Waterfowl in the Flatlands

By Ben Smith:

The sound of the alarm clock startles me. My heart is racing from being abruptly awakened by the annoying ringing as I fumble around to turn it off. It’s still dark outside and will be for another hour and a half. The smell of fresh brewed coffee makes its way down the hall into the guest bedroom at the Float Road hunting camp. As I collect my wits and try to wake up, I notice the house is buzzing with action in the early morning. The rattling of shotgun shells and the tapping of excited dog paws come from multiple rooms.

I finally hop out of the bed and begin to get dressed. I’m not quite as excited as the rest of the house (I’m a terrible morning person), but then again, I don’t really know what to expect. I pull on some waders, grab my gun, and head out the door. Guys are already springing into action outside filling boats with decoys and ushering dogs to side by sides. As excited as everyone seems, nothing matches the level of giddiness that the dogs have. It’s undeniable that they know exactly what is about to happen. It’s time to go duck hunting in the Mississippi Delta.

I pile into my buddy Matt’s side by side along with my cousin, Hunter. Matt has already hooked his boat up and we head toward the sloughs just off of the Yalobusha River. The cold air bites and gets my nose to running as we make our way toward the homemade boat launch. Matt had been concerned about the water levels all week long but seems content with the current stage. He’s been hunting this property for the last few years and has a pretty good idea of what the conditions need to look like in order to have a good duck hunt. For now, he seems confident, and that makes me optimistic.

After a 7-8 minute ride that seemed like an eternity, we arrive at the launch. The moon is full and almost provides enough natural light that you don’t even need a flashlight to see what you’re doing. We launch the boat and pile all of our gear inside. Accompanied by another member of the camp and his dog, the small aluminum boat is surely loaded beyond the suggested capacity. With the glow of the moon above us, and the roar of the long-tail 9.9 horsepower engine behind us, we make our way through the swampy slough at a snail’s pace, often bumping floating limbs and logs along the way. Soon, we pull into a clearing and it’s time to go to work.

Matt turns off the motor and we start setting out decoys. We carefully construct what we hope will appear to be a safe haven for ducks flying overhead looking for a place to catch a break. There are various types of decoys that all mimic natural ducks. Most of them are stationary, but some of them are a little more “high tech”. There’s a breeding pair of mallard decoys attached to a string that goes to some sort of underwater motor that jerks the decoys giving off the appearance of ducks moving. A couple of more decoys are only the bottom half of the duck that bob in the water like the bird is diving. These decoys also have a tube attached to them that spits out water causing ripples. Having never really been on a legitimate duck hunt before, this was all new to me. I couldn’t believe the technology that was being used to lure in these beautiful birds.

 We set up on the banks of the slough and waited for legal shooting time to arrive. As the first signs of sunlight broke the night sky, the whistle of wood ducks filled the air. It wasn’t long after that Matt’s first shotgun blasts ripped through the air. Three shots and two dead wood ducks. Not a bad way to kick off the morning. I stood in amazement at how he killed the first two birds because I felt like every bird that flew by was well past my shooting range before I ever laid eyes on it. The early wood duck flight continued for the next little while and we shot pretty much all of them that gave us an opportunity, which was not too many. Watching Matt stack up ducks was fun, but watching Bedford (the 11 year old black lab) retrieve the ducks was more fun. A seasoned retriever, Bedford’s intense gaze to the sky and the water won me over quickly. The way he took commands from his owner, Daniel, made me ashamed of the job I do as a parent. The dog is absolutely better trained and more obedient than any kid I’ve ever seen.

The morning rocked on, and we shot a few more ducks before the action slowed. We saw plenty of mallards, but none seemed to want to check out our decoys. Daniel kept calling, but they just kept on flying wherever they were headed. Thousands of geese flew overhead, although none low enough to shoot. This continued throughout the entire morning. I heard so many geese during this trip that for the next few days anytime I’d get in a quiet place, I wouldn’t be able to get the sound out of my head.

We eventually packed up the decoys and our strap of ducks and headed back to the camp. I could tell that Matt was a little disappointed with the morning’s results, but I was pretty content with the experience. Other hunters back at the camp had experienced similar mornings with what they deemed average action. But to me, a whole new world had been opened up. I’m always chasing experiences rather than the actual quarry, and this was one I won’t forget anytime soon. The next morning, I was fortunate enough to kill my first ever mallard, even though the action was much slower. I told my wife, much to her dismay, that I could definitely see how someone could get hooked on this very easily. Not having to be completely still and suffering in silence for long hours makes this a great social event. When the action is hot, it’s pretty hard to beat. When the action is slow, you’re still hanging out with buddies so it’s not so bad. Next time that I go, I’ll have a little better understanding of what’s going on…and maybe I’ll be as excited as the dogs are.

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