Malmaison for Waterfowl

This tract of public hunting land in the Delta region contains a green tree area that attracts large numbers of ducks. Here's how you can get into the middle of some wingshooting action there this year.

"We need to get the boat jammed in between these two trees," Tom Matthews said. "We'll have a much more stable platform from which to shoot. The ducks will be here. We've been scouting this area all week, and we know where the ducks are holding."

Therein lies the secret of successfully hunting Malmaison Wildlife Management Area, near Greenwood - scouting the area and staying in daily contact with the ducks.

Matthews, an owner of Avery Outdoors (makers of waterfowl hunting equipment), lives, eats and breathes duck hunting and has since he was a young boy. He makes a good portion of his living from ducks and folks who hunt them. He is also very familiar with the Malmaison WMA.

Soon we spotted a flight of high-flying mallards, and Matthews began to speak duck to them. They came in circling the blind but stayed way too high for us to get off any shots.

"Don't even look up," Matthews whispered. "Those ducks can see any movement in the blind. I'll watch the ducks and tell you when to take the shot."

I cheated. I peeked out of the corner of my eye and picked up the ducks as they made a circle and came around in front of us. But not quite convinced that the pieces of plastic floating on the water equaled other ducks feeding, the mallards didn't drop into the decoys.

Matthews made like vocal third-base coach on a baseball team signaling to get the runner in. His calls continued to reassure the ducks that our blind had plenty of good food out in front of it. He told the birds they should come in, light and eat up.

Photo by R.E. Ilg

"OK, boys, get ready," Matthews said. "They've committed. I can see the ducks coming in now."

Indeed, the mallards were on their way, some gliding and some back-pedaling with their wings to maintain their balance. Just as the 15 ducks were about to touch down, Matthews quickly pushed the top of the blind back and yelled, "Get them!"

The ducks stripped the gears in their wings trying to go from a landing to a climbing mode. The air filled with steel and bismuth shot as the ducks attempted to gain altitude. One duck cartwheel to the right and another tumbled as though a Mack truck had hit him. The greenhead I shot at flinched, and when I fired the second time, he folded. Faster than you could sneeze, we had emptied four 12-gauge Magnums of three 3-inch shells apiece. Even though we had spent a dozen shells, only four ducks lay on the water.

Matthews quickly collapsed the portable blind into the boat and cranked the engine. Soon the boat's hull was loose from the willows. The faster we could get to the ducks, the less likely that we would lose them.

After that first flight of mallards came in, I changed boats and hunted with Tate Wood, a slow-talking, fast-shooting duck-calling sportsman who has hunted Malmaison and the surrounding area for 33 years. Although Wood likes to call and shoot ducks, if he had to choose between the two, I believed he'd rather call in the birds.

A master of the game, Wood can read the mood of the quackers even before they get close to the blind. He has a touch with duck calls and knows just what tune to play to get the birds' attention, have them commit, and then talk them into letting their landing gear down right in front of the blind.

"There aren't any secrets to taking ducks in these areas," Wood explained. "The most important thing to be aware of is location. You have to be where the ducks want to be. The likelihood of this happening increases with your experience in the region you're hunting. Sometimes you guess right; sometimes you don't. Typically, you can have success by going after the consistent holes."

Of course, targeting the honeyholes can make for some iffy shooting situations at times.

"Sometimes you can show up at 4 a.m. and not see a single truck at the landing," Wood offered. "Then the next time you can get there at 1:30 a.m., and three trucks already may be there."

"Lastly, expect ducks at any of the green tree areas when the fields freeze," Wood added.

If you plan to hunt Malmaison WMA, you have to know how to blow a duck call, because you are likely to be competing against some of the finest duck callers in the nation there.

In other words, don't expect to go to Malmaison and get lucky. To hunt this WMA, you need decoys, dogs, a boat blind and a mastery of the duck language. You also have to remember that these ducks have been dodging hunters all the way down from Canada. They are smart birds that flare and find another place to light if you make the smallest mistake.

"Without question, I believe that Malmaison and Mathew's Brake are some of the best public duck hunting places in the nation," Tom Matthews commented. "If we get the weather to move the ducks into Mississippi, you find them either at Mathew's Brake or Malmaison."

It is the years when the northern states get plenty of snow and foul weather that hunters on Malmaison get a real bonanza of wingshooting action all season long. Otherwise, the shooting on the flyway may not develop until late in the duck season. Either way, expect to find resident wood ducks and some teal at Malmaison. But the real "show ponies" of this hunting are the mallards.

AREA MANAGER'S REPORT
Dale Adams is the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) area manager for Malmaison, and he agrees with Tom Matthews.

"We're definitely ahead of the other WMAs in ducks, except perhaps for Mahannah. We have 10,000 acres. McIntyre Scatters has 500 to 600 acres open to the public, and in our green tree region, there are 1,100 to 1,200 acres open to public hunting. Hunters can also hunt other little potholes on the surrounding area."

According to Adams, Malmaison WMA has been open to hunting since the 1970s. Compared to the hunting action during some of those earlier years, last season produced only fair to good duck hunting on the WMA.

"We had 22,328 reported hunter-days," Adams pointed out. "On the cards the hunters turned in, only 28,018 ducks were harvested. That comes to about 1.2 ducks per hunter, which is not real good."

However, Mississippi duck hunters had a particularly bad year everywhere. The ducks didn't come down the flyway until extremely late in the season, and many ducks didn't migrate at all, due to warm weather. Regardless of how many ducks there are spread along the flyway, if the cold weather doesn't force the webfoots south, Malmaison and the rest of the Magnolia State's WMAs suffer.

"The main ducks that we harvest at Malmaison are mallards. But we also get gadwalls, widgeon, a lot of teal and a few pintails every now and then," Adams explained. "We get most of the major duck species that come down the flyway passing through Malmaison."

In past years, some hunters paid youngsters to spend the night in their boats to ensure that they had a good spot in which to shoot the next morning at daylight. However, in the last three seasons, the state of Mississippi hasn't permitted people to stay overnight at the WMA.

"You can't access the area until 3 a.m. now," Adams reported. "We had a lot of people who'd go out in the middle of the night, find a good spot and wait in their boat until morning. Then, when the other hunters would come in the morning, they would be angry because all the good places were taken. But since we adopted the 3 a.m. starting time, everybody has the same opportunity to get to their favorite spot."

Because of the size of the WMA, to take ducks at Malmaison you must be familiar with the area. Jason Golding of Grenada has hunted Malmaison for close to 20 years.

"If you're going to take a limit of ducks at Malmaison, you've got to get where there isn't anyone else," Golding emphasizes. "Look at maps and read aerial photos. Find out where those really good spots are to hunt ducks. Then try to avoid what everyone else is doing. One of the big advantages that we have when we hunt Malmaison is using Mud Buddies and Go-Devils and working hard to get our boats into some of those backwater areas, where people with outboard motors never even think about reaching. The main secret to consistently taking ducks at Malmaison is figuring out where there won't be any hunters and how to get there."

Golding also explained that he's seen many changes in Malmaison over the years. He remembers a time when the Malmaison sky blackened due to so many ducks flying overhead. But because of the weather patterns of the last few years, Golding has had to hunt more strategically.

"When we hunt, we try not to leave any signs behind," Golding noted. "That way, no one knows where we're hunting. We seldom hunt the same place twice, and we always hunt so that the ducks can light into the wind. In the places we hunt, we take primarily mallards, a few gadwalls and occasionally a pintail. I've seen many days when we've had five or six people hunting, gotten our limit of greenheads really quickly, and come out early. But when the ducks don't come down, like they didn't last year, getting a limit of ducks can be really tough."

Bill McGinnis of Jackson is another veteran duck hunter on this WMA.

"I can remember one day, back in 1997, when the stars and moon were in alignment, God was in his heaven, and the ducks were really moving well," he recalled. "There were probably 30,000 ducks on Malmaison. Now, 30,000 ducks on 10,000 acres is not a lot of ducks, but we were adjacent to McIntyre Scatters, which also was holding a lot of ducks."

Part of the reason for this bonanza was that water was being released from Grenada Lake. When that happens, the water in Malmaison and McIntyre Scatters starts to rise. When the water levels at these areas are higher, the WMAs provide ideal habitat for waterfowl. There's plenty of food and numerous places for the birds to rest and hold in.

"We had plenty of cold weather, and the leading edge of the duck migration had crossed Malmaison," McGinnis continued. "Some of the people I had been hunting with had hunted ducks for 20 to 30 years, and they said that during the 1997 season they spotted the most ducks at Malmaison that they'd ever seen."

On that day, McGinnis and his party were hunting from camouflaged boat blinds.

"We wedged the boats between the button willows and put out a few decoys," McGinnis recalled. "The only ducks we saw were big ducks, like mallards and pintails. The six hunters in our group made a small decoy set. The ducks came in large waves."

Even with fairly mild temperatures in the low 40s and the sky bright blue, the party limited out quickly.

"We only took greenhead mallards and no hens," McGinnis reported. "We had a guest with us from New York who took his first banded duck. That was the day that duck hunting couldn't be any better anywhere in the world than it was at Malmaison."

TIPS FOR FIRST-TIMERS
"If I were going to hunt Malmaison for the first time, I'd talk to some of the local hunters and get good maps of the area from both the state and federal government," McGinnis advised. "I'd learn the access points to the area and use a GPS receiver to mark the spots where the ducks were landing. Then I could find them the next day before daylight."

Pre-hunt scouting cannot be overemphasized when it comes to hunting on this public area. Knowing where the ducks are and what they are doing on Malmaison can make the difference between a great morning of shooting and a cold, cramped boring morning in the blind.

McGinnis also suggests hunting during the middle of the week for the most success. At that time, you encounter much less hunting pressure at Malmaison.

"Always respect the other hunters," McGinnis emphasized. "Don't get into a position where you're going to mess up their hunting and vice versa. Try to find spots where no one else is going to interfere with your ability to take ducks."

FOR YOUR INFORMATION
For more details on duck hunting at Malmaison WMA, contact Dale Adams at (662) 453-5409. You can also visit the Web site for the Mississippi Division of Tourism, located at www.visitmississippi.org, or call 1-800-927-6378 to learn more about the area. You also can find information about Malmaison WMA on the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks' Web site, located at www.mdwfp.com.



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