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By Steve McCadams
WATERFOWLERS EMBRACE WARM-UP
The lionís share of duck hunters across West Tennessee have been hoping
for a warm-up to they can a few more days of hunting in before season ends
Since New Yearís Day most watefowlers have battled frigid temperatures and
ice that took command of the hunting situation, prohibiting many of even
reaching their boat launch areas or shallow water blinds.
There have been a few decent days for some hunters who had access to open
water or perhaps had a setup where battery powered or electric driven ice
eaters kept holes open that appealed to desperate ducks searching for food
and open water.
For most hunters it has been tough sledding. Shallow back water blinds
have succumb to thick ice. The weather roller coaster teased hunters with
a day or two of mild weather only to slam dunk them again with a return
visit of the Siberian Express.
Added to the cold temperatures came a bona fide blizzard late last week
that pretty much put the brakes on hunting for most. It got so bad that a
ďwhite outĒ occurred last Friday and sleet mixed with snow lowered the
ceiling to the extent hunters couldnít event see the sky!
With the dramatic change came slick roads that were almost impassable.
Just getting to and from hunt areas put everyone at high risk. Pulling a
boat and trailer on icy roads is not fun.
Since last week the ice man has returned, showing his ugly face and
locking up most popular hunting areas for weary waterfowlers.
At midweek temperatures bottomed out into single digits at night. Daytime
highs never made it above the thawing range so more ice entered the
picture, not to mention more snow.
The good news is that a warming trend is on the way. Temps are expected to
climb out of the cellar and reach the upper 40ís and low 50ís by this
weekend. Sundayís high is forecast to be 57!
there is some relief in sight for worn out waterfowlers who have suffered
from cabin fever and paced the floor these last few weeks. It has been an
abbreviated season for most due to weather.
BIG SANDY BLINDS REOPEN
Since the duck season opened back on November 25 a few blinds in the Big
Sandy Wildlife Management Area have been closed due to a baiting issue.
TWRA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officials closed
off several blinds that were deemed under the flight path of baiting.
Federal regulations require an extending period of closure once the bait
has either been removed or no longer lures waterfowl to a certain locale.
Unfortunately, several innocent blinds were victims of the baiting escaped
by a select few, possibly even an individual.
Waterfowlers there were glad to hear the unit reopened to hunting on
Wednesday of this week.
BAITING VIOLATION DIMS DUCK OPENER AT BIG SANDY WMA
Opening weekend of the stateside duck season was a good one for some, fair
for others and downright awful for a few. Thatís usually the way it goes
across the region once season kicks in as there are always the have and
Mild weather greeting waterfowlers last weekend and has lingered ever
since with above average temperatures, sunny days and light winds
dominating the weather scene. Temps have been in the upper 50ís and low
60ís this week and are expected to last through the second season opener
this Saturday, which isnít what duck hunters wanted to hear.
The extended stretch of mild weather hasnít stimulated any migration so
duck numbers across the region havenít increased much lately since the
initial early push of late fall.
For some hunters at Big Sandy wildlife management area it was a bitter
opening weekend. Law enforcement officials with Tennessee Wildlife
Resources Agency and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed several prime
blinds in the public hunt area after an alert of baiting.
As a result, law enforcement has closed a sector of the WMA until further
notice. Popular blinds numbers in the unit closed to hunting are numbers
5, 9, 10, 11 and 12.
Itís a very unfortunate situation for several blinds who may be innocent
of the violation yet still in the flyway of a baited area under USFWS
guidelines. After all bait is removed the law stipulates the area much be
closed for up to ten days.
The scenario is still under investigation by state and federal agencies.
Meanwhile, other popular public hunt areas such as Camden bottoms, Gin
Creek, West Sandy and Dover bottoms reported fair opening day hunts with
duck diminishing on the second day. A few blinds in West Sandy took limits
of various species but mallard numbers were down.
Gin Creek hunters took several wood ducks and a few ringnecks. Camden
bottom blinds took a mixed bag as well ranging from gadwalls to ringneck,
greenwing teal, canvasbacks and a few mallards and diver species.
The open waters of Kentucky Lake were again without the support of aquatic
vegetation in the shallow bays and flats this year. Without the aquatic
grassbeds the early arriving species such as greenwing teal, gadwall and
mallards have little reason to frequent the area.
Also down were diver species such as less scaup, bufflehead and ringhecks.
As a result the open water shooting was below average.
Further west hunters fared better as the extreme western portion of the
state around Dyersburg and the Whiteís Lake area caught early water from
heavy rains a few weeks ago and were holding good numbers of mallards.
Last year at this time many areas there were in need of water but this
year it was a different story and the sector got off to a good start.
The second segment of season open Saturday for a 58-day straight stretch,
offering waterfowlers a wide window of opportunity.
EARLY DUCK SEASON...
COOL WEATHER COINCIDE
This weekís cool snap arrived right on schedule for Tennesseeís early wood
duck and teal season. The short segment opens Saturday for a short window
of opportunity for waterfowlers wanting to kick-start the winter season.
The season opens each year on the second Saturday of September with the
first five days offering the combo of wood ducks and teal. Another four
days were tacked on a couple of years ago but the additional segment is
Here in the Kentucky Lake area itís hit or miss as to the timing of the
blue-wing teal migration. Blue-wings are the earliest waterfowl to migrate
and head south, blowing through the area in early September on a hit and
In times past both Barkley and Kentucky Lakes attracted a lot of teal and
wood ducks when abundant acres of aquatic vegetation proved quite
attractive as to feeding and resting areas. Unfortunately, the last two
years has seen Eurasian watermilfoil, hydrilla, pondweed and coontail moss
all but disappear.
The various species of aquatic vegetation were not only beneficial to
waterfowl but fish too. Most lakers yearn for the return of grassbeds to
the shallow waters for more reasons than one.
Meanwhile, wood ducks are known to raise throughout Tennessee and the
backwater swamps and sloughs are perfect habitat for woodies. There
numbers seemed to be pretty good but they sometimes linger in areas hard
Some of TWRAís wildlife management areas offer a little activity such as
West Sandy. Reelfoot Lake is also popular for the early wood duck and teal
season as the shallow lily pad infested backwaters appeal to teal and
Tennesseeís early season will be wood duck/teal September 9 through
September 13, then teal only September 14 through September17. Shooting
hours are one half hour before sunrise until sunset.
The limit is six ducks, but no more than two of the six may be wood ducks
during the September 9 through September 13 segment of the season.
Tennessee residents must have either a Lifetime or Sportsman license or
the Hunting and Fishing Combination license and a State waterfowl license.
Nonresidents are required to have the appropriate nonresident license.
Youths 13 through 15 years of age must have a Junior Hunting license but
are not required to have a State Waterfowl license. All hunters, sixteen
years old and older, must have a Federal Migratory Waterfowl Stamp. All
hunters born on or after January 1, 1969 must possess proof that they have
successfully completed a hunter education course.
All migratory bird hunters (resident and nonresident) age 13-64 are
required to have the Tennessee Migratory Bird Permit. This permit is
available anywhere hunting and fishing licenses are sold.
The early season is a great time to introduce a novice hunter to the sport
and put a little polish on a new retriever pup.
BIG DAY FOR BIG SANDYÖDUCK BLIND DRAW
On an average summer day the population of Big Sandy is 513. That number
will quadruple every year on the first Saturday in August when the annual
drawing day for duck blinds returns.
Parking is a premium. Traffic jams occur too.
Most of the visitors are dressed in camouflage, toting lawn chairs or even
sporting a small tent to erect around the city park lot to hide from a
Itís quite a spectacle. Dogs are there too, walking along with their
masters and viewing the sights. See and be seen. Swap a few tales beneath
the shade trees about seasons come and gone.
Far away are cold crisp mornings when duck hunters rise early in hopes of
seeing ducks descending from the high heavens. Right now itís hot and
humid but that doesnít curtail the level of interest for this army of
waterfowlers hoping to hear their name drawn.
Odds of hearing your name are about like winning the lottery. Yet all who
show up are more than willing to face the odds. Itís just part of the
Last year over 2,400 entered the drawing at Big Sandy where about 76
blinds are offered in Camden Bottoms, Gin Creek, Harmonís Creek and Big
Sandy. All units are under Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency management
and officially referred to as wildlife management areas.
Elsewhere across the state waterfowlers are flocking to different
locations depending on the geographic location of the wildlife management
area. Locally, a drawing will be held at Henry County Fairgrounds for a
few blinds offered in West Sandy WMA. Some 241 showed up for it last year,
where 42 blind sites are up for grabs.
Over at Dover Bottoms WMA on Lake Barkley there were 1,084 registered in
the draw for a small number of blinds. Other popular units across West
Tennessee will have drawings such as Tigrett at Dyersburg Fairgrounds,
Reelfoot Lake at the Reelfoot Lake State Park and Gooch at Obion City
Park, just to name a few.
Registration will held from 7-10 a.m. Drawings begin at 10 a.m. on all
units. A list of WMAs and drawing locations across the state are posted at
While always popular, local waterfowlers got some bad news a few weeks ago
when corn crops planted in several units fell victim to flooding. High
water from Kentucky and Barkley Lakes encroached in lowlands areas,
inundating freshly planted crops planned for wintering waterfowl.
The agency has been busy planting millet in place of the corn as it will
be too late to attempt another corn crop in most areas are low elevation
and vulnerable to flooding. Each year it is somewhat of a gamble on the
planting and Mother Natureís wrath.
As a result of the crop situation fewer people could enter the draw this
year. No one really knows that for sure but in times past when catastrophe
struck, fewer hunters showed up to participate knowing the season ahead
might be tough due to a lack of food in the popular hunt areas.
Ducks flock to the flooded food during cold times, luring both hunters and
waterfowl to the areas. Without food, odds are duck use will diminish.
Meanwhile, seems the enthusiasm level is always pretty high regardless of
what happens during the planting season. A lot of folks just donít have a
place to hunt so they hope to get a blind for the season.
Others hope to get a blind and then sell it off to someone who didnít get
drawn. Not supposed to do that, says TWRA regulations, but it does happen
so that further adds to the swelling numbers entering the draw.
Concessions and waterfowl related displays are all part of the festivity
too. The Paris-Henry County Ducks Unlimited Chapter will again host the
Kentucky Lake Waterfowl Festival in conjunction with the draw so lots of
services and products targeted to waterfowlers will be on display.
Hunters are reminded to have the appropriate licenses and permits in
possession before entering the drawings. Licenses are not sold on
While hand drawings will be held for the majority of the locations, a
computerized drawing system will be used for blind sites on Bogota and
Thorny Cypress Wildlife Management Areas in Dyer County, Gooch Unit E,
Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, White Oak (Lebanon Pond area in Hardin
County) and the four units on the Chickamauga WMA (Candies Creek, Johnson
Bottoms, Rogers Creek, and Yellow Creek) will again be conducted for this
season. The application period is Sept. 6-27 for these areas.
While the computerized drawings might suite some folks, thereís nothing
like showing up to one of these events and sharing hunting stories about
the forthcoming season with some of your buddies.
It is indeed a sight for sore eyes!
SEASON A GAMBLE FOR TEAL AND WOOD DUCKS
You could say waterfowlers hoping to catch the early migration of
blue-wing teal passing through Tennessee are rolling the dice.
Itís always a gamble when the wood duck and teal seasons open as the
window of opportunity is short. Teal blow through like the pass of an
Amtrak Train; fast and somewhat of a blurr as they go by.
Each year duck hunters get the opportunity to jump start the regular
season by making a few early escapades to the backwater swamps and sloughs
once the September seasons roll around. Short and sweet pretty much sums
The five day wood duck and teal combo opens Saturday. Hunters are allowed
six ducks but not more than two can be woodies.
After the five day combo thereís an additional four days tagged on the end
for a teal only segment. And, the early season on geese is still underway
too but draws to a close on Thursday, September 15.
Hunters are hoping for a cool snap that might trigger the migration of
teal. Known to push through the region quickly, a little weather change
can make or break the short season. Without it, empty skies could be the
lack of aquatic vegetation this year along Kentucky Lake is cause for
concern among the ranks. Wood ducks and teal thrive on the vegetation as a
good food source. The other microscopic morsels found within the weedbeds
are also attractants.
For some strange reason the grassbeds never materialized along the
backwaters of Kentucky Lake this year. Shallow flats and island rims in
times past have been clogged with various aquatics such as pondweed,
coontail moss, duckweed, hydrilla and milfoil that benefitted both
fishermen and waterfowlers.
Both have been disappointed in the lack of grassbeds this summer. Most
wonder why the grass did not return. Some say the high water last winter
washed a lot of it out. Others wonder if some agency has sprayed it but
thereís nothing to indicate anything other than an unusual twist of Mother
Nature as to its demise.
few swamps and back water areas scattered across West Tennessee usually
harbor decent broods of wood ducks but sightings along the main lake
itself this year are down dramatically.
Reasons for a decline in wood duck hatches and recruitment are somewhat
disturbing as well. However, wood duck reproduction is dynamic and varies
from year to year. Weather and water conditions have a lot of influence
throughout the spring and early summer as to recruitment.
Meanwhile the early season is always special and enjoyable to some in the
waterfowling community who love the chance to head out to the marshes and
share another sunrise with friends and future duck hunters.
Itís a great time to introduce a youngster to the sport. Itís not too cold
and itís not really an all morning affair.
The early season is also a good time to help put polish on the pup. From
veteran dogs that havenít been in a hunting scenario since last winter to
a new pup experiencing it all and going through the motions for the first
time, this early season offers a little on the job training for all
you plan to participate make sure all hunters age 16 and over in the party
have their Federal Duck Stamp. And, donít forget to pick up the Tennessee
Migratory Bird Permit too.
Empty the buckets of all dove shells too as no lead shot is allowed in
your coat or buckets while waterfowl hunting.
The early season will also test your hip boots or waders for leaks, not to
mention stubborn flashlights. Will the boat motor still run and are the
running lights working properly?
Itís a shakedown for sure in the wee hours of the morning. A lot of time
and effort which the ducks donít always appreciate!
DUCK HEAVEN OVER A HIGDONíS DECOY SPREAD
Build it and they will come. Ducks that is from the high heavens
descending rapidly. Wings cupped.
Like meteors the formation of distant specks fall from the sky, banking
downwind on one final approach, hovering over the massive decoy spread
showing no signs of indecision.
Dancing in the backwater of a Ballard County Kentucky pond are some
800---yes 800 of them---of the most beautiful decoys Iíd every hunted
over. In my 55 years of waterfowling it was the biggest spread Iíd every
Super magnum size greenheads with the unique non-glare flocked heads
looked real indeed. Apparently the wild ducks flogging our pothole in the
backwaters surrounded by a few cypress and tupelo gum trees thought so
They were clearly convinced a bunch of other ducks had located a buffet,
inviting them to the table. Darting in a unique path were several drake
and hen decoys swimming throughout the spread. Tied to a system of pulleys
on a contraption built right here in Paris called The Duck Thang, movement
added realism to an already great looking layout.
Elsewhere in the hole were Higdonís Splasher Flasher, an upright decoy
flapping its wings. Feeder butts were also nearby, feet peddling and
shooting water up as though a duck was scrounging the bottom for morsels.
Their Pulsator style feeding duck also emitted a small wake throughout the
area as a powered bilge pump timer set to go on and off with a split
second delay further accented the layout. Tied to a dunking machine were
eight more, stopping and starting just the way puddle ducks would do.
It was indeed decoy heaven on earth. Several species were represented
throughout the gathering such as greenwing teal, black ducks, widgeon and
an occasional redhead. Dominating the decoy convention however were
handsome foam filled drake mallards that stood out and mimicked a real one
about as close as Iíve ever seen.
As a cold dark morningís darkness lost its grip, Brooke Richard, a young
contest caller whispered ďduck, duck, duckĒ as he uttered a feed call.
After a few notes of the waterfowlerís national anthem, the big mallard
winged smack dab in front of the blind about 35 yards away.
One shot and the duck splashed. The zero was gone off the blind and our
group of five hunters grunted with success. What a way to start the
Any day in the duck blind is a good one. Yet today was even more special
for me. I donít often stray from my Tennessee blinds and venture to
distant lands due to the demands of guiding. Seems thereís always
something that needs attention but today was different.
Thanks to an invitation from Ben Higdon, co-owner of the Paducah based
Higdon Decoy Company, I was taking a busmanís holiday. Sharing the sunrise
were Paducahís Drew Gray and Benís dad Mark, who founded the famous decoy
company some 15 years or so ago.
Nestled in the swamps not far from the confluence of the Ohio and mighty
Mississippi Rivers is where we scanned the skies, searching for meandering
flocks of ducks on this brisk December morning.
Not much wind but we didnít need it; the motion within our pothole decoy
spread made it look like live ducks were on a feeding frenzy. There were
about a hundred motion decoys at work.
Within an hour we were approaching double figures as straps supporting our
bounty hung high in the blind right behind our individual shooting stalls.
Ben wrestled up bacon, sausage and eggs from a separate room where a
kitchen and heated area made it feel like home away from home.
Iíd like to think our calling techniques helped fool the fowl, changing
their flight paths and grabbing their attention toward our little corning
of the world. No doubt it was a factor but at times weíd just look up and
find ducks already falling out from high altitudes toward our huge display
of plastic Judas floaters.
Our little symphony sounded pretty good. Hail calls screamed at high ducks
and fell soft and raspy when the fowl responded, swinging cautiously as
they window shopped at times.
Brooke loved to call speckle belly geese having guided some in both
Arkansas and Louisiana but his talents on the duck call had earned him
contest titles. He was now developing Hidgonís new venture into the
waterfowl call business, working with Union Cityís World Champion Goose
Caller Kelly Powers.
Complementing our morning was the companionship of a well-mannered black
Labrador named ďJudgeĒ. Dogs add another dimension to any hunt and Judge
lived up to his breedís reputation.
Creeping through the treetops were rays of sunshine that accented the
decoy spread. Most veteran waterfowlers know a little sunshine works in
your favor, adding light to the dark confines of dawn and helping draw
attention to decoy spreads that cloudy, foggy days just donít do.
Five gadwalls made a rapid descent and almost slipped by us before two
swings put them down and dirty over this early morning decoy Mecca. A
rapid volley proved lethal. No survivors. A few high fives followed as
Judge splashed his navigational route through the blocks.
Gadwalls are known for their uncertainty at times. Often illusive and
skittish, this bunch came in like they had leg irons on. No flaring. Up
close and personal.
Sharing stories with Mark had me going back in time and talking about old
hunters and duck and goose blinds come and gone.
Once a popular destination for Canada geese, Ballard County was like the
rest of the world south of the Mason-Dixon Line; geese no longer migrated
south to the area and famous hunt clubs had either vanished or switched
over to duck hunting.
By mid-morning our tally stood at 16 ducks with a couple still in the
weeds somewhere. To me it was a successful hunt before we ever fired a
shot. I stood in awe most of the morning after falling under the spell of
the decoy spread.
Having hunted ducks and geese throughout the flyway all the way from
Canada to Louisiana, Iíd seen my share of decoy layouts, pits and blinds.
It was my first time to shoot over such an impressive array.
Any waterfowler suiting up over such a spread would have confidence. All
thatís needed were ducks in the air.
Before midday our outing fell prey to father time. After shooting photos
and making new friends the duck party ended but not before more pleasant
memories were filed.
Duck seasons bring folks together, establishing new acquaintances out in
Godís garden of frosty mornings, muddy boots and endless stories within
the confines of a camouflage duck blind. Bagging a few ducks was just a
Steve McCadams is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing
area. He has also contributed many outdoor oriented articles to
various national publications.