A Dandy Duck Hunting Dilemma: Timber or Impoundments?

By author of The Duck Blog

Guides Weigh In On How to Choose Between Two Great Options

Follow the Birds

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1 | Follow the Birds

“I think probably every situation is different,” said Woodrow, who operates several waterfowl impoundments at his southern Illinois operations. “The thing about the impoundments is you get the corn, beans and other stuff for them to eat. And hopefully, they’ll go to the timber afterward and spend the day hanging out in there. But it works both ways. We just try to scout and see what the birds want to do, and whatever they want to do that day, that’s what we do.”

Photo © Brian Lovett

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The Romance of Timber

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2 | The Romance of Timber

Driskill hunts flooded timber and several impoundments at his Missouri Bootheel guide service, and he said both can be productive. As we hunted that December morning, he said that as a caller and call maker, he prefers to hunt in timber. Calling is critical in such situations because ducks locate each other via sound (calling) much more than by sight. He acknowledged that low water levels or other environmental factors sometimes make timber hunting more difficult. Still, he said it’s often tough for him to leave the woods.

“When you get into the timber and start shooting birds every day, it’s hard to shy away from that, just because they look so much better coming through the timber than in an open field,” he said. “And when you come off that river or those open woods, your stuff’s clean.”

Photo © Brian Lovett

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Conditions Dictate

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3 | Conditions Dictate

Woodrow said weather and other environmental factors greatly influence the timber-versus-impoundment question.

“If ducks are feeding at night, timber is probably better during daylight,” he said. “They’ll go in there and loaf and hang out.”

Conversely, he said, frigid temperatures or approaching fronts often prompt birds to feed in flooded crop fields during daylight, making impoundments the likely choice. He said his hunters enjoyed good success in December 2017 when an arctic blast gripped the Midwest for several weeks.

“When it starts turning cold, they want to be in the food all the time,” he said.

Driskill agreed, adding that the January 2018 thaw after several weeks of freezing weather would also likely create ideal conditions for hunting flooded fields, as birds would probably be hungry after not able to feed much in southern Missouri when ice covered the landscape. He also said advice given to him years ago by a hunting mentor still holds merit: Fields on a cloudy day, timber during a sunny day.

“If it’s going to be raining, we really like to hit the fields,” he said. “It just seems like they like to be feeding more when it rains.”

And impoundments have another potential advantage: If an outfitter operates several flooded fields — as with Woodrow and Driskill — he can rest one or more of them so they serve as refuges, letting concentrations of birds rest and feel comfortable. That typically keeps ducks and geese in the area and produces good hunting on surrounding impoundments when birds fly there to feed or loaf.

Photo © Brian Lovett

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Bottom Line

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4 | Bottom Line

Ultimately, the experts said, the choice between flooded timber or flooded crop fields boils down to the option that provides the best chance of success for a specific day or conditions. They both produce, albeit one probably better than the other at times.

Oh, my two cents, as a Yankee with little experience in timber or impoundments? My morning with Driskill in the Missouri timber resulted in 14 mallards for our group — and several more missed. The morning with Woodrow in Illinois netted eight mallards, four other ducks and three snow geese for two guns.

When considering timber or impoundments, it seems either can be a great choice.

Contact Info

Dirty Rice Outfitters, Gobler, Missouri: (573) 757-6699; dirtyriceoutfitters.com; or check them out on Facebook.

Illinois Whitetail & Waterfowl, Enfield, Illinois: illinoiswhitetailandwaterfowl.com; or check them out on Facebook.

Photo © Brian Lovett

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My license plate, barely visible under days of accumulated road salt, might have read Wisconsin, but I sure wasn’t up North.

Constant quacks and feeding chuckles echoed across the water as flock after flock of mallards halted in mid-air and then parachuted down toward us through the tupelo and cypress canopy. J.D. Driskill, owner of Dirty Rice Outfitters in Gobler, Missouri, whispered for the group to wait and then called the shot as seemingly dozens of birds fluttered just feet away.

Two mornings later, I gawked in silence as hundreds of ducks and thousands of snow geese rose from their nighttime perch on a flooded corn and bean field and filled every yard of air space above us. Kent Woodruff, co-owner of Illinois Whitetail & Waterfowl, smiled as I rubbernecked at the seemingly infinite waves of waterfowl.

Driving home later that day, I marveled at the hunts I’d experienced in the Missouri timber and Illinois impoundment, and it prompted a question: In areas where both options are common — such as the lower Midwest, Mid-South and Deep South — which is better? The obvious answer would be to hunt the place holding or attracting the most ducks during shooting hours. However, experts say the decision isn’t always cut and dried.

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