Want greenheads? Here are the top harvest locales from coast to coast
Mallards rule the waterfowl world, and it’s easy to see why. They’re North America’s most abundant duck, and they offer hunting opportunities in creeks, marshes, lakes and dry fields from coast to coast.
Because mallards are also wary, challenging and sometimes frustrating ducks, hunters constantly strive to find better greenhead hunting. If you’re considering packing up the trailer and taking a mallard sojourn this fall — and Canada isn’t an option in 2020 — consider these likely destinations, based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harvest data from the 2019-'20 season.
Best Bet: New York. Northeastern breeding mallards have experienced tough times in recent years, resulting in Atlantic Flyway bag-limit restrictions. However, Empire State hunters still took 51,576 mallards in 2019-'20, far outdistancing other East Coast states.
Honorable Mention: It’s no surprise that Maryland, with its almost unmatched Atlantic Flyway duck and goose hunting tradition, ranks high on this list. Hunters there shot about 33,242 mallards.
Sleeper: Again, this is no surprise. Virginia is a longtime waterfowling hotspot, and hunters there took about 29,032 mallards this past season.
Best Bet: Arkansas. Everyone knows the Natural State is tops for mallards, and the numbers back that up. Hunters shot 509,879 mallards in 2019-'20 — more than twice as many as any other state. Sure, loads of hunters pile into Arkansas’ timber and ricefields, but it’s tough to dispute that the state remains America’s bucket-list mallard destination.
Honorable Mention: The word is out on Missouri. It’s a bona fide duck hunting hotspot. To back that up, hunters there shot 161,320 mallards this past season. That won’t surprise anyone who’s witnessed the vast numbers of birds that choke the state’s refuges every fall and winter, especially in the Bootheel region.
Sleeper: I would have bet that Minnesota or Wisconsin might have cracked the top three, but Illinois slipped in, as hunters shot 136,364 mallards in 2019-'20. That’s not a real shocker, as southern Illinois’ waterfowling tradition is legendary, and the state still features solid duck haunts.
Best Bet: Oklahoma. Whoa. Did the Sooner State really knock off mighty titan North Dakota for the 2019-'20 mallard harvest? Yep. Okie hunters shot 113,463, easily outdistancing other Central Flyway states. Oklahoma has become an increasingly popular destination in recent years, as hunters appreciate its excellent bird numbers and pressure that’s relatively light compared with other states.
Honorable Mention: North Dakota. This state is renowned for mallards, whether in its endless potholes or equally endless harvested grain fields. The numbers are impressive: 104,946 mallards shot in 2019-'20. But you must really witness wave after spiraling wave of North Dakota mallards during peak migration to appreciate the event’s greatness.
Sleeper: Kansas. Like Oklahoma, Kansas has become increasingly popular with duck hunters. And 67,012 mallards shot this past season make it easy to see why.
Best Bet: This might be another Oklahoma-esque upset. Washington hunters took 190,913 mallards in 2019-'20, outpacing the mighty California for top honors. Most hunters know that Washington is a tremendous waterfowling state, but topping California seems incredible.
Honorable Mention: California. Golden State hunters took 147,680 mallards, good for — gulp — second in the flyway. If it makes hunters there feel any better, they shot 962,200 total ducks, which was second nationwide only to Arkansas.
Sleeper: Idaho. I never considered Idaho a waterfowl destination, but harvest numbers continually prove me wrong. Take, for example, the 100,751 mallards shot there this past season. It might be time for a westbound trip — and not all the way to the coast.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.