John N. Felsher's Hunting Adventures
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Sportsmen need quick reflexes
to tangle with mallards in timber
Mike Giles, left, and Scott Dickerson waits for more ducks to come
into range while hunting flooded timber near Stuttgart, Ark.
Well before legal shooting hours began, swift, black specters already
whistled through the treetops as we crouched behind the trees in this
On private land adjacent to Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area
near Stuttgart, I hunted with a group of outdoor writers invited by
representatives of War Eagle boats, Ducks Unlimited and Avery outdoor
products. As we leaned against the oaks standing in about a foot of water,
we watched the silhouettes streak across the skies. Before us, an
assortment of Avery decoys invited feathered visitors to this swampy
In the darkness, eight of us arrived at this position by riding over soggy
trails on all-terrain vehicles and spread out into the trees wherever we
could find adequate cover. Normally, hunters arrive at this waterfowl honey
hole in War Eagle flatboats, but extra dry conditions in Arkansas this fall
forced the change in transportation mode. The landowner pumps water
from nearby Bayou Meto to keep this pothole flooded.
As a pink line defined the eastern sky, unseen swamp denizens began
to awaken with all manner of creaks, squeaks and twitters. However, the
shrill squeal of wood ducks or distant quacks of mallards most attracted our
attention. In the darkness, waves of whistling woodies rocketed through the
trees, almost as if guided by radar.
Before first light each morning, woodies fly distinctive and predictable
routes between their feeding and roosting grounds. Sportsmen who can
determine these patterns can find outstanding shooting, if only briefly each
day. Woodies largely vanish before the sun even comes up.
Over our pothole, continuous waves of wood ducks flew just beyond
our range above the treetops. In the dim light, not at all helped by the
overcast conditions or the shadows thrown by the majestic trees, ducks
materialized suddenly and disappeared instantly. When hunting flooded
timbers, sportsmen must recognize and acquire their targets and fire in
Wood ducks seldom decoy well, but they occasionally dip below the
treetops. Some landed in flooded brush not far from our pothole. Wood
ducks don’t often land like other ducks. Going where they want, when they
want, they pick spots in thick cover and crash-land.
As distant booming echoes erupted to mark the start of shooting hours,
a solitary wood duck flew too close to my position. Considered by many
sportsmen the handsomest waterfowl in North America, the drake woody fell
to one shot. After bagging our first kill of the day with one shot, my
excellent marksmanship average very quickly and significantly declined.
After about 20 minutes, the wood duck flight ended with several ready
for the pot, although an occasional pair or flock tantalized us throughout
Mallards usually fly later in the morning. Frequently, they feed in
nearby fields, but return to the forest potholes to rest and hide from
predators. Unlike wood ducks, they prefer to land in more open water
where they can keep watch for danger. Sometimes, they land in open
water and then swim into thick cover, such as flooded brush.
Also unlike wood ducks, mallards often circle a pothole several times,
dropping slightly lower each time, before committing to land. Several of the
better callers in our group “talked” them down. When they commit to land,
mallards often stop over the pothole and begin to “backpedal” as they
helicopter vertically into the decoy spread.
“Cut ’em,” shouted one of the hunters as a flock of mallards descended
into our pothole.
We bagged a few greenheads to go without wood duck harvest. Later,
we missed a drake pintail that made a solo appearance over our spread.
When hunting flooded timber, hunters need to keep alert because
birds can instantly materialize out of nowhere. Hunters standing next to
timber don’t really need blinds, but they should remain quiet and still.
Ducks easily spot movement, but might not see still, camouflaged hunters
using tree trunks or native brush to break up their silhouettes.
Besides movement, ducks can easily see a human face looking up at
them. Therefore, most hunters in flooded timber wear camouflaged face
masks. They also wear brimmed hats that shield their faces. Avoid looking
directly at ducks or making eye contact. Instead, watch them with
peripheral vision. Also, track their movements by their reflections in the