Oklahoma Duck Hunting: Good to the Last Quack

The duck hunting in these northeast Oklahoma locales can be exciting right up to the very end of the season.

By Mike Lambeth

Duck season will be winding down soon, but for Oklahoma's diehard waterfowlers - those willing both to endure cold temperatures and to make some adjustments in their tactics - some fantastic action remains.

In fact, some of my best waterfowling days come late in the season, when migration numbers are normally at peak levels. I've learned that by hunting areas of running water and large bodies of water I can come home toting a limit of mallards. Indeed, one of my most memorable hunts took place near the end of one duck season.

That day my friend Alan Broerse and I were working a 60-acre pond. Owing to previous commitments, neither of us could hunt more than a few hours that morning, but that wasn't a drawback, because the shooting during the time available to us was absolutely superb.

At first relatively normal for a late-season day of waterfowling, the weather altered at midmorning as a "blue norther" dropped temperatures below freezing. Skies darkened; strong winds began to blow. And our slow-paced morning quickly intensified as ducks appeared from every direction. Canvasbacks came in low, but we intentionally passed on the high-pointed divers in hopes of taking northern mallards pushed south by the inclement weather.

The ducks continued to arrive, wave after wave pouring in with heedless abandon. Our limits reached, we watched in awe as ducks continued to land on the pond. We learned later that most of the smaller ponds in the area were iced up, making our pond the only open-water option for quackers in the vicinity.

On another late-season outing, Bobby Cole and I pitched out a dozen decoys on a private lake that typically held a large number of ducks. By sporadic calling from a good blind, we were able to decoy mallards, gadwalls, and a pair of widgeon.

We chose to hunt the larger body of water knowing that ducks feel more at ease when they can land on their own terms and not be confined to a small pond. By this time of the year most ducks are gun-shy, having been called to and shot at all the way down the Central Flyway.

Late season also brings down good numbers of "black-and-white" ducks - fast-flying, acrobatic diving ducks with a penchant for large bodies of water, where they can dive to feed on small fish and crustaceans. These ducks include common, red-breasted, and hooded mergansers, as well as goldeneyes, buffleheads, lesser scaup and ringnecks. These ducks can appear brainless at times. After being shot at, they'll sometimes even circle the lake just a few feet off of the water and come back and try to land in your spread.

Such scenarios are what cause me to keep my autoloader oiled and my thermos full of coffee. That way, I'm always ready to experience the grand finale of waterfowl season.

Photo by John N. Felsher

TOP SPOTS IN

THE NORTHEAST

Since cold weather normally results in ice-covered waterholes, Sooner State duck chasers need to look to larger bodies of water for hot duck action. Northeast Oklahoma has any number of lakes and rivers that are overlooked as winter hideouts for flocks of migrating ducks.

The best spots for late-season hunts include Fort Gibson Reservoir near Wagoner, Kaw Reservoir near Ponca City, Grand Lake near Grove, Oologah north of Tulsa, Keystone west of Tulsa, and Hulah and Copan lakes located near Bartlesville.

If these waters aren't iced over, they'll hold good numbers of mallards, gadwalls and pintails as well as diving ducks like goldeneyes, mergansers and scaup. The best places for setting up are going to be around the long points on the north side of the lake.

The best counties for field-hunting opportunities include Wagoner, Osage, Pawnee, Delaware, Mayes, and Tulsa. Look for large bean and grain fields near larger creeks and rivers.

EXPERT ADVICE

Mark Gottula of Collinsville is an avid waterfowler who hunts 30 to 40 days each season, often joined by his sons Tyler and Bryce; he also guides for a local outfitter. The Gottulas hunt many northeast ponds, rivers, sloughs, lakes, and fields and enjoy some fantastic wingshooting, bagging a fair amount of ducks for their efforts. Mark claims the last part of our duck season is usually the best.

"During the late season," he explained, "hunters have the luxury of hunting larger numbers of migrating ducks. If someone is willing to do some scouting, there are tremendous duck-hunting opportunities that most people will never experience."

According to Gottula, most ponds and smaller bodies of water will be covered in ice in late December and January, so he shifts his efforts and starts hunting fields.

"The northeast part of the state is blessed with numerous soybean and grain fields situated next to large river systems like the Verdigris and the Arkansas. Ducks generally roost on ponds and watersheds, but when the available potholes freeze, the ducks then move to the rivers to roost. At first light the ducks leave to converge on area bean and grain fields - and the hunting is spectacular!"

Gottula spends a great deal of time scouting these heavily used fields, obtaining hunting permission, and then planning his next hunt.

Field-hunting is tougher than is hunting near a lake or marsh because the vegetation is thinner, causing hunters to have to rely on low-profile blinds or hides. Gottula likes to use layout blinds that are camouflaged with brown tones resembling the feed fields. Most shots taken in field-hunting are passing shots. Late-season ducks tend to be more wary, and circle repeatedly before landing.

Gottula uses as many as 100 decoys at times; these he arranges to imitate feeding ducks. He uses motion decoys with fluttering wings because he believes they add an extra degree of realism to the spread.

When I was inquiring about a waterfowling expert in northeastern Oklahoma, the name Gordon "Gordie" Montgomery came up several times. Montgomery operates Gordie's Wildlife, a guide service specializing in topnotch duck and goose hunting in northeast Oklahoma. Having been guiding full-time for 12 years, he has hunting rights to some exceptional property that annually winters good numbers of migrating waterfowl.

Like Gottula, Montgomery extols the virtues of late-season field hunting. "Just because ducks have webbed feet doesn't mean that they only land in water," he said. "They actually love

bean fields and spend a great deal of time there in the late season. It's unreal how many ducks show up to feed."

Montgomery is a stickler for details when he's duck hunting. He believes that hunters should call sparingly to late-season waterfowl, and that working from a lower-profile blind will increase a hunter's chances for success.

DUCKS UNLIMITED:

MAKING HUNTING BETTER

Ducks Unlimited has several projects going on in the northeast part of the state. According to Al Wilson, DU regional vice president, the future looks bright for Oklahoma waterfowlers.

Wilson highlighted specific projects such as Chouteau and Billy Creek, both in Wagoner County, and habitat restoration on lakes Copan, Hulah, Oologah and in the Cottonwood Creek area of Keystone Lake.

"Interested landowners can contact the United States Fish and Wildlife Service's office in Tulsa," Wilson said, "and inquire about some grant monies available to do habitat projects on their private properties."

AT LAST!

Late-season duck hunting is exciting - but understand that your success will be governed by the amount of time you spend scouting, and by the unpredictable weather patterns. These factors can work in concert to help you put a nice brace of quackers in the deep freezer.

Northeast Oklahoma is underrated as a duck-hunting hotspot. As Mark Gottula says, you won't shoot any ducks at home in your living room. You have to be where the ducks want to be, and there is no better time than now to introduce a young person to the sport of duck hunting.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

To book a hunt with Gordie's Wildlife, call Gordon Montgomery at (918) 557-4791. To get current waterfowl reports for northeastern Oklahoma, call Mark Gottula at (918) 232-1974.

For information on attending a Ducks Unlimited Banquet or DU habitat projects in Oklahoma contact Al Wilson, DU regional VP at (918) 227-0089.

To contact the USFWS in Tulsa, call (918) 581-7458.

For season dates and other info on Oklahoma waterfowling, call the ODWC at (405) 521-3851, or visit the agency's Web site, the address for which is wildlifedepartment.com.



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