By Kevin Tate
Ducks heading south look for water that’s not too deep and not too shallow at feeding time, and steps can be taken now to help make your favorite spot just right this fall.
“If you think about how big a duck is, he just wants to tip up and feed off the bottom,” Alicia Wiseman, with Ducks Unlimited, said. “A lot of people try to keep the water in their duck impoundments knee deep or deeper and that’s too deep.”
Ducks can dive and swim down to feed in deeper water, of course, but they’ll take an easy meal over a difficult one any time. The easier you make it, the more readily they’ll use it.
Steps can be taken similar to those land managers use for holding and growing deer, steps that will help harbor migrating waterfowl, provide hunting opportunities and support the resource at the same time. Those who own or manage land in low-lying areas with access to creeks can do a great deal to encourage ducks through the winter, and it starts with maintaining the status quo.
“If it’s land they can control the water on, one of the most important things they can do is to keep the land in grasses before it grows up into trees,” Wiseman said. Mowing or discing keeps otherwise fallow land from turning into sweet gum thickets. Land managers can choose from any number of plantings for ducks to use, but first they should investigate what’s given to growing there already.
“It’s amazing what’s in the ground naturally,” Wiseman said, “so if people would just encourage the natural vegetation, they can get great duck food at almost no cost to them. It’s a little bit late to plant now, though, so the best thing to do at this point is to get ready to hold water.”
Not too deep
Often, low levees cut with flashboard risers may be all it takes to hold water on a shallow impoundment that can become a private haven for ducks. The birds will find and use any area that looks promising, especially if a shallow depth is maintained. From that point on, Wiseman said, the key to keeping birds is to limit how much they’re pressured. Keeping an un-hunted sanctuary within your own area isn’t as important as being aware of how often you use the areas you do hunt.
“Waterfowl use such a large area, if you’re hunting your land and the land next to you isn’t hunted, that counts as a rest area, too,” she said. “The key is to not hunt your place too often. If you’re hunting your place four or five days a week but not taking many birds, you’d probably have better results if you hunted fewer times. The fewer hunts would likely be better hunts.”
The number of ducks to be taken, as determined by federal regulations, is a number Wiseman said Ducks Unlimited is happy to trust.
Limits of science
“We trust those regulations because they’re decided based on science,” she said. “As long as the science supports how many ducks you can kill, we say go for it. Ducks Unlimited’s mission is to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. As long as we can hunt it, hunters’ money from duck stamps and licenses supports waterfowl habitat.
“A lot of people don’t know DU does work in Mississippi, but we work in all 50 states. If hunters here support their local Ducks Unlimited chapter, they’re helping habitat all over the country and right here at home.”