Even though we don’t have clouds of greenhead mallards like those in Louisiana and Stuttgart, Ark., duck hunting on Mobile Bay is still good.
The sun was just starting to peek over the faraway line of the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay.
The hunters had made their dark-thirty way to the place where the hunt leader decided would be a good location for an early morning shoot.
As the day began to lighten, the eager hunters could see and sometimes hear the sounds of waking waterfowl. Finally, as full-shooting light developed, the hunt leader began whispering, “Keep down. Redheads coming from our right. Be ready.”
Time seemed to stand still as the hunters made ready to shoot.
The hunt leader stiffened his back and raised his call. He made a short highball call-in, and he saw the incoming ducks notice the decoys and the sound of feeding ducks. The small flock of redheads swung toward the blind-hidden hunters. At last, the leader said strongly, “Now! Take ‘em!”
The boom of twelve gauges rang out, and the flock of ducks—a few members fewer but quite a bit wiser—removed themselves from the vicinity of the concealed hunters.
As the sound of the firing died away, the hunters could not help but smile. This was the kind of morning that duck hunters in South Alabama dream about. Cool temperatures of winter, light northerly breezes, and lots of ducks moving. This was the dream coming true.
How We Hunt ducks on Lower Mobile Bay
Most folks know Captain Yano Serra as a world-class inshore fishing guide, but when the calendar runs through fall and into winter, his thoughts turn to mud-boats, blinds, and boxes of steel-shot shells.
Captain Yano guides hunters on duck hunting trips in the labyrinth of twisting bayous and ponds of the lower Mobile Delta, and he offers us some good information about a lower Mobile Bay duck hunting trip for this year.
Captain Yano says, “In the lower Mobile Bay area, where we hunt on a particular day depends on what kind of ducks we’re after. If we are looking for puddle ducks—gadwalls, pintails, mottled ducks, and the rare mallard that shows up here—they’ll be up in ponds and creeks in shallow water. They can’t dive more than half their body deep, so they’ve got to be in shallow water to find food. They’ll be eating roots and seeds.
“However, if we’re after diving ducks—redheads, bluebills (scaup), and mergansers (fish eaters)—they will usually be in open water.”
Serra continues. “Diving ducks are not vocal ducks; they just sort of chatter. When I call them to decoys, I’ll highball (that’s a mallard call) and it’s just to get their attention to see our spread of decoys. When I see the ducks pay attention to the call and to the decoys, I’ll throw in some quacks. If they’re coming in on a string, I’ll keep bringing them in with a feeding call. Then, when they’re in range, I give the command to shoot.”
Selection of decoys is important when it comes to Mobile Bay duck hunting in the marshes.
“If you’re hunting redheads, use redhead decoys,” Captain Yano says. “If bluebills, use bluebill decoys. If you throw out a big spread of mallard decoys, the diving ducks don’t like to mix with mallards. I used to use mallard decoys, but since I’ve gotten and used a spread of redheads, I have had much better results.
“I’ve had flocks of redheads flare off my mallard decoys and go straight to a buddy’s spread of redheads. He was only a hundred yards away. They went straight over him. It’s important when trying to decoy these Mobile Bay ducks to ‘match the hatch’ and try to put out what you’re hoping to shoot.”
Staying hidden from the incoming ducks is always important, but it is crucial when it comes to Mobile Bay duck hunting. These ducks have been shot at all along their migration route. By the time they get here to the coast where they’ll winter over, they get very educated about unnatural-looking concealment.
Captain Yano says, “I have a blind in my boat. I keep a pop-up blind that looks like a small island. It blends well with what’s out there.”
Speaking of boats, Yano says, “I’ve always used a flat-bottom aluminum boat, but this year I bought an 18.6 Excell Mudboat which will put me in shallower water. I won’t have to worry as much about strong north winds creating super-shallow conditions. I should be able to put myself in places I couldn’t hunt before. Also, I have an I-Pilot trolling motor for my new boat, so I can go red fishing after I’m through hunting for the day.”
A typical Mobile Bay duck hunting trip starts early. Captain Yano tells us that we should plan on a very early start. He leaves at 3:00 a.m. on hunting trips because he wants to be in his previously selected hunting spot a couple of hours early.
This allows him to deploy his spread of 30 to 50 decoys in the right location and arrangement, and it also allows him to get position first in the best spots. This is all public land, so it is crucial to get on the best spots before other hunters gain prior to access.
Many duck hunters use dogs to retrieve their kills, but Captain Yano does just fine without them. He says, “When we shoot them, we wade out in waders to pick them up. We’re hunting in water two or three feet deep, and most of the time, the bottom is firm enough for us to wade. If the bottom is soft mud, I just use the trolling motor on the mudboat to go pick up the ducks and then we go back to our shooting position and get ready for the next flock of ducks.”
A Little Bit of Warning
For anyone not familiar with the lower Mobile Delta, it can be an intimidating place. There are miles of shallow marsh, and it’s hard to keep in mind your location and how to get back to the truck. Sometimes, the water level changes and makes a straight-line return impossible.
Some very good advice for ducks hunters who are not familiar with the lower Bay system comes from Captain Yano. “Make sure you’re well prepared,” he says. “The Delta can be a dangerous place in strong winds. If a super-strong cold front comes, which can be good for hunting, you’d better have a big enough boat capable of getting across open water safely.
Also, show common courtesy to other hunters. Don’t set up a spread of decoys within a hundred yards of someone else. Two hundred or three hundred yards is still too close when duck hunting.
Finally, Captain Yano explains that duck hunting can be a costly activity. “Hunting ducks is expensive,” he says. “You’ve got to buy federal and state duck stamps, several boxes of shells at $20 a box, a boat rigged up for hunting, decoys, waders and other protective gear, plus your gun. It cost me $20,000 this year for getting ready for duck hunting; including the new mudboat. Duck hunting is not cheap. If you’re only going to hunt ducks a few times, it’s a lot cheaper to hire a guide and use his boat and his gear. Plus, he already knows where to go hunting.”
So This Means?
Conditions at this point look very good for the 2014 Moble bay duck hunting season. Food is abundant down here in the Mobile Bay system, and it appears that the most commonly harvested ducks in our area have had a banner year of producing the next generation of ducks.
Everything is in place for some great duck hunting IF the winter weather is harsh enough and enough snow falls to cover northern feeding and open-water areas that ducks utilize. We don’t want to wish bad on anyone, but a few really cold blasts and wintry falling weather temps up north could create a fine duck hunting year down here in the Mobile Delta.
Shooting Times for Duck Hunters
In the area north of Battleship Parkway, west of Alabama Highway 225, south of CSX Railroad tracks and east of the west bank of the Mobile River: Monday through Thursday shooting hours shall be one-half hour before sunrise to 12:00 noon; and, Friday through Sunday shooting hours shall be one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. The remainder of the state: Shooting hours shall be one-half hour before sunrise to sunset each day.
Important Contact Information:
Captain Yano Serra
Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
District V Wildlife Section
30571 Five Rivers Boulevard