Only a sliver of the Mississippi Flyway, the Mobile Delta is the fall and winter home to thousands of migrating waterfowl.
After watching the Weather Channel almost as much as Rosie O’Donnell watches the Food Channel, I was convinced the winds and tides would be right for the location in the Mobile Delta I longed to hunt. The shallow grassy bay would hold water on even the windiest days and low tides. Located near Alabama’s largest counties—Mobile and Baldwin—the area receives a serious amount of hunting pressure.
But despite such pressure, the rewards can be very satisfying. My hunting buddy and I got up early to make sure we got the blind we wanted in this bay. Although it took some convincing to get him up that early, I assured him that the ducks would put on a show for us in the blustery winds forecasted. Fortunately for us, we got the location I wanted. It was a blind on the edge of a large grass mat. The location offered just enough water to float the decoys and allow them movement.
Sunrise couldn’t come fast enough for us as the sounds of ducks flying overhead filled the air. The shrill whistles of widgeon and the soft muffled quacks of gadwalls had both of our pulses racing.
A quick look at the watch revealed it was shooting time. Looking to the orange glow of the sun to the east, my partner began eyeballing the flock of ducks straining against the wind, intent on joining our decoy spread. The flock, 15-to-20 strong, needed little coaxing to join the fakes on the water.
“Whack em!” I said, as the group committed. Ducks were whirling wildly in the brisk north wind as we unloaded on the flock. Feathers were flying as the three-inch number two steel shot made contact on the unlucky members of the bunch. After the barrage, four gadwalls lay unmoving, dispatched on the water.
“I hope they all work in as good as that flock,” my excited hunting buddy remarked.
We didn’t have long to enjoy the first volley before we were buzzed by a nice flock of green-winged teal. A sharp chorus of “peeps” from my duck whistle was enough to gain the flocks confidence.
When the group of thirty or more teal zipped over the decoys, we offered another 12 gauge barrage. It was pure chaos as the teal launched skyward. After another quartet of birds hit the water, we both fired at a wounded bird trying to escape. The “double-tap” on the teal was enough to bring it down and allow both of us to “claim” a triple. What a start!
As the morning wore on and the sky brightened, the ducks were much more wary and alert. Larger flocks would land out of range while singles and doubles would still “play our game.” That was fine with us, as neither of us wanted this hunt to end.
We were not alone in enjoying this fine duck action. We could hear shots ringing out from all parts of the Delta. From the amount of volleys we heard, it was on. This was truly a duck day.
After finishing out our limit with a beautiful pair of widgeons that tantalized us with three circles around the decoys, we picked up the decoys and left the bay to allow ducks to come in and feed on the grass. Having the north wind at our backs made the push pole out of the shallows a bit easier. It also allowed us to watch more flights descend on the grassy bay for breakfast. Although not a typical day on the Delta, it was a great day for ducking.
Tucked in along the Alabama Coast, the Mobile/Tensaw Delta is the winter home for thousands of waterfowl each year. Despite the heavy pressure in the area, many ducks have imprinted on the area as their winter location to fatten up before the spring migration northward, to breed and reproduce, continuing the everlasting chain of waterfowl production.
When ducks arrive in the Delta, quite a bit of duck food is available to sustain them. However, there is considerable amount of hunter pressure that causes the ducks to be educated very quickly to the perils posed by these hunters. Taking a limit of these highly educated ducks is something a duck hunter can be very proud of. It’s certainly not the “norm” to be quite successful, so doing so is an accomplishment. One of the Delta’s greatest hunting legends, Buz Heggeman, was known to say: “If you can kill ducks on the Mobile Delta, you can kill ‘em anywhere!”
Finding the Food Source
Locating ducks to hunt in the early season is quite simple. Find the food and you will find the ducks. In the Delta, food means grass. Finding large mats of grass just below the surface in shallow bays will give you a leg up on finding ducks. Keeping alert to areas that have these grass beds while you’re fishing or scouting will let you know where to look when the ducks arrive.
The Mobile Delta is known for its large mats of free-floating coontail moss. When the tide is high, sometimes these mats can be submerged. Ducks can still locate this grass from the air by the dark appearance of the grass or from the aid of an ugly friend.
Coots, or Puoldeu as they are sometimes called, are great at finding these submerged grass mats. Coots will work over a grass mat till all that’s left will be the spaghetti-like stems of the moss. Therefore, be on constant lookout for the greedy coots to tip you off to a food source.
Other food sources can be acorns in the creeks or invertebrates flowing from drains in the marsh. Let’s start with the acorns. After dropping from the tree, acorns will float along creeks and sometimes start to stack up around a fallen limb or near a grass edge. Crafty wood ducks will discover these acorn-holding areas and take advantage.
Small drains that flow out of the marsh into shallow bays will be full of small invertebrates and sometimes grass shrimp. Pressured Delta ducks, gadwalls and teal, will be drawn to these drains, especially after a strong cold front, when the water pours out of these drains
A final food source to keep track of is snails. Small snails will be found mainly near the top of Mobile Bay. Diving ducks, such as bluebills and redheads will go crazy for snails. Find snails and you should also find ducks.
Having a good hide is very important to killing wary ducks. The most common method of hunting ducks in the Delta is by hunting from a boat blind. These blinds usually consist of river canes that are hacked down with a machete. These same canes are then plunged into the mud around your boat in sort of a “tepee” fashion. They are far from looking natural, especially after they turn almost blond in color. With this look going against you, it’s a good idea to bring along some fresh canes to spruce up your blind and give it a more natural look.
Something else that is overlooked when hunting from a boat blind is the overhead view. Try and envision yourself as a duck making wary circles around a decoy spread. As you make those circles, you look down at a small island (blind) near the spread. Inside that fake island are a couple of camouflaged dudes twisting and turning to see where you’re at. Busted! To combat this scenario, it’s a good idea to carry along some camo netting that you can attach with clothes pins over the top of the blind. You can still see upwards to the circling ducks without them seeing you.
If possible, it’s better to hunt a bank with some decoys strung out along that bank. Ducks also get shy of banks because of hunter pressure, so try and pick out a point on a bank to give you a better chance at decoying birds into gun range.
Delta ducks are certainly elusive. Having made the right ammo choice could make the difference between success and failure. Today’s steel shot options have improved dramatically from 20 years ago. Today’s duck hunters can choose steel shot shell velocity options up to 1,550 feet per second. As the old saying goes….”Speed kills!”
Winchester Arms offers an economy version of the high-velocity shot shells, called Experts. After having shot them the last five years, I can attest to their deadliness, as well as how easy they are on the wallet.
Another option that has improved our success is the use of an aftermarket choke tube. With longer shots at the edge of the decoys or higher flying birds, the .675 Terror Tube choke will bring down the ducks. I was alerted to this choke after watching a hunting partner hitting ducks with such a tight pattern; he was actually spinning the ducks after impact.
Since the pressure and competition for Delta ducks is so intense, you’d better make sure you have your decoy package set up for success. Use decoys of the species that frequent the Delta. This should include teal, gadwalls, widgeon, shovelors and coots. The most overlooked of these species is the coot.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, coots know how to find grass and the ducks know it. A large group of coots is like a magnet to wary ducks. I found this out all too well 30 years ago when flocks of ducks ignored my all duck decoy spread to hit a raft of coots. I returned the following day with a multiple coot spread, with a few ducks mixed in. To my surprise and joy, I took a limit of gadwalls that decoyed like a charm.
Motion decoys have become the rage over the last 10 years. The spinning wing models that imitate duck movement are quite popular and effective. I have used Mojo Decoys for several years and can report good success. Some days the ducks are mesmerized by the decoy and on other days that don’t care for it.
I like to put the Mojo out to the side of my main spread. This way it gives me an indication of how well they are responding on that particular day. If they all want to decoy to the motion decoy side, you know its working and you can adjust the position to make sure all hunters get opportunities.
One of the newest options is the Mojo Teal. This decoy is smaller, but has a faster wing speed. This subtle change can sometimes make the difference on cautious ducks.
The Mobile Delta is not Arkansas or the Louisiana Delta, but it’s not too shabby, either. Hunters willing to devote time to scouting, paying attention to where ducks go on certain wind and tide conditions, plus getting their duck gear in order will be the most successful.
See you in the marsh!
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