December 11, 2020
By John Felsher
Over the millennia, the capricious Mississippi River has built a well-watered alluvial floodplain dominated by numerous backwaters, oxbows, streams, cypress swamps and soggy bottomlands. Periodic floods recharge and fertilize ancient oxbows and lowlands, creating outstanding waterfowl habitat.
Today, the Mississippi Delta spans nearly 7,000 square miles of the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley, one of the most critical wintering waterfowl habitats in North America.
And because it attracts such vast numbers of waterfowl, it also draws countless waterfowlers every season, just as it has for well over a century.
MR. NASH’S PLACE
One of the best known and most beloved outdoor writers of all time, Theophilus Nash Buckingham, enthralled generations with his hunting tales. Although he’s long been gone, his work remains and continues to delight and inspire readers today. Buckingham hunted innumerable places in his life and wrote about many of them, but probably none mattered more to him than his beloved Beaverdam Lake.
Buckingham’s father helped found the Beaver Dam Ducking Club in 1882, and Nash grew up hunting the swampy, 1,500-acre Mississippi River oxbow near Tunica, Miss. In the 19th century, sportsmen rode steamboats down the river from Memphis to hunt the oxbows along the Mississippi River. Later, Buckingham and his cohorts would travel to the region by train and spend weekends during duck season at the camp.
"God made Beaverdam Lake, but Nash Buckingham made it famous," says Mike Boyd of Beaver Dam Hunting Services (662-363-6288; beaverdam ducks.com). "He brought the life and vernacular of that day alive."
People can still hunt where Nash sighted on landing mallards, and it probably doesn’t look all that different today than it did then. Years ago the mighty river changed course, so the lake now sits eight miles from the main channel, but still squarely in some of the best waterfowl habitat in the lower Mississippi Flyway.
"The Mississippi River is a big interstate for migrating ducks," Boyd says. "Ducks have been coming here for eons. It’s in their instinctive maps. Beaverdam Lake has been a good duck hunting spot for a long time and it’s still good. When a cold front comes through, we get a lot of new-flight birds migrating through the area."
The Mississippi Delta region historically attracts one of the highest winter concentrations of mallards in North America. It also holds many gadwalls and green-winged teal. Sportsmen might also bag blue-winged teal, pintails, wigeons, shovelers, lesser scaup, ring-necked ducks, some redheads and canvasbacks, plus other ducks and an occasional snow or specklebelly goose. In timbered areas like the cypress-dotted lake, wood ducks are also plentiful.
Since Beaverdam Lake no longer connects to the Mississippi River, sportsmen can only access it through private property. Beaver Dam Hunting Services operates three blinds in the cypress brakes at the south end of the lake, all on property owned by Boyd’s family. Two of the blinds are wooden structures, while the third is an old pontoon boat that’s been converted into a floating blind. One of the blinds sits on a pothole dubbed "The Cloverleaf Hole," so named by Buckingham himself.
"We respect the other blinds on the lake, so nobody is shooting next to anyone," says Boyd.
Guests can practically hunt Boyd’s spacious blinds in their bedroom slippers. After a very short boat ride, hunters are treated to hot coffee, biscuits and and other treats prepared in the blinds’ kitchen areas.
Beaver Dam Hunting Services also hunts flooded farmland a few miles east of the lake, as well as an old 200-acre fish farm complex in northeastern Tunica County. For hunting the flooded farm fields, bring waders. On a recent trip, we rode all-terrain vehicles as close to the blinds as possible and then walked through water for about 75 yards to reach the blinds.
There are some flooded cypress sloughs on the farm, but having hunted the trees the previous day, we headed to lower end of a flooded field. Raised slightly above the water level to keep us dry, the blind sat adjacent to some inundated buckbrush, willows and other low trees.The brush provided a good backdrop to help hide the blind. In the flooded field, we enjoyed near constant action all morning long. Unlike in the trees where the thick cover restricted visibility, we could see birds coming from a long distance in the field, although some did sneak in on us.
In the more open farm properties, hunters kill a greater variety of ducks than at the lake. The bag might include anything found in the lower Mississippi Flyway. Flooded agricultural fields or moist soil units also attract geese. People frequently see flocks of specklebelly or snow and blue geese flying high overhead. Some Canada geese remain in the area all year long.
"We kill a few specklebelly geese on the lake too, but geese are not naturally drawn to cypress brakes," Boyd says. "They don’t generally like to land in tight areas, but we have shot a few with their feet down and coming in. We kill a fair number of specklebellies on the farm."
While we killed mallards and gadwalls exclusively on the swampy lake the previous day, we bagged a wide range of species during our field hunt, including green-winged teal, pintails and wigeons besides mallards and gadwalls. We even watched geese fly high over us, but they never came low enough for a shot.
Beaver Dam Hunting Services guests can stay in two farmhouses a short distance from the lake. The guide service does not provide meals, but guests can prepare their own in full kitchens at the houses. Visitors can also find lodging, restaurants and other services in Tunica or other nearby towns. Many people eat at the iconic Blue and White Restaurant, which has served sportsmen since 1924.
Nash and his waterfowling friends traditionally headed to the Blue and White for hot food and hotter coffee after a cold winter morning on Beaverdam Lake. Also try the Hollywood Café in nearby Robinsonville.
Do-it-yourselfers can also find numerous public places to hunt waterfowl throughout the Mississippi Delta. Many sportsmen in boat blinds hunt various rivers and lakes where they can stop practically anywhere that will float a boat.
The Yazoo River and its tributaries offer some of the best public waterfowling in the Delta. The Yazoo hits the Mississippi River just north of Vicksburg. A major tributary, the Sunflower River, flows through Sunflower Wildlife Management Area, which is part of the Delta National Forest, about 10 miles east of Rolling Fork. Another good river, the Big Black, flows into the Mississippi about 25 miles south of Vicksburg. Waterfowlers can also hunt several state wildlife management areas and federal refuges.
Not far from Sunflower WMA, Howard Miller WMA, an old rice and soybean farm in Issaquena County, can offer good duck action. About 15 miles north of Vicksburg, Mahannah WMA consists of bottomlands, agriculture fields, reforested hardwoods and impoundments. In the northern Delta, try Muscadine Farms, a reclaimed catfish farm, or Malmaison WMA. Some national wildlife refuges that allow limited duck hunting include Tallahatchie, Mathews Brake and Panther Swamp.
"We manage quite a bit of bottomland hardwood habitat in the state," says Houston Havens, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks waterfowl program coordinator. "Mahannah and Howard Miller usually rank among the highest and best waterfowl harvest areas in Mississippi. We lease out the farming rights every year on Howard Miller. After the crops are harvested, we manage the property as a waterfowl hunting impoundment.
"Mahannah WMA is part of one of the most ecologically intact and biologically diverse bottomland hardwood ecosystems in the Mississippi Delta," continues Havens. "We manage former catfish ponds on Muscadine Farms for shallow-water seasonal waterfowl impoundments. People who like to hunt out of boats can find plenty of opportunities on Malmaison."
While in the area, explore the rich musical, historical and cultural heritage of the Delta by visiting the Tunica Museum and the Gateway to the Blues Museum and Visitors Center. For area information, visit tunicatravel.com.
Whether hunting with a guide or going solo, a Delta duck hunt in the footsteps of a waterfowling legend is sure to be a memorable experience. For season dates, regulations and license information, visit mdwfp.com.