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Hunting Ducks in Forked Deer River Bottom, West Tennessee

Duck hunters ready for West Tennessee mallards to drop in the ‘Ol Hole.

Traveling to hunt ducks in the Mississippi Flyway requires many hours of drive time from the Lowcountry, with the destination operating on Central time. Willow Tail Farms in Dyer, Tennessee, offer a family-owned operation for hunting ducks in flooded bottomland timber. Located above Memphis and just shy of the fabled duck hunting waters of Reelfoot Lake, the nuts and bolts of the area they own ensure that classic duck habitat and proper water control come standard with every hunt.
A big plus for 2020 is the brand new hunting lodge at Willow Tail Farm, a two-story metal building that is finished inside with eye-popping ponderosa pine wood. The lodge features eight comfortable rooms with two beds each and a bathroom with a sliding barn door. An open design kitchen area allows the home-cooked meals to spread out on the dining table in full view of the adjacent living room area and a big-screen TV for end of day fellowship. Dining on barbecue and grits for supper underscores the southern fare served here.
Head guide Ryan Fisher is the point man for booking hunts, orchestrating multiple hunt parties, and for striving to provide more value to the hunt than simply pulling the trigger. Fisher also operates as a fishing guide in Montana during the summer, and his brother Doug Fisher oversees the day to day operations back at the farm, including the new lodge construction project. To reach the Willow Tail Lodge, call 731-431-7627 or visit WillowTailFarm.com on the Internet.
“We have been guiding hunts here since 2011, and we continue to invest in full-service facilities for future hunt endeavors,” said Ryan Fisher. “We welcome small hunt parties, and we can accommodate up to 50 hunters at peak times. We give back to the community by hosting Special Operations Excursions each year, where a local organizer brings active-duty special operations, troops, to come hunt ducks with us.”
After visiting with both Fisher brothers, you get the impression that this is a locally grown outfit. Their Uncle Ronald Striker came up with the Willow Tail Farm name for the naturally occurring willow trees and cattails found here. Local taxidermist Ryan Scearce is their life-long friend and hunting buddy. Guide Jeremy Sanders is a local boy, and even the blind design and the Duck Thang decoy rigs they utilize are both native to Western Tennessee.
For those interested in history, the Forked Deer River offers a lengthy timeline. Concerning local vernacular, this is pronounced the Fork’ED Deer River. This historically navigable river is also in the shadow of Davy Crockett and his legendary hunting adventures before the outdoorsman went on to represent Tennessee in Congress. Fast forward to present times, and the Forked Deer River area received much-needed restoration work to the levees in the 1990’s thanks to Ducks Unlimited.
A morning of duck hunting requires an early rise to gather hunting supplies and to put on waders in the mudroom located at the new lodge. The blinds are close to the lodge and only a brief shuttle plan is required. For Day One, we hunted in the Big Cypress blind, a duck hunting hole that has been described as the coliseum for the surrounding timber. An intricate system of motion decoys and regular duck decoys fills the entire hole in hopes of attracting ducks.
Rainy conditions and even the threat of severe weather had swamp water levels on the rise. Now and then a group of mallards would circle the hole and listen to the duck calls, but were not necessarily wanting to put their feet down in the brown muddy water. Pass shooting for mallards and green-winged teal was our best hunt option as we waited for other ducks to arrive. A highlight of any hunt at Willow Tail Farm is dining in the blind using their Camp Chef griddles and on this occasion, we ate cheeseburgers for lunch. The wind increased and the temperature dropped but the end of legal shooting time sent us back to the lodge, but with high hopes for the next morning of hunting.
Snow flurries at dawn greeted the hunters, in what was just the latest twist in the changing weather. Our hunt party combined with a group of and the down from Virginia and we went to the ‘Ol Hole duck blind, providing a larger area of water and an even larger decoy spread. We had two guides in the blind, and a black lab named Rory to retrieve the ducks. An assistant guide named Garrett Cross from Kentucky was stationed outside the blind in a kayak to assist in decoy maintenance. All movement, chatter and lighting were stopped five minutes before legal shooting time in preparation for the hunt.
The first shot could be heard behind the blind in an area closer to the Mississippi River, but we had ducks pitching into the ‘Ol Hole soon after. Wood ducks buzzed the treetops giving their telltale squeal. A pair of green-winged teal circled and then dropped into shooting range, and guide Ryan Fisher issued the command to Take ‘Em. This same scenario repeated several times and thanks to the good shooting of the Virginians, a slew of Tennessee ducks were retrieved. Cooking in the blind for breakfast included sausage biscuits served with bacon, hashbrowns and hot coffee. It’s a fact that the camaraderie in the blind always picks up around ensure, and Willow Tail Farm aims to keep the hunters happy.
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis
Jeff Dennis, Contributor (386 Posts)

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