The Best Duck Hunting in Tennessee
October 04, 2010
Reelfoot and Kentucky lakes are the stuff of legend among Tennessee duck hunters. Here's why.
You could almost start a Civil War about which destination is the king of west Tennessee waterfowling - Reelfoot or Kentucky lakes - but regardless of which side of the fence you're on, the duck hunting on these two hotspots represents some of the best waterfowling anywhere in the entire country.
Tennessee hunters were allowed another liberal season of 60 days and six ducks again this year, and much of the time Tennessee waterfowl hunters will spend in the field this year will be on these lakes. Aside from the fact that these waters hold a lot of ducks, the reason hunters love Reelfoot and Kentucky is the diversity of habitat and setup possibilities for hunting waterfowl. From open-water blinds to pockets, ditches and bottoms, these waters put the word "classic" into duck hunting.
KENTUCKY LAKE To say Kentucky Lake represents a substantial public-hunt opportunity for waterfowlers is definitely an understatement. There are more than 80 permanent draw blinds on a half-dozen or so wildlife management areas (WMAs) that have proven to be waterfowl havens each year. From the Big Sandy WMA, which includes the Gin Creek Unit, to Harmon's Creek, West Sandy (also known as the Springville Bottoms), and onto Camden bottoms, it's in these WMAs where the mallard is the king.
And, in addition to the draw blinds, there are plenty of opportunities for duck hunters who are looking for public waters.
When there's food in the bottoms and in the WMAs, mallards will be there. Keep in mind that the best blinds are generally taken. That's why the duck blind drawing exists. Some of these "hotspot" blinds have become legendary. They're going to be full every day during the season.
Photo by GaryKramer.net
This year, however, early flooding prevented the planting of many food plots, and the ducks may end up being scattered throughout the WMAs and the open public waters of Kentucky Lake.
Although there are permanent blinds in each of these WMAs, public opportunities do exist. In Harmon's Creek and Big Sandy, as well as Unit II of Camden Bottoms, temporary blinds are allowed. (Unit I of Camden Bottoms allows hunting from permanent blinds only.) The only rules that apply regarding temporary blinds are that any temporary blinds or hides or decoys associated with them must be at least 200 yards from any permanent blind. And they also must be removed at the end of shooting hours each day.
The same situation exists in West Sandy, but hunters must be out by 3 p.m.
Any hunter can also occupy a permanent blind if - and only if - the cardholder of the blind or the person who drew the blind isn't in the blind by shooting hours.
Local hunter and avid duck man Tommy Turner, who grew up in Camden and has hunted the Camden Bottoms all of his life, says that although the rules say 200 yards away from any permanent blind, it's common courtesy on Kentucky Lake for most hunters to set up at least 300 yards away.
The Kentucky Lake area is blessed with many waterfowl refuges in several units of Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge that are off-limits to hunting and draw thousands of ducks to the region. The one item that Turner likes to point out about Camden Bottoms is that it's hunter compatible. By that, he means you can wait around at the boat ramps or at different accesses and talk to a lot of hunters and find out which blinds are doing best and which areas are holding birds, which will help lead you to where you want to hunt.
Another public area that Turner likes is the Cypress Creek area, which is located just across the dike from the Camden Bottoms. You can get there by traveling from the Camden town square to the community of Eva on Highway 191. This area can be accessed by the public launch at Latchley's Crossing. The Camden Bottoms in Unit I and Unit II are easily accessed just off Highway 70 in Camden. The Unit I ramp is just off Highway 70 to the left before you get to the bridge near New Johnsonville, and Unit II can be accessed by taking a right on Old Ferry Road. Those are just a few of many accesses to several WMAs.
Again, with so many public opportunities and the ability to put up temporary blinds or to hunt out of a boat blind, the key to success in some of these open areas is to spend some time scouting. You watch ducks to locate ducks - see what areas they're using and move to them. The one thing to keep in mind is that duck hunting on Kentucky Lake is not limited to the WMAs, not limited to the permanent blinds, and not limited to putting up a temporary blind in the WMAs. There are equally good opportunities on this massive body of water off points and in coves up from the Pickwick Dam all the way to the Land Between The Lakes upstream. If you're a true mallard fan, this may not be the answer for you. But if you like to hunt different species of ducks, the opportunity is there.
REELFOOT LAKE Like the blinds on Kentucky Lake, Reelfoot's permanent blinds on the open water and in the ditches are icons of a true duck-hunting tradition. In fact, duck-hunting tradition is defined by the Reelfoot experience itself. When you roll into town, the restaurants, hotels and lodges create an atmosphere like no other. The place just looks like a duck hunter's dream recreated.
Outgoing guide and longtime duck hunter Ronnie Capps is a part of that tradition. He's spent most of his life building a reputation about knowing how to take Reelfoot ducks no matter the situation.
In January, Capps says that ducks have become patterned and tend to hang together. They know where the feeding areas are, where the blinds are and where to find the secluded safe havens of the flooded timber. The last few weeks of the season, Capps says, is the best time to employ large spreads and a lot of motion in decoys to get the most wary of ducks' attention. Also, as in the case with Kentucky Lake, the numerous waterfowl refuges near Reelfoot help hold ducks in the area all season long and give them a place to rest.
"No doubt, there are other opportunities at Reelfoot," says Capps. If things aren't going his way in the blind configuration, Capps slips his pirogue into the timber for a more stealthlike approach to locate what he calls the "secluded ducks." The veteran recognizes the history and tradition of the registered blind hunting on Reelfoot, but also sees the potential that lies there for public hunting. You can hunt flooded timber or other areas with temporary blind setups as long as you keep the 200-yard distance between you and any permanent blind and pick up your rig and decoys after shooting time.
More often than not, the timber setup or hunt will usually yield a shoo
t involving 15 to 20 eager mallards, according to Capps. And then there are days like he had on a couple of occasions last season, where he and his shooters took 50 ducks. Call it a matter of luck, but the fun you can have in the timber makes up for what he calls hard work to get in where the ducks are.
A low-profile boat allows him to travel to where the ducks are resting in the timber and locate these hideouts. Capps says you may not always see where they come up, but there are signs that will pinpoint the area for you. Look for feathers on the water and one of the best clues is an area of muddy or churned-up water where the ducks were actively feeding.
Most duck hunters in the country hope for a cold winter to push fresh ducks to the blinds. But what Capps hopes for is a wet winter, because wet winters provide enough moisture to get the water level over the levies and into the timber. He wants a wet winter to keep water in the timber and prefers mild to warm weather, saying it keeps the ducks spread out and easier to locate and hunt. Of course, fronts are important for bringing in new birds, but don't expect Capps to pray for a freeze. He also warns hunters to take care in crossing the open water, which can get rough when there's a wet winter with its higher lake levels. There are good winter accesses on the north end of Reelfoot at two TWRA ramps on the Upper Blue Basin and as many as five public ramps on the lower end. You can learn more about the Reelfoot tradition and Capps at www.reelfootsecrets.com.
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