Southern Missouri's Best Waterfowling

Flying fowl can be found all over the southern half of the Show-Me State. We'll show you a few of the best places for hittin' 'em hard. (Nov 2006)

Waterfowl hunters in southern Missouri have always had to wait for time and weather to liven up their duck and goose hunting. It appears that this year may be a bit better statewide than last, thanks to improved water levels in the large reservoirs and wetlands.

Most of the southern third of the state is within the southern and southeast duck hunting zones, while the remainder is in the middle zone.

The duck season in the middle and southeast zones opened on Nov. 5 of last year and closed on Jan. 3 of this. In the south zone it opened on Nov. 25 and closed on Jan. 23.

Limits were generous in all zones with a six-duck daily limit, which could include four mallards (no more than two susies).

Andy Raedeke, waterfowl and wetland biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation in Columbia, said that the state has between 30,000 and 35,000 duck hunters.

"On a statewide basis our duck harvest estimate totaled 396,000 birds last year," Raedeke said. "That total was down from the 2004-05 season, when hunters took an estimated 472,000 ducks. The harvest on MDC-managed hunting areas last year totaled 71,077 birds taken on 35,985 trips. The harvest rate of 1.98 ducks per trip on the state areas was down slightly from the record daily average of 2.09 set in 2000."

A check of hunter numbers and visits for some of the popular conservation areas in southern Missouri one or more times shows Otter Slough to be the most popular, drawing, in total, 2,506 hunters who made 5,826 trips to the area. Other areas' stats: Duck Creek, 1,503 hunters and 4,089 trips; Four Rivers, 1,983 and 5,059; Montrose, 375 and 744; and Schell-Osage, 1,205 and 3,280.

"The decrease in success can largely be attributed to dry conditions and low water levels all across southern Missouri," Raedeke said. "Good habitat was primarily limited to public and private areas with water-pumping capabilities. Those areas with decent habitat and available food had good to excellent hunting."

Chris Daniel, area manager of the MDC's Four Rivers Conservation Area north of Nevada, reports that last season's hunter success was down slightly from 2004's, with hunters bagging 8,900 ducks last year -- down about 1,000 birds from the previous year's take.

"Our hunting success was generally pretty good last year," he said. "Our bird-per-hunter average was slightly below 2. Our average on very good years has been 2 to 2.5 birds per hunter.

"Duck numbers usually peak in the area (depending on weather) around the first week in December. Numbers vary from year to year but at a peak we see somewhere around 100,000 ducks (mostly mallards) on the area. We also see quite a bit of shuffling of birds between this area, Schell-Osage CA, Montrose CA and Truman Reservoir."

The nearby Schell-Osage and Montrose conservation areas offer some exciting hunting for ducks and occasionally on geese, says Roger Wombwell, area manager for both units.

"We had a good season on both of the conservation areas last year," Wombwell said. "Actually, I would rate hunter success as good, or better, than we have had in a long time." Schell-Osage waterfowlers killed over 6,000 ducks; at Montrose, 1,078 ducks and 41 geese were taken.

According to Wombwell, duck migration usually peaks in mid to late November on Schell and mid to late December at Montrose. "Numbers at the peak of the migration can be anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 ducks at Schell-Osage and about 20,000 at Montrose," he said. "If it gets really cold, and our shallow-water areas begin to ice up, we may see a buildup earlier at Montrose, because we have warm water coming into the reservoir from a coal-fired electric-power plant. We see a peak in goose numbers of about 4,000 at Schell, but that peak only lasts a week or two and then they thin out.

"We are kind of proud of both areas because as managed waterfowl hunting areas we seldom have to turn away hunters. Some hunters may not draw their choice of hunting area, but they do get a chance to hunt."

Further east are Stockton and Pomme de Terre reservoirs. "The unpredictability of the water levels in reservoirs such as Stockton and Pomme de Terre, which were built primarily for flood control, provides relatively low opportunity for consistent waterfowl hunting," said Tim Russell, MDC regional wildlife manager in Springfield. "However, when the lake levels are right, and vegetation is present, the hunting opportunities on the reservoirs can be good."

Hunter success at the two reservoirs was poor to fair last year, reported Russell. "The exception was in December when we had a cold snap and things began to ice up, the open water, where spring-fed tributaries come into the lakes, attracted a variety of ducks," he said. "This concentration of birds was productive for the waterfowlers who found these secluded areas."

Russell said that hunting pressure on the reservoirs is usually low, as most hunters head for the larger wetland areas

Both Truman Reservoir and Lake of the Ozarks lie in the Middle Duck Zone, and both offer some good waterfowl opportunities. For info on Truman, contact the MDC's Clinton office at (816) 885-6981; for LOZ, check in with the Columbia office at (573) 882-8388.

Reeds Spring's George Akers spends most of his waterfowl hunting time at the Schell-Osage CA and on the James River above Table Rock Lake. The 64-year-old carpenter has been actively hunting ducks for about 12 years in the southwest.

"I usually hunt the blinds on the north side of Schell-Osage, and I also hunt the James River above Galena," he said. "I also have a couple big farm ponds in that area that can be good at times.

"When I hunt the river, I do so from a boat. I set the decoys in the eddies just below a riffle, cover the boat with camo, and wait for action," Akers said. "I have taken a variety of species. Mallards are usually dominant, but I also take some teal, gadwall, widgeon, shoveler and an occasional diver."

Akers usually uses about eight dozen decoys, has a pair of Labs and shoots a bored modified Browning autoloader. He uses either No. 2 or No. 4 steel.

"The best hunting is usually around Thanksgiving on Schell-Osage," said the Reeds Spring hunter. "It depends on the weather up north, of course. If it gets cold, and things begin to ice up. The river hunting can be pretty good in December

."

The waterfowl hunting at Table Rock Reservoir is only fair at best. The big reservoir does host a fair number of resident Canadas, as well as mallards, and they do pull in some migrants.

I've lived at Table Rock for 15 years, and was excited about hunting the big Canadas when I first moved into a lakeside home midway up the lake. The excitement faded after two or three hunts not far from the house.

The first time I set about a dozen Canada field decoys on a sandbar and tossed in three floaters. After watching a few grebes and buffleheads skittering up and down the lake, I heard some honkers coming in over the timber behind me. I gave them a few toots on the goose whistle, and they broke towards the decoys; I hunkered down in the blind. The next thing I heard was a rush of wings as they splashed down about 20 yards out in front of me.

Thinking of myself as one pretty salty goose caller, I peeked out and saw about a dozen birds on the water; it was take-'em time. I popped out of the blind looking for a rising target down the barrel of my 870 Remington.

I was flabbergasted when, instead of flushing, they gabbled a little and started swimming towards me. I later learned that they'd grown quite adept at conning lakeside people into feeding them with popcorn and chunks of bread. After a couple of repeat performances on that front, I decided to stick to areas in which the geese make a living on their own.

Dave Graber, goose and swan biologist for MDC suggests that hunters in the southern part of Missouri should look to the southeast and southwest for the best goose hunting opportunities.

"Giant Canada geese are present year around on southern Missouri reservoirs such as Table Rock, Stockton, Taneycomo and Bull Shoals," he said. "Table Rock has growing numbers of geese, but few hunters to take advantage of the hunting. There are also a number of urban areas that have resident flocks including Springfield, Joplin, Carthage and Cape Girardeau.

"Hunters should check with local officials to find out where they can or cannot hunt and where public and private boundaries are. Scouting and gaining permission to hunt on private land around the refuges, reservoirs and urban areas can provide some potentially excellent opportunities.

"Opportunities for migrant geese are dependent on the weather to the north when ice and snow force them to move south," the biologist continued. "When this occurs, southeastern Missouri counties such as Stoddard, Mississippi and New Madrid can serve up some good action -- particularly on Canadas."

In the Southeast Region the duck hunting was good to excellent at Otter Slough, Ten Mile Pond and Duck Creek last year, says Harriet Weger, regional wildlife supervisor.

"Ten Mile Pond, located near East Prairie, Otter Slough near Dexter and Duck Creek near Puxico all have managed waterfowl hunting, and last year, they were the top three producers in this district," she offered. "Hunting on these areas is allocated through a reservation-draw system.

"There are also a few other waterfowl areas where hunting is allocated on a self-check basis. They include Coon Island near Poplar Bluff, Little River, Hornersville Swamp and Ben Cash near Kennett and Seven Island between East Prairie and New Madrid. Coon Island and Little River are pumped, and have water available to hunt. The others are flooded opportunistically when nearby streams or rivers flood. Portable blinds are allowed on all of the latter areas."

Dennis Molli of Arnold and his hunting partners -- Greg McLeod of Arnold, Gene McLeod and Richard Iverson of Oakville along with Jim Turner of Imperial and Bob Bliven of Lampe -- all hunt the managed conservation areas when they draw a blind.

In Molli's understanding, the best hunting is usually for a couple weeks after Thanksgiving. The hunters keep a diary and log in dates, birds killed and species. Last year the partners managed to record 65 hunter-days, during which they bagged a total of 184 ducks -- an average of 2.83 per hunter.

"There are usually a lot of hunters that show up for the drawings every day at the top areas," Molli said. "The hunting is pretty good. Last year our best hunting was between Dec. 2 and 18. Our best hunts were on Dec. 2 and 18, when four of us bagged limits -- a total of 24 birds each day. We took 18 on the 4th and 18 again on the 14th."

According to Molli, mallards dominated the bag. Of the 184 ducks taken in total, 97 were mallards, 40 green-winged teal, 24 gadwalls, 10 shovelers and the rest included ring-necked, pintail and wood ducks.

Bliven joins his old hunting partners a few times each fall. "My favorite hunting has been the standing timber at Duck Creek CA adjacent to the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge," he said. "However that area isn't as productive as it used to be, and the Conservation Department is doing some renovation work on it. Otter Slough and Ten Mile Pond have been good.

"My favorites over the years have been Duck Creek, Otter Slough and Ten-Mile Pond. We know it sometimes takes a bit of luck to draw a blind, but once the mallards show up, it's worth the effort."

The harvest of ducks on public land such as the conservation areas makes up only about 15 percent of the total kill in Missouri. Scores of waterfowl setups exist on private land, particularly when it's in proximity to state and federal refuges in the southwest. MDC conservation areas and rice fields in the southeastern corner of the state are prime spots.

Numerous private duck clubs are found in the south, particularly in the Nevada area, Truman Reservoir and in the rice country in the southeast corner of the state. Information on some of these is available from MDC offices and area sporting goods stores.

Hunter Johnson and a partner, Ken Minton, run a hunting operation near Otter Slough called MO-Duck. Last year they hosted about 400 hunters, who averaged 4.1 ducks per hunter on guided hunts and 2.3 ducks on non-guided hunts. Johnson reports that last year's kill was a record high for them, as was the kill at nearby Otter Slough CA, where hunters brought down a record kill: over 16,000 ducks and 575 geese.

"There are a few similar operations in this area," Johnson said. "All offer pretty good hunting and a lot of hunters find a place with the private clubs if they don't draw a ticket for a hunt on one of the conservation areas such as Otter Slough."

Johnson can be reached at MO-Duck at (573) 276-4418.

Current information on water conditions and the migration on the state areas managed for waterfowl hunting is available online at www.mdc.mo. gov/hunt/wtrfowl/. The site lists duck and goose numbers at all major state and federal areas and is updated every other week throughout the season. It also provides information by area managers on current hunter success on Mondays and Thursdays.

If you want to talk to a MDC wildlife manager for other info they can call the Southwest office at Springfield at (417) 895-6880, the Ozark region at West Plains at (417) 256-7161 and the Southeast region at Cape Girardeau at (573) 290-5858.

The phone numbers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs include are: Truman Reservoir, (816) 438-7317; Bull Shoals, (501) 425-2700; Clearwater, (573) 223-7777 and Wappapello, (573) 222-8592. All offer some waterfowl hunting opportunity, with Truman top-ranked.

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