Do-It-Yourself Duck Hunting

Do-It-Yourself Duck Hunting

Discover December ducks in these less-known Show-Me State areas. (December 2008)

Once December rolls around, most ducks have seen just about every decoy spread and heard every duck call imaginable, especially on the major wetland areas around the state. However, duck hunters can make their own luck when it comes taking part in the late-season hunt by looking to the some of the lesser-known public areas for waterfowl.

In the Show-Me State, December duck hunting depends on weather, forage, water levels and (of course) the presence of birds.

Photo by MichaelCaryImages.com.

The recipe for successful December duck hunting in Missouri requires four key ingredients: ducks, the right weather, a nearby food source and water.

"It really takes the right combination of weather, water availability, good food production and migration timing to result in good duck hunting in December," said Missouri Department of Conservation waterfowl biologist and resource scientist Andrew Raedeke. "An area may have ducks on a flight day, but in the absence of food and a lack of disturbance, they may quickly move onto other locations."

The heavy flooding that plagued the Show-Me State throughout the spring and much of the summer has wreaked havoc on the wetlands of many conservation areas. The high waters remained long enough to damage a lot of the vegetation, which will keep much-needed food sources from growing back before fall.

"Hunters may experience difficult hunting this year by the time December rolls around," Raedeke said. "There was less production in the breeding grounds, which means there will be more adult ducks this year, and that can make hunting difficult."

OFFICIAL FORECAST

The official waterfowl outlook for 2008 from the Missouri Department of Conservation includes good news and bad news. The outlook reports that the season should be tempered somewhat by fewer total duck numbers, fewer young birds in the fall flight and, owing to spring and summer flooding, lower food abundance in Missouri. The good news is that the estimated mallard breeding population in 2008 is expected to be 7.87 million -- virtually unchanged from last year's estimate of 7.9 million. The fall flight index of mallards is projected to be 9.2 million, which reflects last year's projection of 10.9 million. The mallard is the primary duck hunted in December.

Poor conditions and repair work being done on many of Missouri's managed wetland areas will put a double whammy on late-season duck hunters unless they take matters into their own hands by looking to less-well-known or out-of-the-way places for December action. Here are some areas that you might look to for some good late-season action.

RALPH & MARTHA PERRY MEMORIAL CA

The Ralph and Martha Perry Memorial Conservation Area, in the Kansas City Region's Johnson County, is a good example of a public-use area that can offer decent December duck action even though it isn't known for it.

"This area is an opportunistic wetland," said MDC wildlife management biologist Steve Cooper. "We don't pump water in here. If it's a dry year, it will be dry. If there's lots of rain, then chances are we'll have good water."

The Blackwater River also runs through the middle of the area too, providing a good water source for the area's ducks. Aside from flooding opportunities, the river provides a reliable source of open water for the ducks when water in other nearby areas freezes over.

"When the marshes on the area freeze over, the river itself is a great place to hunt ducks," Cooper said. "We continue to pick up good numbers of birds throughout the season because we are close to Grand Pass Conservation Area."

Area managers recently expanded and moved part of the waterfowl refuge on the area, which has seemed to help increase the numbers of birds present throughout much of the season. However, once the marshy areas freeze over, most of the birds leave. That's when hunters need to turn their attention to hunting the Blackwater River.

At Ralph & Martha Perry Memorial CA, hunters can take advantage of a total of seven wetland pools, as well as the Blackwater River. Expect to find mostly mallards and an occasional pintail here. "Hunting can be spectacular here if the waters don't freeze up," Cooper concluded.

For more information about Ralph & Martha Perry Memorial CA, contact the MDC at (660) 530-5500.

PLATTE FALLS CA

Another good "opportunistic" wetland, this area lies in the Kansas City region's Platte County.

"If it floods, we have fairly good duck hunting here at Platte Falls," said MDC resource technician Brian Gilbert. "Hunting is at its best when we have fall floods on the Platte River anytime after Oct. 1. We will try to trap and keep all the water we can then with our water-control structures on our levees."

Mild weather and high water are the keys to successful late-season duck hunting at this area, which has about 10 pools full of smartweed and other wetland vegetation; some small food plots planted in milo and Japanese millet are set out around the pools as well. Aside from the pools, hunters can focus on hunting the Platte River for ducks.

"December ducks are always shy," Gilbert said. "They've seen all the decoy setups and they're still leery, even though they don't get shot at that much here."

According to Gilbert, you really have to know what you're doing to succeed as a late-season duck hunter. He suggests using lots of decoys -- the more, the better. Motion decoys are also a good bet to help lure wary ducks. When it comes to calling to the ducks, less is better at this time of year.

"The feed chuckle and basic quacks are what you'll want to use in December," Gilbert said. "Never use hail calls at this time of year or you'll likely just spook the birds off before they're in shooting range."

You'll primarily find mallards with a few pintails and gadwalls at this area in December. Pre-hunt scouting is very important to your success. Hunters should call the MDC's area office before coming out to determine current water conditions and find out about area rules. For more information, contact the Platte River Conservation Area office at (816) 858-5718.

DEER RIDGE CA

Its name doesn't imply that it hosts any duck hunting, but this CA in the Northeast Region's Lewis County can provide some unlikely duck hunting if conditions are right.

"The first thing I would suggest to anyone considering duck hunting at Deer Ridge is to call our regional office first to see how the conditions are before driving up here to hunt," said MDC wildlife management biologist Darlene Bryant. "There has to be water for there to be ducks here, and December can freeze up our pools in a hurry."

Each of the six pools at Deer Ridge has its own water-control structure. This enables area managers either to retain or to drain run-off from rainfall. "We try to keep the pools at about 18 inches deep, sometimes a little deeper depending on how large we want the pools," Bryant said. "This depth is the optimum depth for feeding ducks."

The low water is subject to freezing. The MDC normally plants some food sources for waterfowl, but this year the weather didn't allow it. However, disking and mowing, which will result in some open-water areas for the ducks to land in and for the hunters to toss out decoys in, is scheduled.

Hunters can expect to find a few pintails, green-winged teal, widgeon and gadwalls here, but primarily mallards will be taken in December. For more information about Deer Ridge CA, contact the MDC's regional office at (660) 785-2420.

TRUMAN RESERVOIR

Truman Reservoir, in the Kansas City Region's Henry County, along with Missouri's other U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundments, can provide good hunting for late-season ducks. These large bodies of water provide open water when other smaller pools, marshes, ponds and lakes are locked up in ice.

Flooding conditions have kept Truman Reservoir more than 20 feet above normal pool throughout all of June, but at press time the waters were receding. "Last year we experienced similar conditions with high water," said MDC wildlife management biologist Monty McQuillen. "We had some weak vegetative response because of the high water last year, but it turned out OK."

The South Grand River and Deep Water branches of Truman Reservoir can offer some good late-season duck hunting when all other areas have frozen over.

"Sparrow Foot Access and Cooper Creek Access offer good access to the main lake," McQuillen said. "There are a lot of scattered points where you can pull up to the brush, park your boat and throw some decoys out."

There are some 100,000 acres of land around the reservoir. The MDC manages about 54,000 of those acres. About 128 acres of those lands in Henry County are managed wetlands. Dehn Marsh offers two pools, one 14 acres, the other 45. Old 18 is a walk-in area containing a 13-acre pool and a 47-acre pool. The water situation in both of these two areas is dependable as long as December doesn't get too cold and the marshes freeze over. If it does, turn your attention to the open water of the reservoir.

Hunters can expect to find a little bit of everything at Truman Reservoir, with mallards, mergansers and goldeneyes making up the majority of what you'll encounter.

For more information about duck hunting on the upper reaches of Truman Reservoir, call the MDC's office at (660) 885-6981. Hunters should also check with the Corps for any special regulations at (660) 438-7317.

TEN MILE POND CA

Ten Mile Pond, in the southeast region's Mississippi County, offers some excellent late-season waterfowl hunting opportunities for the do-it-yourself duck hunter who's in good shape.

Said MDC wildlife management biologist Rob Vinson, "We're a totally wade-and-shoot-only area -- meaning that no permanent blinds are allowed there. "It's what I'd call a young man's area, because you might have to pack in decoys on your back for up to a half-mile in conditions that can at times be very muddy before you get to your pool of water."

This area is unusual, in that some areas are very remote, and no ATVs or other vehicles are allowed, which keeps disturbance to the ducks to a minimum.

"We have 1,200 acres of flooded water, which is a small area," Vinson said. "I max out at about 18 spots, which are only up to 15 acres in size. And we don't hunt all the pools all the time. There is also no flooded timber here -- only marsh-type hunting."

In total, six boat ramps are present on these pools. The area's large quantity of open water offers little cover, and so can sometimes result in a boat being more a hindrance than a help for duck hunting here. If you use one here, make sure it's well camouflaged.

"I'd recommend that hunters who haven't been here before get here early before the draw begins for that day's hunt and ask our field staff questions about how to hunt this area," Vinson said. "We're here to help you, and we will gladly do so."

A large percentage of ducks at Ten Mile Pond are mallards at this time of year, but you will also see a few gadwalls, widgeon, pintails and green-winged teal. For more information, contact the MDC at (573) 649-2770.

LOCUST CREEK CA

Lying in the Northeast Region's Sullivan County, this conservation area offers duck hunters about 140 acres of wetlands in five pools.

"We're pretty much an opportunistic wetland area here," said MDC wildlife management biologist Danny Hartwig. "We rely heavily on run-off. And we've had lots of rain this summer, which we've already held some water from."

In addition to the marshy wetland pools at Locust Creek CA, hunters have the opportunity to slip a canoe in Locust Creek, which flows through the area. "I know that some guys put in a canoe at one of the parking lots at the north end of the area and take out at the south end of the area," Hartwig said. "Hunters will probably find mostly just mallards left around here in December."

Hartwig cautioned that the area is very much a hit-or-miss proposition when it comes to duck hunting late in the season. "The first big freeze we have will move the ducks on and out of the area, and we won't have much after that," he said. "However, a mild winter could mean pretty good duck hunting here."

For more information about Locust Creek CA, contact the MDC at (660) 785-2420.

EXPERT ADVICE

Baker Miles of Delta Outdoors, a well-known waterfowl guide in Missouri featured on the outdoor TV show On the Right Track with Gene Pearcy, emphasizes scouting as a key to late-season duck hunting success.

"The best advice is to be where the ducks want to be," he said. "Late in the season, the ducks are looking for open water, and you have to know where the open water is."

According to the veteran waterfowl guide, aside from traditional, hunters seeking open water and ducks late in the season can look not only to conventional wetland areas but also to rivers, streams and large bodies of water. "At this time of the year the ducks are very shy," Miles said. "I tend to use fewer decoys, but the most realistic-looking decoys I have -- not the economy-style decoys you would use in a large spread."

Miles also throws in some decoys with movement to add realism to his late-season set. A few motion decoys that swim in the water will impart movement to the components of your spread, while a few wobbling decoys on the bank will help draw in those wary late-season ducks.

"Less is more at this time of year," Miles concluded. "Less decoys that are more realistic, and less calling to the ducks. I blow just enough to get their attention with some soft chuckling, a few quacks and pleading calls, but nothing that will give you away."

SUMMARY

Scouting is the key to success for December's do-it-yourself duck hunter. Find open water, and the discovery will keep you in ducks throughout the year. The right combination of water, nearby food sources, and catching the birds on good flight days can lead to some fantastic hunting opportunities at these comparatively unheralded areas. You don't have to hunt the biggest, best-known wetlands to meet with success in the late season.

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