numerous public duck-hunting areas. Now, here they were with two birds already in the bag and only a few minutes of legal shooting light elapsed.
Tales like this one are not unusual. The state of Tennessee provides, to varying degrees in various places, good duck-hunting opportunities across all four regions of the state. To help hunters home in on some good duck-hunting opportunities across the Volunteer State, we obtained some advice from wildlife managers in each region. Here’s what they had to say.
Paul Brown is the waterfowl supervisor over Region I. Though he oversees a number of WMAs in western Tennessee now, he spent more than 20 years managing the Reelfoot WMA, which he considers one of the best — perhaps the best — hunting locations in the state of Tennessee.
Brown suggests the best way to hunt Reelfoot or any of the state WMAs that have permanent blinds is to spend a day familiarizing yourself with the blind locations, then return first thing the next morning. Many WMAs conduct a hand-held drawing for permanent blind sites sometime in August. Being drawn gives the permittee the right to build or maintain permanent blinds on public land and gives them first right to hunt the blind throughout the season. The permittee must occupy the blind at daylight on the day he intends to hunt or the first person or party occupying the blind after legal shooting light has the right to hunt that blind the remainder of the day.
“Blinds that are not occupied at daylight are available on a first-come, first-served basis,” he explained. “During the week, only about half of the blinds get hunted anyway and you can slip quietly into an unoccupied blind and hunt it. Hunting in the standing timber at Reelfoot isn’t like (hunting) other locations: Ducks will fly just about all day long and you’ll have plenty of hunt time even if you miss the first hour getting into a blind. Most of these blinds will already have decoys out and shooting lanes cut. Just be respectful and leave the blind in better shape than you found it.”
Access to these blinds is exclusively by boat. Based on prevailing water levels, public access may be used, but your scouting should include an adequate place to launch. Many overpasses and side roads will allow access to remote regions of the northern section of Reelfoot, as well as the possibility of some public access. Walking in or wading in to permanent blinds is not feasible.
“Up until this past season when ice storms made a complete mess of the west side of the lake, there was some of the best walk-in hunting you could ask for,” said Brown. “Some of these little open-water areas in the timber held a lot of ducks and very few people took advantage of them. Now, with all the trees and limbs down in the state woods, access is all but impossible.”
Brown discourages hunters from attempting to free-lance hunt from boat blinds in areas where permanent blinds already exist.
“Reelfoot has 45 to 50 draw blinds, plus around 140 permanent registered blinds,” he said. “These blinds are already located in the best spots on the lake and the law says you have to be at least 200 yards away to hunt. That’s still going to put you too close to hunt when someone else is in that blind and you’re not going to be in the right place to hunt ducks coming to that area anyway.”
For weekend-only duck hunters, Brown suggests setting up on the south end of Reelfoot along the shoreline of a long point sticking out into open water. By bringing along a string of 12 to 15 diver decoys, hunters can have a decent hunt for diver ducks — ringnecks, redheads and bluebills. Though not as consistent as the other end of the lake, there are even days when a hunter may be able to get a limit of puddle ducks that straggle by.
“The diver duck hunting often gets overlooked,” said Brown, “but hunters need to be careful as the open water can get pretty rough on that end of Reelfoot in a hurry.”
Access to the south end of the lake is available by launching boats from a number of public ramps, including Reelfoot State Park.
Reelfoot Lake is not, of course, the only public land with good duck hunting in this part of the state. Dan Fuqua is the wildlife manager for Northeast Region I.
“Each area has its own merits and each hunter has his own ideas of what is the best duck hunting,” he said. “We have areas that are usually planted in crops and flooded, such as Camden, Barkley, Big Sandy and Gooch. These areas have draw blinds, and I’d recommend hunting from the blinds on most of these WMAs to be successful.
“Then we have areas that are natural food source areas, such as Reelfoot, Tigrett, West Sandy and White Oak. Some are walk-in and some need boats. Most areas have multiple accesses. Some have timber hunting that are dependent on high water to bring the ducks in.”
Fuqua suggests the best thing to do is to check out these areas in a given season and then decide how you want to hunt the following season.
“The duck blind drawings are held on the first Saturday in August and you must be present to draw, so if you want to hunt in fields with crops, you need to attend a drawing.”
Another waterfowl wildlife manager for TWRA’s Region I is Carl Wirwa, whose office is located in Alamo, Tennessee. Wirwa manages several of Region I’s WMAs, and like
Fuqua, pointed out that there are a variety of terrains and features to choose from, mostly depending on water levels and hunter access.
“The 7,000-acre Tigrett WMA in Dyer County is one of the best in terms of success rates, but is also the most complicated to gain access to,” said Wirwa. “The best advice is to have a day or so to explore the area and just get familiar with (the locations) the ducks are using. In general, the best way to hunt Tigrett is from a small boat with a blind. You can paddle or use a go-devil type motor. Outboards can only be used for short distances. The submerged vegetation in the mostly swampy areas can stop up a water pump pretty quick.”