Over the years I had several preconceived notions regarding duck hunting. It seemed to follow one basic thought, 4 am in a boat on a frozen lake or river. Over the last 12 months I’ve got my feet wet to the basics. And yes I literally got my feet wet but that’s story for a different time. Our adopted family in Kentucky are about as big into waterfowl hunting as it gets. These guys sit around in the deer stand and day dream about opening day of Duck Season. I’m sitting on the couch looking at fresh pictures off the game cameras and they are finely tuning duck calls. It’s not that deer hunting does not interest the guys but it’s more like a burning passion for the winged creatures. It’s a love hate relationship that you can only understand when you’ve watched a buddy fluent in the language of the duck blow on a call for 5 minutes. It’s a fine art and you can spend the rest of your life watching videos and reading books on mastering the technique of luring weary birds to your spread. The caller might start off with a “Greeting Call” and then move on to the “Feed Call” and if neither work they may fall back to a “Come Back Call”. The Come Back is more times than not followed by a few explicit words that may or may not be directed at the ducks as they fade from vision.
I will take this time to document one of my favorite experiences from duck hunting this past year. A friend invited several of us on a trip to Southern Illinois to the middle of the Mississippi river flyway for a waterfowl experience. By this time I’d been duck hunting on Lake Barkley in Western Kentucky a few times with brothers Jeff and Keith Slaughter and looked forward to the experience. We would be going on a weekend hunt with Greg Kline on the Lyerla Lake Farm.
We struck out from South Alabama on a seven hour drive to meet up with friends in Western Kentucky. From Kentucky we headed North West and three hours later arrived at our destination. The hunting farm is a half a mile and a busy train track away from the Mississippi River. It’s a beautiful farm that supports many different styles of hunting: flooded corn fields and flooded timber represent the basic theme with some dry cut fields offering plenty of variety. The farm is located on the edge of its name sake Lyerla Lake and just outside a wildlife refuge. McClure, Illinois is the nearest town to the farm and is very small. We found great accommodations across the river in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Our first hunt we went unguided to a beautiful pit that backed up to a small lake. The setup was in the middle of a large cornfield, and directly in front of the pit and out a couple hundred yards was the large and beautiful Lyerla Lake. The Kentucky brothers donned hip waders and immediately changed the setup of the pond to allow a proper flight/landing area for incoming ducks. This was something I never considered, it’s common knowledge among experienced hunters to move the decoys to accommodate wind direction. You want to create a space for the approaching birds to zero in on and feel safe when gliding in for a landing. 15 short minutes later and the sounds of duck calls were echoing through the large tank pit. These tanks are dug into the ground and work perfectly for an epic hunting setup.
Jeff and Keith worked several groups of ducks coming out of the big lake. Some would tilt their wings and shift direction a little to get a better look but seemed to have other ideas. We saw deer running across the fields and other animals feeding along. Several more ducks buzzed us but not in range. Tim spotted ducks in the distance and the guys fell in with calling and apparently made quite the impression on a group of Gadwalls. Two birds peeled off the rest of the group and made a fatal approach to the spread of decoys floating on the small lake. When the sun finally dropped below the horizon we made our way back to the rustic barn with 6 dead gadwalls and a diver duck. We dropped every bird we could bring in range.
Greg had some fine pork steaks hot off the Traeger Grill and some spicy river bottom baked beans paired nicely with a fresh slice of white bread. I’ve tried emulating the meal a few times over the summer but have not got the same flavor yet.
I don’t have much experience to draw from but here are a few observations I took note of from the hunting base camp. This particular camp was housed in a huge and I really mean huge old barn. The open area when entering the barn offered a great area to park trucks out of the elements. Nothing like changing boots in a graveled dry area. The site offered a drying/hot room for leaving wet gear to dry overnight. And it had all the other needed accommodations for a great experience. The large barn had quite a history and was once the home to a horse made famous in western TV shows.
Day two was a guided hunt and we setup in the dry pit. This pit is located in the middle of a rather large cut bean field. We saw thousands of ducks flying high over leaving the wildlife area shortly after dawn. The morning started a little slow but was very enjoyable. It’s an experience watching high flying flocks of snow geese heading south. Groups of speckle bellies flying high overhead would offer a distraction as the guys pulled out several different types of calls trying to get their attention.
Shortly before lunch the skies cleared a little and the sun peeked through the clouds. With the sun came the ducks. We dropped a couple of mallards and things started to pick up. We dined in the blind on pizza graciously provided by Greg and no one stayed sitting long for lunch. The ducks were flying and we all looked towards the sky. We ended the day with eleven mallards and I’d started understanding the draw to this sport. My good friend Joe warned me duck hunting was a consuming habit.
Day 3 goes down as my best experience of the trip. We trekked into the field before daylight and the pit setup was astounding. It filled the bill on exactly what I would expect a world class setup to look like. Picture a flooded corn field with a long narrow pond stretching in front of the blind. Dean was our guide on this hunt and with him was a top of the line bird dog. The dog’s name was Chief and he was of the Chesapeake Bay retriever breed best I could tell. Chief was a well-educated and good mannered dog. If my dog could read I’m sure he would bite me for saying this but it was my first real experience hunting with a high caliber retriever.
I guess I never really gave it much thought on how a dog would find a down duck in a lake or flooded corn field full of scent from other kills and duck activity. But it’s amazing to watch. Dean would give him the signal to retrieve the bird and off the dog would go. Dean would blow the whistle and the dog would stop and look back at him for a hand signal for direction. Motion to the right and the back and the dog would run to the right and further back from the blind. When he got closer Dean would blow the whistle again and redirect. We kept Chief busy all day and brought back our limit of ducks in several different varieties.
As I reflect on the last year and the experience I can say it is a must try hunting experience. I’d also have to say don’t expect me to be selling my deer gear anytime soon. I think both Duck and Deer hunting offer a great complement to each other. Duck hunting is more of a time to fellowship with friends and share stories while in the blind. Whitetail deer hunting is a time to disconnect and get away from it all. But I’m planning to head back North in a few weeks to attend the annual Kentucky Duck Blind draw and maybe try our luck at few Teal if time permits.