Lakes and Streams For Missouri Waterfowl
September 30, 2010
Not all of Missouri's best public waterfowl hunting occurs at conservation areas and wildlife management areas. Some of it's found at our lakes, reservoirs and streams.
Waterfowling is - to say the least - an unconventional activity, so it probably goes without saying that waterfowl hunters are unconventional sportsmen. Enduring weather that can send even the heartiest indoors, they'll go to great lengths to get birds into a spread of decoys. Driving it all: the relentless search for ducks.
If you happen to be one of these dedicated duck hunters, you'll recognize the experience that I had while waiting in the "poor-boy line" at a local conservation area last winter. I awoke at an absurd hour that was not less appropriate for a bedtime than for getting a wake-up call. After a lengthy drive through predawn cold and dark, my party pulled into the headquarters at Four Rivers Conservation Area. There I encountered a strange sight - a horde of trucks, trailers laden with duck boats, and grizzled, camo-clad men standing in the dim glow of cab lights from open vehicle doors.
There was a flurry of activity that morning. Before and during the drawing, groups of anxious folks stood around impatiently, waiting on chance; during all the commotion I heard friendly chatter and griping about the ducks salted with a little cussing. Luckily, my group drew a low pill and had the opportunity to hunt that day.
Once in the marsh and settled in for a crisp, cool sunrise, we had nothing to do but to wait for shooting time. In the eye-straining light you could see ducks trading back and forth, and when the clock's minute hand clicked over to legal hours, an unleashing of gunpowder and steel resounded through the area. Only slightly lower in volume was the sound of hunters wailing away at duck calls.
The process repeated itself throughout the day, and between bouts of incessant calling and subsequent volleys, a few fowl might whiz by. Although I managed my share of ducks that day, the high-pressure hunting situation was just not something I looked forward to dealing with again.
The following day I renounced any idea of trying the CA for a second time and instead opted for a hunt that had more potential for ducks and solitude. Setting my sights on hunting at my favorite U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir, I loaded my stuff in the truck and took off.
Photo by GaryKramer.net
That morning I was greeted with a fresh fall of heavy, wet snow. Upon arriving at a familiar arm of the lake that I'd already visited a few times that year, I unloaded my gear and stacked it into the pirogue, which I then dragged down to water's edge. A few minutes of paddling and walking later, I was in a shallow, wind-protected cove. After piling up deadfall for a makeshift blind and laying out the decoys, I sat patiently waiting for legal hours.
And in this case, the minute hand marked the commencement of shooting time without the accompaniment of distant shots, or outlandishly loud calling. The gray morning air carried instead a few rough quacks from a real hen mallard.
It was all mine to enjoy; not another hunter was within range of sight or hearing. With no crowd to witness, I filled my limit that day and stayed an extra few minutes just to watch the ducks. It was the very sort of hunt that waterfowlers yearn for. A flight of ducks would be crossing somewhere in the distance, and after I'd done a little calling, a bunch would break off from the group and lock wings all the way to the decoys.
I've got nothing against Missouri's managed wetlands, but there's something to be said for having your own hotspots on public ground where there are no drawings or reservations.
Luckily, Missourians have plenty of options for chasing ducks outside of managed wetlands. The eastern half of the state boasts a half dozen great spots that can bring in plenty of ducks and still manage to keep other hunters out of sight. That doesn't even cover the wide range of tiny publicly accessible creeks and rivers that can expect flights of ducks to drop in throughout the fall.
TRUMAN LAKE Hardly a hidden hotspot, Truman Lake has been a duck focus for as long as there's been water there. Those who recall the era of short duck limits and hard hunting often speak of days passed on its stained waters. One of several reservoirs on the state that still attracts waves of ducks and has enough water to accommodate masses of hunters and while never getting crowded, the lake's east-central location makes it easy for hunters from Kansas City to Springfield to get there.
Successfully finding the fowl at Truman requires some legwork. A little time spent scouting the ducks will absolutely prove the best means of finding promising spots on the water. Once you find duck-rich areas of lake, it'll take a sizeable decoy spread to convince ducks to commit. A decent-sized blind boat is a practical item for those hunting Truman.
POMME DE TERRE LAKE This has to be one of the most obscure public sites with waterfowling potential. Its waters don't hold the concentrations of ducks seen at some other reservoirs, but that means fewer hunters and pressure-free birds - every waterfowler's dream come true. The lake's waters hold migrating puddlers, and divers can abound.
You'll benefit from the use of a blind boat at Pomme de Terre, but they're not the rule. Often a makeshift blind in the back banks of quiet coves will be all that's needed to hide from the puddle ducks. If divers are the quarry, focus on main lake points, keeping an eye out for ducks wherever grain fields are nearby.
STOCKTON LAKE As lakes go, Stockton is a great source of ducks for the South Zone when the temps are cold. Many of the wetlands that harbor waterfowl during the winter freeze up, which drives the ducks straight to the lake's frigid, clear waters. The mostly-agricultural lands surrounding Stockton furnish the calories needed for the ducks to continue the journey southward. Accordingly, the lake can boast a collection of duck species that's the most diverse I've yet seen in Missouri.
Hunting this lake can be very rewarding. It hosts a solid population of ducks that's usually very easy to find. At dusk they can be seen flying back from feeding, and if you lay out a convincing spread of decoys, they'll often peel off from big groups and swarm your cove. Diver action is also fantastic on the lake, the lower arms providing plenty of long points and narrow passes that give diver hunters a chance to work lots of birds
SAC AND OSAGE RIVERS The drainages of the Sac
and Osage rivers represent an excellent opportunity to find ducks. The Sac River drains from Stockton; the Osage makes its way from the east, and its waters are familiar to ducks that hang out on Four Rivers and Shell Osage. Converging just a few miles east of Osceola to feed into the big waters of Truman, both flows host hot prospects for anyone who wants to set out a riverine decoy rig.
Since these two rivers course between two large bodies of water, ducks can be numerous along their length. The best hunts usually take place in effectively concealed blind boats. If the water's high enough to flood, areas where the water's out of the banks give puddle ducks a place to feed and to rest, and hunters should give such sites serious consideration. When the water's low or normal, ducks typically seek shelter in slower-moving waters and feeder creeks. Exposed gravel bars and riffles are great for finding feeding ducks.
MISSOURI RIVER "The Big Muddy" takes a little extra expertise, but anyone who hunts the Missouri River will tell you that there's nothing like it when the weather is right. The mystique of hunting the big river can get into your blood when you see thousands of mallards swarm a decoy spread just off a sandbar.
The river is a good choice for residents of the Kansas City metro area, as you don't have to go far to be well outside of the city limits and in an agricultural environment. Not only is it close, but its hunting can be magnificent as well. To appreciate the potential of the river properly, you have to be somewhat familiar with it. It takes some scouting, but, more than anything, an informed understanding of the methods for navigating the river will get you where you need to be. Sandbars with shallow and slow water behind them are magnets for all ducks. A decoy rig will usually have to be especially designed to withstand the current, but the additional effort can really pay off, given the huge flights of birds often associated with the river.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has done a laudable job of creating wetlands for ducks and duck hunters. Their draw and reservation system widely distributes the chance to shoot ducks amid the beauties of Missouri's public lands. But managed CAs are not the only places in which to find fowl in the great outdoors of the Show Me State. A little legwork and scouting will reveal to you a lot of places in our state that can yield you a brace of ducks while sparing you too much togetherness with your fellow hunters.
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