As we know, I am a hardcore water fowler, mostly shooting big greater Canadian geese in the western portion of the central flyway in corn and wheat fields of eastern Montana. I caught the bug in 2010 when one of my brothers Chance Hill talked me into joining him in a corn field layout blind honker shoot. In Eastern Montana we do have a decent amount of ducks as well, early season piles of teal and wood ducks with the occasional mallards here and there. During the migration, we got flooded with mallards as well as golden eyes with few other odd balls on the Yellowstone River. Whereas the Missouri is usually the river covered in ducks. So I have mainly stuck to goose hunting the fields.
This spring I was guiding turkey hunts in Southeast Montana for an outfit located near Broadus. There, I got my first group of hunters, Brett and Oliver, from South Carolina were slated to kill some Toms with me in the morning. We had an outstanding shoot, four mature Merriam Toms down by 7:30am. Tagged Out. So as many of you know, hunting camp for us is 25% the hunt and 75% memories and camaraderie with new and old friends. In the midst of conversations, friendly banter and the occasional tall tale, waterfowl got brought up as a main topic for discussion. Before Oliver had left, he offered a potential invite for me to come down to Arkansas and join him at the club he is a member of and shoot some ducks in the rice fields. Throughout the hunting remainder of the season summer and into the fall we stayed in touch, and come October the formal invite was on the table. I worked things around for about a month and decided I could make it happen January of 2017.
As I boarded my plane January 18th I had no idea what to expect. I had never been to the south to hunt and wasn’t the most experienced duck hunter. When I went to college in Minnesota I hunted the marshes in the north about three times a week with buddies but nothing like this. My flight was a split, Rapid City SD to Dallas Fort Worth and into Memphis where Oliver was meeting me to drive the rest of the trip to the club. After a 7 hour delay due to weather in Rapid City I found myself not able to make the connection in DFW and was put up in a motel until 10am on the 19th by American Airlines. Convinced I was going to lose a day of hunting I wasn’t happy at all, but contacted Oliver and we worked out transportation for the following day from Memphis. Little did I know, it was only going to take an hour…
Oliver picked me up from Memphis around noon and we busted straight to the club. By the time I had got my bags packed into the lodge Oliver had an extra set of waders ready for me and off we went to the fields. We set up lay out blinds on legs that kept us just above the water and when we got the spread set. Let me tell you, I thought I knew what a teal shoot was until that night. Only about 45 minutes left of shooting light and the first duck to drop was a bucket lister of mine, top of the list in fact. There laid a dead bull sprig. Beautiful pintail drake and man was I ready for more, that’s when it happened. Waves of teal, wave after wave, ducking, diving, turning, flipping and flying at speeds it was difficult for to identify drakes from hens with so many at first. My shooting was sub-par to say the least, a box of shells and my 6 dead ducks Oliver and Mr. Tom had piled up 12 between their 2 limits and probably only shot a box between them, but what a blast. As we loaded the strap with our 3 limits I was still in awe of the beauty of the flooded rice fields and how I had been welcomed to Arkansas.
Day 2 began with a sunrise that will forever be held in my top 5. Cloudy morning, chilled tempts, ducks talking on the roosts, waiting for that magic time you can finally give them a steady diet of 2’s and 3’s. The sun seemed to peak through the cloud at the twilight as if it were to be saying. “Okay boys, it’s time.” It appeared picture perfect as it reflected perfectly off of the spinning wings of the mojo mallard placed in the kill hole, though the picture I took is one framed now in my house. It will never do it justice as many pictures never will, it is why we grind. It is why we get out of bed to watch the sun come up, that is why we do this. Moments later my first gadwall drake dumped into the deeks as if you couldn’t have set him up any prettier. It was time to go, game on boys. Take em! Oliver, Mr. Tom and I piled up 18 ducks in the matter of an hour. Gadwall, teal, mallards, a few shovlers and even a pretty bull pinny decided to do it right and worked on it, only to end up going back to Montana later on for he will forever grace my wall. Now some of you may say shovlers?? Well, we don’t discriminate here on ducks and as Mr. Tom calls them, “The Lesser Greenhead.”
Day 3, was on a Saturday and we had a few more members around the club so we all decided in the morning where everyone was going. Back to the layout blinds Oliver and I elected as it was only him and I hunting together now. The morning started off with ringing of gunshots, not from us but surrounding properties which is rather uncommon down there but to me was something completely new for a waterfowl hunt. I made the comment how it reminded me of opener of antelope season. In about an hour we had scratched out 6 ducks, 3 each and had 3 more each to go and switch blinds. There was a pit that was open where we were done in about 30 minutes. Having the entire day to just hang out we decided to go check out Mack’s Prairie Wings just down the road from the club. Enjoying the world famous waterfowl store I couldn’t help but realize how lucky I am and truly blessed to do the things I do and meet the people I have.
Day 4, Sunday was the day I had really started to settle in, I had the daily rituals down. Wake up, brush my teeth talk a bit head to the pickup, stop at the gas station grab a biscuit. You know, the things need to shoot ducks. But I had finally figured out shooting teals. Going from shooting big greater geese to screamin’ teals was quite the adjustment! The morning started off hot! Teals and gadwalls were dumping into the deeks right outside of the pit right before shooting light and having to let them go. Finally… 6:41 time to go, time to shoot! 3 Greenwing drakes spread wings and dropped the air brakes, 3 shots, 3 dead ducks. Next to fall was a beautiful greenhead and that’s when it started to slow down. Nothing had even flown by in about a half hour and weather was moving in. Taking shifts watching out of the pits, we got to talking and then that’s when we heard it. A massive group of greenwings buzzed right over the top of the blind 60 plus teals banked right into the kill hole! 6 shots, 8 dead teals. Limited out before the rain!
My final day in the rice field heartlands. The morning started off as usual, had our pit picked the night before but the difference was, no had hunted this pit the day prior so it had a day of resting. The temps had dropped from 60 degrees down to a cool 30 at night and in the morning heading to the blind wasn’t over 40. We could hear constant ducks on the way out on their roosts. We knew birds had moved back in with the wind also switching from 4 days of a south wind to a north. As usual, the teal were buzzing early and we had to let them go. First duck shot was a big old greenhead, lighted perfect right in the hard core decoys. After that man was it fast with teals, we decided we were only going to harvest drakes that day with the number of ducks in the area. A single and several doubles had us up to 6 ducks in 10 minutes. That’s when another monster group of teal come on down and did it right! Six shots six dead teal drakes. While picking up decoys we had constant waves of mallards working and I’ve never witnessed ducks like that but was happy I got the chance to shoot plumed teals whereas at home all we ever get are early still brown birds. Some would have held off for those big puddle ducks, but we decided we were going to just enjoy the quick 22 minute shoot and get me back to the airport to fly home on time.
Arkansas was a trip I’ll never forget. Some of the people I met including club members and the owner of the farm were some of the best people I’ve ever met. I won’t be able to thank my buddy Oliver enough for the hunt but I sure hope he had as good of time in Montana as I did there. I am 406 till I die and nothing will ever change that but hunts like this in my opinion are very great tools to add in your arsenal. I already know I am a better waterfowl hunter from what those boys taught me and I can’t wait to implement it up here. This sparked what I hope turns into an annual thing, or well an annual hunt in a southern state every January for I already have a hunt in California lined up for fowl on the delta come January 2018.