Five Great Spots For Waterfowl

Five Great Spots For Waterfowl

These hotspots are where Missouri waterfowlers should be hunting this month, and some of them are bound to be near you! (November 2009)

Author Billie Cooper downed this pair of shovelers at Grand Pass Conservation Area last season.

Photo by Billie Cooper.

After a tough year of early-season flooding on many Missouri Department of Conservation waterfowl areas in 2008, habitat conditions should be much better for migrating waterfowl this fall. Hunters who planned ahead are reaping the benefits.

Dave Graber, the MDC's waterfowl/wetlands research scientist, said a number of areas were adversely affected last year by heavy flooding, followed closely by drought conditions.

"Many of the affected areas did not host a lot of birds due to the poor availability of food sources," he said.

MDC employees have been busy repairing damaged levees, pools and water structures. If your favorite public waterfowl hunting area proved less than satisfactory last season because of the natural catastrophes, check the area again this year. It may be back to normal and in full operation. And if water and food are available, the ducks will be there.

GRAND PASS CA

Located in Saline County, Grand Pass Conservation Area is very popular with our state's waterfowlers. "There is a reason for that," said Chris Freeman, the area wildlife biologist. "Duck hunters have very good success here."

The 5,000-plus-acre area borders the Missouri River for six miles on the north. Approximately 3,500 acres of this prime duck-attracting habitat is managed for waterfowl. Ten pools normally are flooded gradually as the season progresses, according to Freeman. "We can accommodate 40 parties maximum," he stated. "We usually start the season with spots for 15 parties.

"Grand Pass is a very busy waterfowl hunting area. We host 4,000 to 5,000 hunter-trips each season. However, 8,000 to 10,000 hunters go through the morning draw. Just because you show up here does not mean you will hunt here. Lots of hunters get turned away.

"Hunters have the opportunity to see lots of ducks here," Freeman concluded. That is a draw itself.

"Seeing tens of thousands of ducks in one location is awesome," said Rolla waterfowl hunter Frank Cox. "Grand Pass gets covered up in mallards at times, and whether I kill birds or not, I truly enjoy watching the birds fly."

Cox is an avid duck hunter and travels far and wide to pursue his passion. He is death on detail when it comes to fooling ducks.

"There are no blinds at Grand Pass," he warned. "Hunters should carry a small portable blind or material to use for a blind. I recommend that hunters keep as low a profile as possible. There is not a lot of tall vegetation on the area and ducks become leery of blinds that stick out like a sore thumb."

Freeman concurs. "All pools are walk-in hunting," he said. "Layout boats and small blinds are popular. However, all blinds must be dismantled and carried out each day."

Early in the season, hunters can expect to see lots of green-winged teal, pintails, shovelers and wood ducks, according to Freeman. Around Nov. 12 is when the real excitement begins.

"Mallards begin to show up in numbers around Nov. 12, depending on the weather," he noted. Greenheads are what waterfowl hunters want to see, and they will often see tens of thousands of them at Grand Pass CA.

Most years, Grand Pass hunters will average bagging 2.6 to three ducks per hunter. That is an outstanding average and another reason that so many hunters take their chance in the poor man's line at Grand Pass. For more info, call (660) 595-2444.

BIG MUDDY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

In 1994, Congress authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to begin purchasing 60,000 acres of floodplain properties along the Missouri River between Kansas City and St. Louis. Thus far, they have acquired 11,000 acres in eight tracts. Those lands, much of it damaged by the 1993 and 1995 floods, offer public fishing and hunting opportunities.

The Jameson Island unit occupies a large bend of the Missouri River floodplain in Saline County, below the community of Arrow Rock. The unit consists of 1,871 acres of bottomland forest of cottonwood, willow, box elder and other floodplain species. This unit is south of and across the river from the Lisbon unit. The two units are similar and combined provide 4,000 acres.

Waterfowl hunters should concentrate their efforts on the numerous scour holes and chutes on the area. A constructed side channel has several new scour holes because of the flooding of 2008. The sandbars on the Missouri River adjoining the area can be productive as well.

Hunters can expect to encounter wood ducks, teal and shovelers on the scour holes early in the season. Mallards and gadwalls show up later. A variety of diving ducks including scaup, redheads, ringnecks, goldeneyes and buffleheads buzz up and down the river.

River access can be gained from Taylors' Landing Access, 12 miles west of Columbia on I-70 and 4 1/2 miles east on Highway 98. For more information on Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge go online to www.BigMuddy@fws.gov, or call (573) 876-1826.

FOUR RIVERS CA

Located in Vernon and Bates counties, this prime waterfowling area consists of 13,732 acres in the floodplain of the Marmaton, Little Osage, Marias des Cygnes and Osage rivers. Now you understand the name Four Rivers! It's a vast area that once supported a complex of bottomland forests, wet prairie and riverine wetlands. Clearing, draining, channelization, and levee construction almost destroyed the area wetlands. When MDC purchased the first property in the area, less than 1 percent of original wetlands remained.

Today, a 13,732-acre wetland complex is protected, and greatly enhances the historic wetland values of the region and contributes significantly to goals of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

Four Rivers is a popular destination for waterfowlers from the Kansas City area, according to wildlife biologist Chris Daniels, who oversees the operations on the area. "Roughly 75 percent of our hunters are Missouri residents, with most of those coming from Kansas City," he said, although many of the out-of-staters come from the Kansas side of Kansas City.

Although Four Rivers is a popular waterfowling destination,

few hunters are turned away. "We have a morning draw for two of our units, but we also have two units that do not have a draw. It is first-come, first-served in those units," Daniels said. "However, the space for hunters in the no-draw units can vary widely according to the amount of water available. We may have anywhere from 300 to 2,500 acres open for hunting."

"I have been duck hunting for 50 years," said Gary Paul, a regular visitor from western Kansas City. "Most of my hunting time in the last five years has been spent at Four Rivers. The area is extremely well managed. I live close to duck hunting in Kansas but seldom go because the areas are so poorly managed there."

Water should be plentiful this year. "We had five floods as of June 1 this year," Daniels stated.

Floodwaters hit Four Rivers hard last year, creating one of the most heavily damaged conservation areas in the state. Roads, levees and water structures suffered damage in both 2008 and 2009. The good news is that the damage will not affect waterfowl management plans at Four Rivers for the 2009 hunting season.

"Hunters will experience some minor inconveniences, such as a few rough roads, but there is no reason for hunters to stay away during waterfowl season," said Daniels. "We are still working on repairs in Unit 3."

Four Rivers CA offers wade-and-shoot opportunities. Daniels said there are three ways to hunt: 1) wade, 2) use a layout boat, 3) use a small johnboat. Temporary blinds are allowed, but both blinds and decoys must be removed after each day's hunt.

If there is food and water available, the ducks will come. Then it is a matter of finding them and getting to them.

"Scouting well before the season is an important first step to being successful," Paul said. "Driving and walking around the area to see what areas the ducks are using gives you the chance to make a game plan prior to opening morning. Trying to figure everything out in the dark on opening day is frustrating."

Paul has figured out the best method to hunt ducks at Four Rivers as well. "I used to own a good-sized boat," he continued. "I sold it and went to a Four Rivers layout boat with a Beavertail 6-horsepower mud motor. That is the perfect combination for hunting Four Rivers. It handles me, my dog and two- to three-dozen decoys."

Hunters normally average 2.3 to 2.5 birds per day at Four Rivers, and the annual harvest runs between 7,000 and 10,000 birds. Early in the season, blue-winged teal, pintails and shovelers are plentiful. Green-winged teal drift in all season long and mallards begin showing up later in the season. Diving ducks, including ringnecks and redheads, also show up later. And if planting conditions allow, there usually are some winter wheat fields for hunting geese.

Paul suggested that the best time to hunt at Four Rivers is during the week. "I still go on weekends, but it can get crowded at times. If other hunters get too close in the open areas, I simply pick up and move. I can always find ducks in the no-draw areas. I jump through hoops to get up early and make it to the area for the draw. It makes for a long day, but it is very much worth the effort."

Paul also commented about the camaraderie at Four Rivers. "This is the perfect place for first-time duck hunters. All of the MDC staff -- and other hunters, too -- go out of their way to help newcomers who don't know where to hunt or how to hunt at Four Rivers."

For more information about Four Rivers CA, call (417) 395-2341.

WAPPAPELLO LAKE

Located in the southeastern quarter of the state, Lake Wappapello is a 45,000-acre Corps of Engineers project. The lake proper ranges from 4,200 acres to 8,400 acres at full pool.

Wappapello is a sleeper when it comes to waterfowling. Nearby Duck Creek CA, Mingo National Wildlife Refuge and Otter Slough CA get most of the waterfowlers' attention.

"There are some good waterfowling opportunities at Wappapello," said Park Ranger Jeremy Jackson. "And it should get better in the future."

Jackson is referring to a current experiment in conjunction with MDC in regard to types of vegetation that might do well in the changing water levels of the lake. There currently is very little vegetation in the lake. More vegetative cover would provide food sources for migrating waterfowl.

"We hold a drawing for blinds every year in August at the Bill Emerson Visitor Center," Jackson said. "The drawing is for a place to construct a blind. For safety reasons, blinds must meet certain minimum specifications.

"Hunters may freelance on the area, too," Jackson continued. "Of course, hunters must stay away from use areas like campgrounds and beaches. Also, hunters are not allowed to set up inside 2 yards from the nearest blind."

The constructed blinds built from the draw are personal property of the permit holders. Other hunters may not use them without express consent from the owners, because of liability issues.

Diving ducks are the norm on the big, open waters of Wappapello. "We see lots of bluebills, shovelers, ringnecks and teal early in the season," said Jackson. "A little later we see canvasbacks (the season was closed last year), mergansers, goldeneyes, buffleheads and mallards."

Wappapello hunters use a lot of visual effect to bring birds into gun range. "Spreads of 500 to 600 decoys are not uncommon here," Jackson said. "The guys do a good job of attracting mallards out in the middle of the lake."

Wappapello offers the unusual opportunity to harvest sea ducks as well. "It is not uncommon for a few scoters to be harvested each year," Jackson observed.

Old beaver ponds and shallow coves are other mallard-attracting spots that hunters should be aware of. Birds tend to utilize these areas when the hunting pressure gets heavy.

Resident Canada geese are another possibility at Wappapello Lake. "Most duck hunters will toss out a few floating goose decoys in hopes of bagging a goose every now and then," Jackson said. "They are tough to get, but it is worth the extra effort. A lot of the geese on the lake are wearing hardware."

Jackson cautions hunters to practice safety on the water. "Wearing life jackets is paramount," he said. "The combination of cold water and cold weather is deadly. Hunters need to be extra cautious, too, as we enter December. We begin drawing the lake down then, and it may be more difficult to get to your hunting spot."

Wappapello is a shallow lake, averaging only 15 feet.

Ranger Jackson is a great promoter of Wappapello and said waterfowl hunters should consider taking advantage of other outdoor opportunities while there. "After enjoying a morning of duck hunting, visitors should consider crappie fishing or bowhunting in

the afternoon."

For more information about Lake Wappapello, call (573) 222-8562. Ask for Ranger Jeremy Jackson.

BULL SHOALS LAKE

Sprawling over 45,000 acres in five Missouri and Arkansas counties, this Corps of Engineers reservoir is an outdoorsman's paradise, waterfowl hunting included.

Brian Bochert of Theodosia Mariana said the local Canada goose population has been growing for years. "Geese have become so populated in the Theodosia Park area that the Corps of Engineers allows goose hunting in the area now."

Normally, waterfowl hunting is allowed on lake properties with the exception of the posted park and recreation use areas. Goose hunters will need to check the current season dates for 2009-2010. During the 2008-2009 season, goose hunters could pursue geese at Theodosia Park from Nov. 22 to Jan. 30. Hunting is in accordance with regulations of the state of Missouri, except areas listed in Special Area Regulations.

Bull Shoals is a vast area with hundreds of coves, flats and isolated ponds, which waterfowl frequent. Bochert is a fishing guide on the lake, but indicated that, like fishermen, waterfowl hunters should do their homework ahead of time if they want to be successful. Therefore, scouting a few days before a hunt will pay off.

Permanent blinds are not allowed on Bull Shoals Lake. Portable blinds may be used, but must be removed after each day's hunt.

Bull Shoals sprawls across the Missouri-Arkansas border and catches a variety of both puddle ducks and divers as they migrate south. Hunters should watch for heavy weather patterns up north. When the freeze line creeps south and all the smaller bodies of water begin to freeze over, waterfowl hunting can become hot at Bull Shoals Lake. Keep in mind, however, that there is little vegetation at the lake, and birds are not apt to stay long unless the water level is high and into shoreline vegetation.

For more information about waterfowling on Bull Shoals, call the Corps of Engineers, (870) 425-2700.

There you have it -- five of Missouri's sure-fire waterfowling hotspots. Start with the one nearest you, but be sure to try them all!

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