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Hunting Ducks in the Midwest Freeze

A planned duck hunting trip to the Midwest was nearly derailed by the Lowcountry snowstorm of 2018. Treacherous driving conditions on secondary roads all around the county made getting ready to go out of town a little more difficult. Learning to walk on ice over the next day or two became a necessity, and little did I know this lesson would be helpful very soon in the Midwest. Driving twelve hours to hunt in Northeast Arkansas revealed that the areas we planned to hunt were frozen over, and we would have to hope for a deep thaw.
Claybird Outfitters near Peach Orchard, Arkansas is run by duck guide Don Farmer. He invited several Field Experts with the Drake Waterfowl Systems company to come and hunt the first weekend of January. Normally this is an ideal time to gather for fellowship and to hunt some ducks. However, the same cold air that brought unprecedented snow to the Lowcountry, was in place over Arkansas all week without rain, causing the entire area to freeze over.
You don’t need to be a Field Expert to know that if migratory ducks don’t have any water to land on, then they will fly South until they do find open water. Migratory geese tend to feed in fields a little more than ducks do, so they are not as affected by icy conditions, but the ducks were scarce during our visit. Guide Don Farmer was keen to put our group on some ducks and organized a walking hunt through the Black River WMA to jump shoot some wood ducks. An afternoon visit to a pit blind in a frozen rice field did not yield any ducks, so the extra efforts to hunt the WMA land were a good call.
A short drive to the Lake Ashbaugh conservation area, 525-acres of prime duck habitat that is not hunted, proved that not all the waterfowl had left the area of NE Arkansas. If I had not seen it with my own eyes I would not have guessed that tens of thousands of ducks were using a single hole of open water at this waterfowl preserve, but that was the case. These ducks had agitated the water in a small area so that the freezing temperatures were unable to close off this area to them. Truly a marvel of nature, these ducks take turns staying in place to swim around while some fly out to dry feed in nearby fields.
With rain in the forecast, which is a surefire way to loosen up areas of frozen ice, we headed into the bootheel of Missouri to hunt ducks in the small town of Gobler. This portion of the Mississippi River delta is flat, and very fertile farming ground. Ricefields and other grainfields stretch as far as the eye can see, and it is prime duck habitat. The local farmers have learned that they can lease pit blinds to avid duck hunters in order to increase and diversify revenue after the harvest. We booked a room at a hunting lodge that was built on farmland not far from where we would hunt.
With the ice frozen about 6-inches thick, our guides had carved out a hole only about 6-feet by 6-feet for us to try to attract the ducks. Decoy spreads and motion decoys are set up on the ice all around the water hole, and the goal is to get any ducks to come land right in the water, or maybe come close enough to shoot at. This system worked well and we were able to harvest a few ducks, although we finished shy of full limit. Hunting conditions were tough, but locals were excited about the coming week of hunting, when lots of melting ice would welcome plentiful amounts of ducks back into their decoy spreads.
We had just missed the thaw that everyone had longed for, but our window to visit was coming to a close, and we did the best we could. Visiting other states to hunt migratory ducks is a hobby for hunters who enjoy the pursuit of waterfowl. Each state can charge a separate hunting license fee, but in general it is quite a blessing to be able to move around and chase the ducks. This trip yielded lots of information that can be applied to future duck hunts to the Midwest, to revisit old hunting grounds and to make new hunting friends. Duck hunting season runs until the end of January in South Carolina, so there is still time to get after some waterfowl back here at home too.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (318 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com