Deer Point Duck Action

This lake just north of Panama City offers some good wingshooting options this month. Here's how to take advantage of the action. (January 2006)

Deer Point Lake gave up this brace of wood duck drakes.
Photo by Robert L. Brodie

It was not my first waterfowl hunting experience in Florida, but it was the first time I had tried hunting the opening weekend of regular duck season in the Sunshine State. So there I was hunkered down in a small clump of grass in the pitch-black darkness, sporting neoprene waders in chest-deep water.

My hunting location was somewhere on Deer Point Lake in the back end of an out-of-the-way cove almost completely covered in lily pads, hydrilla and a variety of other water vegetation. In the stillness of the night, all sorts of nearby watery sounds broke the silence, causing me to make quick, neck-wrenching head-turns. Fish busting bait amongst the lily pads created most of the pre-morning stir.

It was evident the pond's surface was coming to life in the pre-dawn period. However, in the sky, other sounds of life were being generated along the tree line running behind me. To the front, my smattering of mostly hand-carved cork decoys covered the water and consisted of wood duck, blue-winged teal, coot and moorhen imitations. Coming off their roost, wood ducks and their fast pumping wings created swooshing sounds overhead, and their strange whistled squeaks and squeals filled the still air.

Just after the hunting hour arrived, a duck came splashing into the decoy setup before I could shoulder my trusty Remington. Now, as I peered through the reeds, a magnificently hued drake wood duck swam nervously amid the decoys.

At the precise moment the duck and I made eye-to-eye contact, the multi-colored fowl slapped its wings upon the lake's crystal-clear waters and was instantly airborne. Quickly shouldering the shotgun, I took aim at the fleeing silhouette and fired off a quick round. The pattern of No. 4 steel shot found its mark, and the highly prized woody fell hard on the lake's serene surface. Moments later, another bird made a fast pass across the decoys, and another round of steel felled the speedy duck, this time a hen distinguished by its white eye patch.

With my pair of Florida woodies now floating on Deer Point Lake, my quest to bag a couple of these beautiful and delicious ducks was complete. A short while later, my guide, Capt. Todd Jones, returned in his 14-foot Gheenee to pick up the ducks and me. In fact, the morning before, Capt. Jones had hunted the exact same location and had quickly filled a full limit composed of ringed-necks and woodies. Compared with my usual rough and nasty, open-water, layout boat-hunting for diving ducks, the freshwater hunting on this lake was definitely a welcome change of pace and scenery.

TIPS FROM A PRO

Capt. Todd Jones of Youngstown is an extremely knowledgeable and professional guide who now resides on Deer Point Lake. He is an expert on hunting waterfowl on this lake, including ducks, coots and moorhens. From studying the ducks and their patterns on the lake, Jones has developed a setup for fooling Deer Point's waterfowl.

"On Deer Point Lake, there are good numbers of moorhens and plenty of coots, so it's important to have these waterfowl mixed in with the regular setup of decoys for a natural look. In a setup of two-and-a-half-dozen decoys, at least a dozen should be coots along with a couple of moorhens. Of course, the rest of the setup should include a few wood ducks, ringed-neck ducks, bluebills, teal, redheads and, depending on where I hunt, a few buffleheads. I like my decoys to look like a group of content birds at rest, so I scatter them about in pairs to get that relaxed look," Jones stated.

Jones went on to say that, when hunting the lake, he looks for small, out-of-the-way pockets to set up his decoys, and most waterfowl on Deer Point seem to favor such secluded niches. To call in ducks, he takes along a Big River wood duck call, a Haydel teal call and a call capable of making the "brrrrrrr" sounds made by diving ducks. Jones also suggested bringing along a can of insect repellent, especially if the weather is mild. Primarily in these southern regions, annoying gnats and mosquitoes may appear out of nowhere when temperatures rise.

"Another extremely important factor that leads me to hunting success is taking the time to scout out the lake," Jones said. "For example, I will ride around in the lake during midday and look for areas that birds are holding in. Midday is a good time to do this because there isn't any pressure on the birds at that time. To assist in spotting, I take along a good pair of binoculars, and I try not to disturb the birds on their midday haunts. For me, the time put into scouting definitely pays off."

When it comes to the best times to hunt, Capt. Jones has some more advice.

"Typical duck weather such as periods of cold temperatures associated with strong cold fronts and hard blowing winds are prime times to hunt ducks on the lake, and these conditions make ducks want to tuck into those out-of-the-way holes. Also, cold fronts often bring in new birds such as bluebills, ringed-necks and redheads.

"And on Deer Point," he said, "especially on clear days after most hunters have left the lake, I've noticed that ducks seem to fly awhile longer around 9:00 a.m."

Jones also mentioned that gunning on the lake usually takes place at close range, and the ducks here decoy really well. This in-the-know hunter stated that this tight-quarters shooting offers great opportunities for young hunters using 12- or 20-gauge shotguns with 2 3/4-inch shells. Also, he said small shallow-draft boats like Gheenees or pirogues are ideal for getting to those out-of-the-way areas on Deer Point Lake.

By the way, Capt. Todd Jones is also an award-winning cork decoy carver, and prefers to hunt over his own hand-carved blocks. His carvings are available for purchase, and he can even create specialty confidence decoys like grebes, moorhens and coots that blend in well on Deer Point's waterways. To contact Capt. Jones for a guided fishing or duck hunting trip or to get information regarding his decoys, call (850) 722-6642, or e-mail him at capttoddjones@aol.com.

ABOUT DEER POINT LAKE

Luckily for duck hunters in Florida, there are vast expanses of lakes and marshes on which to seek ducks and other waterfowl. Some of the more noted areas are Lake Seminole, a large manmade reservoir in Jackson County; Apalachicola Bay, north of the U.S. Highway 90 bridge; the heavily vegetated shallows of Lake Wimico; the Old Tampa Bay area south of the State Route 60 causeway; Lake Okeechobee; and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Cape Canaveral.

With such an array of options, it is little wonder that Deer Point Lake and its prime waterfowl action don't attract more attention. But when it comes to wood ducks and moorhens, this pond is hard to beat. Located in Bay County approximately seven miles north of Panama City, Deer Point Lake is a 5,000-acre impoundment created by a manmade dam. It is composed of a large open-water area surrounded by numerous out-of-the-way coves loaded with all sorts of aquatic vegetation and stumps. There are also large areas of grass and marsh thickets in the lake's middle sections.

THE OFFICIAL VIEW

Stan Kirkland is the Public Information Officer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Northwest Region office in Panama City. According to Kirkland, Deer Point Lake is not in any municipality, so it is open to hunting. However, Kirkland also stated that there's a lot of development around some sections of the lake, and hunters should use common sense and courtesy with regard to where they shoot.

"Wood ducks and ringed-neck ducks are the predominant species taken on the lake, and a few pintails, mallards and redheads are harvested," he said.

The lake also holds some challenges for waterfowlers.

"During Florida's special early duck season and during the regular duck season, if the weather hasn't gotten really cold," he said, "it would be wise to keep your favorite retriever out of the lake, because it holds a respectable population of large alligators.

"Although Deer Point Lake isn't a huge lake and doesn't require any real long crossings, it's prudent to exercise extreme caution when the lake is white-capping," Kirkland continued. "Wearing a lifejacket or inflatable life vest over waders is a great idea. And since the lake is full of stumps, it's important to have a game plan for getting to your destination, especially in the dark. Go slow and deliberate, and make sure you have the proper running light for nighttime navigation."

Kirkland recommended several hunting areas on or connected to the lake.

"On the northern end of the lake, just above the powerlines that run in an east-to-west path, there are great areas to hunt, but you'll need a shallow draft boat to access this area. Farther north of that area are stumpfields that provide great cover to hide in" he said. "Also, Cedar Creek, just north of Tharte's Fish Camp, and Bear Creek, located in the northeast quadrant of the lake, offer great locations for hunting wood ducks.

"Econfina Creek, located at the extreme northern end of the lake, offers great hunting opportunities," he added. "However, on this creek, no boat with a motor greater than 10 horsepower is allowed north of State Route 388.

"On an eastern arm of the lake called Bayou George, although it holds a lot of development, hunters can find some remote areas to take ducks, too," he concluded.

For further information on hunting Deer Point Lake, including bag limits, contact Stan Kirkland at (850) 265-3677. You can e-mail any questions regarding the lake through the web site at

www.myfwc.com, and they will be forwarded to Kirkland at the FWCC Northwest Region.

ANOTHER OPTION

Although hunting the opening weekend for wood ducks at Deer Point was a memorable experience, it was not my first visit to the lake. In November of last year, Capt. Jones convinced me to drive over and try some moorhen hunting. A waterfowl with somewhat chicken-like movements, a moorhen can be easily mistaken for a coot if you're not paying close attention to the bird. One of a moorhen's most distinguishing traits is the red coloration at the base of its beak, most noticeable in mature birds.

Locating moorhens was quite easy. Capt. Jones simply motored his 9-year-old son Jonah and me around the lake until we spotted birds feeding along marsh edges, perched on stumps and logs or on the lake's vast lily pad patches. Once birds were located, Todd would shut down the small outboard and paddle us within 25 to 30 yards of the dark-hued birds. When we were in gunning range, Jonah's .410 shotgun did most of the damage that day.

Although moorhens seemed quite plentiful on the lake, and we were allowed 15 birds per day, we limited our kill to just enough birds for supper. Back at the Jones' residence, the birds were skinned, cleaned and deep-fried. To my astonishment, they were very flavorful, with a taste resembling that of a dove. That tour of this gorgeous body of water led to my later wood duck adventure there.

TO PURCHASE LICENSES AND CHARTS

Hunting licenses and detailed nautical charts of Deer Point Lake and local bays can be purchased at Half Hitch Tackle located at 2206 Thomas Drive in Panama City Beach. The store can be contacted by phone at (850) 234-2612. Check out their web site at

www.halfhitch.com.

Also, a good local source for licenses, duck calls, decoys, guns and shotgun shells is C&G Sporting Goods located at 137 Harrison Avenue, in Panama City. Contact the store by phone at (850) 769-2317.

ACCESS

Deer Point Lake can be reached by taking a number of exits off U.S. 231. The lake has boat-launching sites at the Bay Head North Ramp at the north end of Cherokee Street; the Bay Head South ramp at the south end of Cherokee Street; the High Point Boat Ramp at the end of DeLen Drive; the Cherokee Landing Boat Ramp on County Road 2301; and the Ira Hutchinson Boat Ramp on the southeast side of the Deer Point Bridge.

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