January 31, 2021
All across the continent, duck and goose hunters can find plenty of water and mud at waterfowling hotspots ranging from seasonal wetlands in the Duck Factory’s Prairie Pothole breeding grounds to flooded timber flats and rice fields in eastern Arkansas to windswept reservoirs in the upper Midwest’s corn country and even cattle stock tanks deep in the heart of Texas.
But one place that a duck hunter ordinarily wouldn’t expect to find a serious supply of mud bath possibilities might be in a southern Oklahoma pecan tree bottom, a spot where a rancher might ride by on horseback or a Hollywood movie crew might be setting up to film a cowboy western.
But when there’s a Super El Nino in town, even the dusty southern Great Plains can go awash in the muck and mire created by record rainfall that pushed regional reservoirs over their spillways and turned wet spots into duck hunting honey holes, even in a land better known for twisters and tumbleweed.
It was only a couple of years ago that I found myself pondering such a predicament as Dakota Stowers, the head man for a successful outfitting service in the Red River Valley region of northern Texas and southern Oklahoma, piloted a Can-Am vehicle through muddy waters deep enough to sink a four-wheel-drive pickup truck.
A couple of days later, after an all-night rainstorm with temperatures hovering near 40 degrees, we tried to do just that while racing the flooding created when a nearby creek spilled over its banks and swamped the only road out of camp.
But before that rain-swollen adventure of trying to sink a truck, we had already tried to sink a handful of Can-Am hunting rigs, loaded down with hunters, dogs, shotguns, and a pile of decoys. We couldn’t do that either as the UTVs got us out of camp, to the duck blinds, and back to camp again, usually with plenty of late-season ducks to clean.
On that trip near Waurika, Okla., a sleepy farm community where Stowers and his guides have learned how to run a highly successful waterfowl hunting operation each fall, I learned a few tricks of my own about late-season duck hunting…even when the weather is almost too wet for a duck.
One of the biggest tricks in finding your way to a late-season limit is to do what Stowers does, spending as much or even more time scouting than he actually does sitting in a blind calling at ducks. In fact, the young guide in his 20s values such daily afternoon scouting missions so much that he put more than 35,000 miles on a brand-new truck last season in only a few months’ time!
He learned this guide trick from a late Mossy Oak pro-staffer named J.J. Kent, a very successful North Texas guide in his own right who believed in putting crazy mileage on his truck every season in the constant search for new water swarming with ducks.
Kent believed such efforts were necessary to keep putting clients on limit or near-limit shoots, and now, so does Stowers.
“Yeah, J.J taught me well – if you want to have good duck hunts in the morning, you had better find them the afternoon before,” said Stowers. “You can get lucky once in a while by going in cold to a blind, but the best hunts almost always come after hard work and plenty of scouting the afternoon before.”
If you have more than one hunting spot at your disposal, keep that thought in mind, and if possible, scout a day or two before you hunt to find the duck hunting hole with the best prospects for your next outing.
Sometimes, such scouting isn’t on a highway in a pickup truck, it’s from a boat seat or the front seat of a UTV hunting rig like the Can-Am Defender Max XMR. The basic rig comes with an 82-hp Rotax 976 V-twin liquid-cooled engine, a six-person carrying capacity, 4,500-lb. winches on the front and the rear, and all kinds of off-road driving possibilities no matter what conditions you’re facing on your next duck hunt.
For one fortunate waterfowl hunter out there this year, there’s the chance for an even greater Defender Max XMR to carry out into the field and back. That will come thanks to a special build between Can-Am and several other partners in a brilliant effort to create the world’s ultimate waterfowl hunting vehicle.
This specialty vehicle has numerous accessories and upgrades added into the base model, creating a unique, one-of-a-kind rig that will be raffled off this summer at the inaugural Ducks Unlimited Expo, currently scheduled from June 25-27, 2021, at the Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth, Texas.
Details on the raffle for this one-time special build are still in the works due to the ongoing coronavirus response, but the plan is to sell tickets to consumers in the Exhibitor Village at the DU Expo where a winner will be announced on the event’s final day. For more info, visit: www.duckexpo.com
For owners of a Can-Am Defender Max XMR, either the base model or something tricked out a little more like the raffle giveaway mentioned above, the UTV will come in handy on a hunt like the one I found myself on in a flooded Oklahoma pecan bottom a couple of years ago.
Stowers had used his Can-Am rig to find a virtual duck hunter’s heaven while riding around on a big farm he typically used in the chase for wild hogs and big Sooner State whitetails. As he drove around, the young guide kept seeing mallards, wood ducks, and gadwalls fly down the creek bottom, cup their wings, and suddenly drop below the trees with little hesitation.
Upon closer inspection, it was obvious why. What had been a random wet spot that occasionally produced a few wood ducks was now a flooded, muddy swamp dotted with tufts of flooded grass, seeds from native plants, and of course, a few pecans bobbing on the water.
A few days later, after I got to a writer’s camp in time to join the duck shoot with Sure-Shot Game Calls head man Charlie Holder and several other members of the nation’s duck hunting media, Stowers forecast a memorable hunt over a fried catfish dinner. His scouting chores had found the ducks and he reasoned that adjusting the size of our late season decoy spread downward and toning down our calling efforts should be the final ingredients to a memorable late season hunt.
That next morning was memorable indeed, thanks in great part to the ability of our Can-Am rigs to get us deep into an Oklahoma pecan swamp, exactly where the local ducks wanted to be. While we didn’t end up getting full limits that next morning — we had a sizable group of hunters and there was a LOT of water around for these heavy-pressured late-season birds to go to — we did have a great duck shoot for some high-quality birds destined for the dinner table.
Nor did we get a limit the next morning either, thanks to a powerful “Blue Norther” cold front straight from the Arctic, a sudden windstorm that caused every bird in the area to sit tight less than an hour after shooting time began. But such is duck hunting, right?
Before the hunt was through, we did get enough shooting to put some good eating birds on the duck strap, get plenty of good photographs for magazine and Internet stories, and have a hunt that we all still talk about.
And that includes how valuable our Can-Am rigs proved to be, vehicles that got us through some of the soupiest conditions imaginable, to a spot where we could experience the overhead whisper of wings yet again.
From the start of our early morning journeys through a muddy pecan bottom to the subsequent pickup of decoys and gear later in the day, there was much to like about being a duck hunter riding around in a Can-Am.
Especially when you find yourself heading back to camp with a limit of ducks to clean, a big smile on your face thanks to the morning hunt, and the prospects of a hot shower and a quick nap, all before lunch.