Last Blasts for Ducks

You've got just a few more weeks to get in on the last of the duck hunting in northeastern Oklahoma. Here's where and how to make the most of the time you have left.

By Clay Bell

By the time January rolls around, many Oklahoma hunters have already stowed their equipment away to gather dust for another eight or nine months. They're content to watch football on TV or just to lounge around a warm fire, recalling memories of great hunts gone by.

But those aren't the Sooner hunters interested in some of the best duck hunting of the year. These hardy outdoorsmen are out on their favorite lake or marsh, taking advantage of late ducks that offer both challenge and fulfillment.

In fact, in some years it seems as if the really good flights of ducks don't start showing up until Christmas. Those hunters who give up as the New Year arrives are missing some of the best, albeit coldest, action of the season.

If you'd like to get in on the great action this season, try a few of the places and tips we've put together for you here. It'll sure beat the heck out of watching football!

One note to remember: Be sure to check your waterfowl regulations for open hunting days and areas before heading to the lake or marsh. Some regulations vary by area and from year to year, so it's always wise to know exactly what the rules are before heading afield.

Here are some great places to take ducks now.

Photo by Steve Carpenteri

This lake, just a hop, skip and jump east of the Tulsa metropolitan area, holds a lot of ducks in January and provides good hunting opportunities. You'll typically see a lot of mallards there during the late season, as well as various puddle ducks and big flocks of divers. Many locals prefer working shallow-water areas on the north end of the lake, although, if the weather is really cold, it might be necessary to head for water that's a little more open to avoid the ice.

South and east of Tulsa, Webbers Falls is kind of a sleeper as far as late-season waterfowling is concerned. But that's probably just the type of place you're looking for, right?

While Webbers Falls doesn't hold tremendous numbers of ducks, plenty are available there for a worthwhile hunt. Hunting pressure there tends to be fairly low once January rolls around. If the weather is warm enough to keep the backwaters on the main lakes from icing over, these areas are pretty productive at this time of year. Access is rather limited, but Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation maps can help you get where you need to go.

These two lakes north of Tulsa in the Bartlesville area also are underrated for late-season waterfowling, despite the fact that both offer rewarding hunting throughout the year. Again, duck hunters are going to have to find open water if they want to ply their trade at Hulah and Copan, but during a temperate January, that's generally not a problem. Look for areas with plenty of cover near the banks along the northern shores of both lakes for some pretty fine action. Those accessing their hunting areas by boat must realize that boating is more dangerous during the winter months, and that special care must be taken regarding safety rules at all times.

Our so-called "Gentle Giant," Eufaula, with its duck-stamp marsh areas, is a favorite of many Oklahomans, even drawing large numbers of hunters from the western side of the state. And that's for a good reason: Ducks generally abound at Eufaula. Here, you'd be wise to carry along a few floating goose decoys - both Canadas and snows, if possible. You never know when, between flights of widgeon or mallards, a single goose will come winging its way down your cove, and you certainly want to be ready with calls and decoys if you intend to draw it within shotgun range.

This lake near Ponca City in north-central Oklahoma is another notable late-season duck lake. The best areas at this time of year are on the upper portions of the lake and in backwaters where the Arkansas River enters the lake from the north. Kaw typically gets fairly steady hunting pressure throughout the season, but you should be able to find a good spot with a little legwork. If the weather is extremely cold and the shallow water's frozen, you're going to have to seek out spots with more-open-water to hunt, as that's where ducks typically congregate during harsh cold snaps.

Late-season ducks leery of getting the bejeebers shot out of them every time they try to spend some quality time on a major reservoir can get pretty adept at avoiding people. One of their favorite tactics is to spend more time on small sloughs and backwaters - especially those along major river systems. Consequently, these will be the best places for filling a bag limit of ducks at this time of year.

Don't fret if you flush ducks off the slough when setting up, as they'll likely be back. Also, don't pick up your decoys and leave this type of area too early in the morning, as ducks roosting on major reservoirs will often fly out to feed early and then go to some backwater slough to spend the rest of the morning.

Watershed lakes are prime areas for the same reasons that backwaters and sloughs are promising sites for finding late-season ducks. They feel little hunting pressure, and ducks are seeking out that kind of peace and quiet by the time January rolls around. (Note that most watershed lakes are located on private property, and landowner permission is required for all hunting on private property.)

* * *
Once you've chosen your area for late-season duck hunting, try some of these tips for maximum success.

Since late-season ducks have likely been hunted at least a few times on their journey south, shots at this time of year tend to be a little longer. Going up in shot size - say, from No. 4 steel to No. 3 or even No. 2 - can give you the knockdown power you need at longer ranges.

You'll also be more successful if you beef up your decoy spread somewhat. If you generally put out three or four dozen dekes during the early part of the season, try putting out five or six dozen now. There's safety in numbers, and additional blocks might bring ducks into shotgun range.

In order to be successful, late-season duck hunters must also pay a little more attention to their setups than they might on

opening day and the first couple of weeks of the season. Wary ducks are going to check out every aspect of your spread this time of year, so if a decoy string is wrapped around one's neck or a couple of spent shell casings are lying out in the wide-open and reflecting light, the action is going to be limited.

It's also necessary to pay a lot more attention to your blind and your camouflage. Makeshift blinds that don't do enough to mask silhouette and movement just aren't going to hack it at this time of year. Spend the extra time and expense required to put together a really topnotch blind before your hunt, and it'll pay off in more birds in the game bag.

Late-season hunters also must be sure to dress properly for the time of year. Equipment perfect for late October or early November won't cut it when temperatures fall below freezing and the January winds start sweeping down the plains. Dress extremely warmly, or you'll find yourself doing one of two things pretty quickly: leaving before you're finished hunting or getting dang cold!

One of the ill-advised things that I believe too many late-season hunters do, thus reducing their success severely, is sticking with a bad spot for too long. Don't let three or four flocks of ducks land at that not-so-good-looking place 200 yards down the lake's shore. If one or two seem to prefer visiting there, pack up and move immediately. Don't wait until it's too late and all the shooting opportunity passes.

Above all, savor every moment in the blind, every flight called, every duck called, every retrieve. In a few more weeks, you're going to have to hang up your equipment for that long eight- or nine-month wait. You want to have plenty of good memories to relive while you're biding your time until next season.

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