Wader-clad hunters have everything from ponds to rivers to wide-open water when it comes to duck hunting in Northwest Arkansas.
Squadrons of mallards wing their way over the waiting shotguns of hunters at Beaver Lake. Wood ducks are a challenge on White River backwaters near Fayetteville. No telling what in the world of ducks might circle a spread of decoys at farm ponds that dot the landscape.
Duck season is winding down after being open most days since Nov. 21. Hunting ends at sunset Sunday. Like most seasons, reports from area waters range from a fine season with lots of ducks to fair. Some haven’t fired a shot.
Danny Counts of Fayetteville has enjoyed hunting ducks along the White River in the Goshen area. His yellow Labrador retriever, Pip, has gotten a workout retrieving ducks for Counts and his hunting buddies.
“We’ve had a real good season, real good,” Counts said. The take has been mostly wood ducks and mallards and plenty of them.
There’s been enough cold weather that smaller waters, mainly farm ponds, are frozen lots of mornings. That means ducks seek out ice-free water like the White River.
Counts goes by boat to his hunting spot. He pulls the boat up into the brush, then hunts from a blind along the shore. He deploys a mixture of wood duck and mallard decoys near the blind. When flying ducks eyeball the decoys, Counts hails the flock with one of his hand-made calls. They’re beautiful works of art that bring in the ducks.
Canada goose season runs about the same time as duck season. Counts has added a goose or two to his game bag some mornings.
“This colder weather has really helped. It makes it so all the ponds are frozen early,” Counts said. “This last week of the season we plan to wrap it up with an old fashioned float hunt,” he noted. That involves floating down the river in a canoe that’s camouflaged with brush.
Ducks don’t pay much mind to what appears to be gnarly branches floating on the water. That lets hunters drift within shotgun range before the birds rocket off the water, realizing the jig is up.
Justin Hopper swings a 12 gauge on farm ponds where he has permission to hunt. He’s hunted on the War Eagle arm of Beaver Lake this season and made a hunting trip for speckle-belly geese with his buddies to east Arkansas.
Locally, the hunter from Rogers has killed teal and mergansers. Mallards, for some reason, have been no-shows. Scouting is key to hunting at Beaver Lake. Waterfowl hunting is allowed most places along the public shoreline and islands, except in the parks.
His advice is to cruise the lake in a boat and look for areas that ducks are using and hunt those spots. Pockets with flooded bushes always warrant investigation.
Hopper walks in to hunt at one of his favorite spots on the lake, where he has permission to cross private property. He and his friends backpack in 12 to 18 decoys and set them in shallow water.
“You want to have some kind of motion like a jerk string or a spin-wing decoy,” he said. With a jerk string, a hunter pulls a cord attached to the bottom of a decoy to make it bob and move like the real mallard McCoy. “You just want something that disturbs the water.”
Here in Northwest Arkansas, ducks can be here one day and gone the next.
“There’s just not much for them to eat,” Hopper said. They rest a spell, then move on.
Alan Bland of Rogers frequents the middle portion of Beaver Lake, hunting the shoreline of islands and long points that are loaded with bushes. Results are mixed.
He and his hunting buddy occasionally invite guests along. Bland lets them know they may not even see a duck, or they may bag a limit.
Bland and his friend saw a grand total of two ducks on their most recent morning two weeks ago. Nary a shot was fired.
Enjoying a spectacular sunrise, hot coffee and conversation are worth a 4 a.m. wake-up call.
Easy duck gumbo
Salt and pepper two to six duck breasts. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Chop some onion, bell pepper, okra or any vegetables you like.
Grab a box of gumbo mix, such as Zatarains Gumbo Mix, and cook according to directions. Add the duck meat and vegetables as the gumbo simmers.