We asked veteran waterfowlers across this great country to pick the top locations for productive and unique waterfowl hunts. We got more than we asked for and a fascinating look at the classic and upcoming waterfowl destinations.
Pacific Flyway | Bill Saunders
Born in Colorado and raised in Wisconsin by walleye fishermen until moving with his family to Idaho and most recently to the Tri-Cities area of Washington State, Bill Saunders is an institution not only throughout the Pacific Flyway, but across the nation as well. Now 46, Saunders began building waterfowl calls in ’99 and entered his first calling competition, best he can recall, around 2001. Since that time and during the half dozen years he competed professionally, Saunders entered — and won — prestigious contests from coast to coast. Today, Saunders continues to produce high-quality calls, including his best-seller and personal favorite, the nationally recognized Traffic short reed. His Big Guns Waterfowl Outfitters keeps him busy from mid-October through late January; after that, as he’ll tell you, he’s gone (walleye) fishing!Saunders’ Best Bets
- Columbia Basin, Washington – With year-round open water, including the Columbia, Snake, Yakima and Walla Walla rivers and cropland as far as the eye can see, the Basin holds hundreds of thousands of puddlers and divers at the peak of the migration. Diver-duck enthusiasts will find plenty of cans, redheads and bluebills; dabblers include mallards, sprig (pintails), wigeon, teal and gadwall. Choose to hunt one of many great public access areas, or hunt with a pro guide.
- Willamette Valley, Oregon – Incredible numbers of Canada geese, seven subspecies in all, winter in The Beaver State’s Willamette Valley. Sauvies Island, a traditional waterfowler’s haunt, is here, too.
- Treasure Valley, Idaho – A “hidden gem,” says Saunders, with nearly infinite public opportunities situated along the Snake, Boise and Payette rivers. You’ll find moderate hunting pressure, and lots of birds, especially during the late season.
Central Flyway | Drew Palmer
Drew Palmer first started duck hunting with his family in Kansas pretty much as soon as he was old enough, about 5 or 6 years, to safely hold and shoot a .410 shotgun. These days he owns and operates the Mile North Outdoor Company, which he started as a freshman in college to help local small businesses with digital marketing on social media platforms. Today the company’s many facets include developing social media accounts for national brands, a branding and marketing studio and managing recreational properties for landowners in the area. Palmer is involved with photography, videography and editorial content production, and his extensive travels have taken him from Canada to Texas on projects related to hunting waterfowl, turkey and big game. He’s been lucky enough to hunt a wide variety of incredible and unique waterfowl hunting areas, but to this day Kansas still remains his favorite.Palmer’s Best Bets
- Flint Hills, Kansas – Hunt with the guys at Kansas Hurt Locker in the Central Flyway, Palmer recommends. “They run a hand-picked client list and have hundreds of miles of territory to cover in the Flint Hills of Kansas,” he says. “They’ve developed a system for killing little geese that puts most snow goose hunters to shame — big spreads and huge decoying flocks of Lesser Canadas and specks to inside 20 yards, not sky busting into big wads with 15 guns flock shooting. [It’s] a big difference.” He calls it “an honest operation with no fluff” ... or egos.
- Northern Oklahoma – Bag big numbers of mallards on small cow ponds or during evening bean-field shoots with the folks at Red Rock Outdoors. The area hosts one of the last big winter concentrations of hard-migrating mallards, with big bunches of mostly greenheads. He calls head guide Blake Toews a “mallard madman” with a great grasp of migration tendencies and connections with a number of local landowners.
- Quanah, Texas – Hunt a mixed bag with Tornado Country Outfitters out of Quanah. “They are the Wild West in a bottle,” Palmer says, and offer diverse hunting for crane, little geese, mallards and bonus pintails. He says “big smiles and big piles ... ” are normal for these trips.
Central-Mississippi Flyway | Tony Vandemore
To countless millennials all across the nation, the name Tony Vandemore is as synonymous with waterfowl hunting as the seventh-inning stretch is with baseball. Originally from Illinois, Vandemore currently — as he has for several years — makes his full-time home in Sumner, Missouri, part of the famed Golden Triangle located in the central portion of the Show Me State. A one-time pitcher for the San Diego Padres farm team, Vandemore built his reputation some 20 years ago on the backs of hundreds of thousands of snow geese. Today, his Habitat Flats hunting operation, now with lodges in Saskatchewan and Arkansas, takes up the vast majority of his time. He is a very talented photographer in addition to being an exceptional “fowler.” Vandemore is joined at home by his wife, Kate, and their two daughters, Vivian and Victoria.
Vandemore’s Best Bets
- Northern Missouri – “There’s no place like home,” Vandemore says, with no shortage of pride evident. With intensively managed public and private areas, staggering numbers of ducks (and geese) make the stopover here in the Golden Triangle. A variety of habitats — including flooded fields, moist-soil marshes and buckbrush sloughs — does nothing but increase the opportunities, as have the recent mild winters, allowing both ducks and geese to stage in the region longer before continuing their southward migration.
- North Dakota – “With a little windshield time and some door knocking,” Vandemore says, “North Dakota still offers plenty of [opportunity] to get off the beaten path and enjoy the prairie, while meeting some great people along the way.”
- Arkansas– While Stuttgart claims to be the duck capital of the world, it’s not just about mallards anymore. Exceptional snow goose and specklebelly (white-fronted goose) hunting can be found across much of the Natural State.
Atlantic Flyway | Sean Mann
Sean Mann grew up in Chesapeake Bay Country on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Mann began guiding waterfowl hunters in 1976, making goose calls in ’84, and won his first World Goose Calling Championship in ’85. In ’95, Sean became the first-ever World Goose Calling Champion of Champions. To date, his Eastern Shoreman World Champion Goose Call has won more World Championships than any other call. Mann’s guiding has taken him from coast to coast in the U.S., and from Canada to Mexico. He currently resides on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, guiding waterfowl hunters and making calls.
Mann’s Best Bets
- Kent County, Maryland – Kent County has more huntable agricultural land than any other place in the Atlantic Flyway. It’s perfectly situated near the famed Chesapeake Bay and has several large rivers and creeks that serve as roosts for a variety of waterfowl. Canada geese reign supreme here; however, there are plenty of puddlers and divers available, including mallards, pintails, wigeon, bluebills and the king himself, the canvasback.
- Susquehanna Flats at Havre de Grace, Maryland – “Body booting” with the Jobes family should be on every serious waterfowler’s bucket list, as should a visit to each of the brothers’ decoy shops.
- Chesapeake Bay, Maryland – A sea duck hunt with Captain Jeff Coats of Pitboss Waterfowl makes the (East Coast) experience. He carves and hunts over his own decoys and makes some of the best Maryland crab soup ever.