The dream trip for the ultimate in waterfowling can be found at any of these duck lodges.
Duck hunting is humming at a high pitch across our region, and duck hunters are willing to travel to find the best, most diverse experiences.
High-quality hunting and accommodations are available to meet any budget. Here are a few of our favorites.
Reelfoot Lake, a natural depression formed by an earthquake in 1811-12, is one of America's most renowned duck hunting destinations. It offers a variety of hunting environments where you can limit out on mallards one day, teal and pintails the next day, and divers the third day.
It's all available under one roof at Waterfowl Unlimited, a full-service hunting operation headquartered at Union City Tennessee.
For 24 years, Mike Newsom has been treating hunters from around the world to the varied bags at Reelfoot Lake. Famous for its vast standing cypress trees, Reelfoot is a major wintering area for waterfowl migrating down the Mississippi Flyway.
The excitement begins before dawn, when huge wads of ducks take flight from among the cypress trees while hunters motor to their blinds.
What kind of ducks can you expect to see there?
"All of them," Newsom said, "and also geese. All of them, too!
"We get a lot of mixed bags," he said. "It's hardly ever that we don't kill two or three species. A lot of mallards, gadwall, teal and pintails. Our variety is what sets us apart from other guides."
Newsom said he has a large variety of blinds, and that clients will not hunt the same blind every day.
"You can hunt with us two or three years in a row, and you will probably hunt with a different guide every year," Newsom said.
Hunters can bring their own dogs with the understanding that a dog will be kenneled if it is disruptive.
People come for the hunting, of course, but Newsom said his longevity is built on relationships.
"We treat our clients like friends," Newsom said. "We take time to answer your questions because we realize that even though a guide's been asked the same question a thousand times, it's your first time."
Waterfowl Unlimited does not have a proprietary lodge. Newsom said he contracts with local lodging establishments according to his guests' desires. Options include modern cabins that are decorated with a hunting lodge motif. Each cabin can accommodate four to six hunters. Each has a small kitchen area with freezers and refrigerators.
Individual rooms with kitchenettes are available for smaller parties. "About 80 percent of our clients get the cabins," Newsom said.
Newsom prides himself on cleanliness. "You can eat off the floors," he said.
The cost is $250 per hunter per day. This includes two meals and lodging per hunter per day.
For information, call Waterfowl Unlimited at 731-588-4531 or visit its website.
If mallards are your passion, Habitat Flats will put you among some of the greatest concentrations of greenheads in the Central Flyway.
Near Sumner Missouri, Habitat Flats contains about 3,000 acres of prime waterfowl habitat within Missouri's famous "Golden Triangle" of Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Fountain Grove Conservation Area, and Grand Pass Conservation Area. Together, they often hold up to nearly 500,000 mallards by Thanksgiving.
You can hunt them in a variety of environments at Habitat Flats, and so each day is a different experience, said Tony Vandemore, owner of Habitat Flats LLC.
"We've got 80 blinds," Vandemore said. "We have a variety of pit blinds in flooded agricultural fields. It's corn, beans, managed moist-soil marshes, millet and smartweed. We also have stilt blinds in timber, buckbrush sloughs, and willow sloughs. We also have dry field hunting."
Most hunters like variety, he said, and so they rarely hunt the same blind twice, and most blinds rest at least one day.
What do they see?
"Every puddle duck there is," Vandemore said. "We shoot some 'cans,' some ringnecks, a few bluebills and a few redheads, but we shoot a lot of pintails, teal, widgeon, gadwall and wood ducks."
"Our first big push every year for mallards comes two days either side of Nov. 10," Vandemore said. "There'll be some mallards before that, but you have to sort through a lot of little ducks. From then on, it's pretty much four green and two others. (referring to the federal daily limit of no more than four mallards)."
The biggest concentrations are in dry cornfields. "Big, big, big bunches," Vandemore said. "It's incredible. They feed in dry cornfields when it gets cold, and then they come back into flooded cornfields. They go through iced-over corn like combines. They look like hockey pucks when trying to land."
The Habitat Flats lodge has 16 rooms, with two beds per room. Each has a dresser and lavatory facilities.
Vandemore prides himself on his fine dining, which he said is equivalent to the quality of a five-star restaurant. Guests get three meals per day, which include filet mignon, prime rib, and beverages.
All this comes with a package that includes three days of hunting and three nights lodging at a cost of $2,325 per person, or $775 per day. Contact Habitat Flats at 660-973-3805, habitatflats.com.
Calling mallards into flooded timber is the quintessential duck hunting experience, and Five Oaks Lodge near Humphrey epitomizes the experience.
One of America's premier hunting lodges since 1983, Five Oaks caters to corporate clients, said George Dunklin Jr., president of Five Oaks Lodge.
"It's different than most lodges in that we rent it to one group, one person or one company at a time," said Dunklin, two-time president of Ducks Unlimited.
Five Oaks clients include governors, senators and professional athletes. Former vice-president Dick Cheney and the late U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia have hunted there, as well.
Five Oaks habitat includes fields and moist-soil areas, but the lodge's signature hunting is in the green timber.
"Shooting ducks in timber is the traditional Arkansas way of hunting," Dunklin said. "You have a group of 25 to 50 mallards or more. They make a distinctive sound when they come through the trees. They hit the branches and come within 25 feet of your face. That's an experience you can't get anywhere else."
Depending on the weather, ducks sometimes don't go to the timber, Dunklin said. That's when the rice and soybean fields come into play.
"Our habitat allows us to have a good diversity of species," he said.
Hunting parties are limited to three people, plus a guide. Hunts end at 9:30 a.m., which means ducks rest for nearly the entire day.
Five Oaks Lodge has a main dormitory that contains six bedrooms, each with two beds and a bathroom. A side dormitory has four bedrooms.
Pine Bluff Country Club caters meals that are prepared by certified executive chefs, Dunklin said.
"We have high-end food," he said. "We can't control the weather, but we can control everything inside that lodge. Food is very important to people, so we try to make sure they have the best."
There's also a fishing lake and a five-stand sporting clays course, as well as an outdoor fire area.
Five Oaks had not published its prices for the 2017-18 season, but the cost in 2016-17 was $1,200 per hunter per day. That also includes guide and dog services, shells and cleaning of ducks. Clients are not allowed to tip guides at Five Oaks. For information call 870-873-4444, or fiveoaksducklodge.com.
$ FOWL SKIES OUTFITTERS
Near Waurika, Oklahoma
Located in a major flyway of southwestern Oklahoma, Fowl Skies Outfitters offers single-room cabins, or large cabins that can accommodate up to 12 people. The guides put clients on limits of ducks and geese in the same hunt. Price includes refreshments in the blind, bird cleaning and packaging.
580-366-2428 or 580-467-1627
$$ DEER CREEK LODGE
Near Sebree, Kentucky
A variety of habitat allows hunters opportunities at multiple duck species, but mallards are the main attraction. Combination duck/quail hunts are available. A 10,000-square-foot lodge has eight double-occupancy bedrooms with two queen beds, private bathroom and satellite TV. Six rooms have Jacuzzi tubs with jetted showers.
$$ DIRTY RICE OUTFITTERS
Near Gobbler, Missouri
Located in Missouri's famous Bootheel, Dirty Rice has thousands of acres of rice and soybean fields and flooded green timber to attract ducks in the heart of the Mississippi Flyway. The lodge can accommodate up to 18 people. There are five bedrooms and six private bathrooms, as well as a 1,500-square-foot lounge and bar area.
$$$ WINGHAVEN LODGE
Near Providence, Kentucky
The Tradewater River bottoms offers excellent hunting for multiple species, and the lodge's preserve status allows hunters to take unlimited numbers of mallards. The nine-room, double-occupancy lodge can accommodate up to 18 guests. Each room has a private bathroom and balcony. Guests may also enjoy a private fishing lake and cigar room.
$$$ BUCKSHOT DUCK LODGE
Near Gillett, Arkansas
Located near the confluence of the Arkansas, White and Mississippi rivers, the lodge has private suites with adjoining bathroom and big-screen TVs. An outdoor pavilion with fire pit is a good place to unwind in the evening. The location attracts hundreds of thousands of ducks annually to the fields and swamps of southeast Arkansas.