The season may be right around the corner, but that duck boat you’ve been dreaming about? It’s going to have to wait another year. Bills, unexpected expenses and well, life just gets in the way of things.
Lots of public hunting opportunities are available for those who don’t own a boat. All you need is a sack of decoys, a pair of waders and a handful of shells. Be prepared, though. You aren’t the only guy who relies on a pair of legs to get to the birds.
“One of the most common calls I get is, where can I hunt if I don’t have a boat,” says Louisiana Department of Fisheries and Wildlife waterfowl program manager Larry Reynolds. “Areas accessible to hunters on foot can get crowded, but they can be pretty good at times, too.”
In other words, time it right, scout enough, cover some ground and blow the right notes on your favorite duck call and you can have a pretty good shoot.
Dewey Wills WMA Limited Access Area, Louisiana
Louisiana’s newest limited-access hunting area is part of the 62,000-acre Dewey Wills WMA. It’s 3,600 acres of a mix of flooded brush and scattered oak trees. Although boats are allowed, motors are not. That means you’ll need to paddle or walk. Water levels can vary, but most of it is walkable, says Reynolds.
“There are some low spots that you need to watch out for, but there are ridges and lots of shallow water that is easily wadable,” he says. Wood ducks are a regular sight and one of the most abundant ducks season-long. However, a variety of puddle ducks swing by Dewey Mills, including gadwalls, teal and mallards.
WPAs, North Dakota
The Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota is part of what’s known as the Duck Factory. Drive through the region in October and you’ll see why.
Gobs of birds loaf on small, shallow ponds that dot the landscape. Many of those ponds are owned by you and me and managed as waterfowl production areas by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. And nearly all of the system’s 254,000 acres in North Dakota are open to hunting.
It’s a freelancer’s dream. Of course, they don’t all have birds on them at any given moment. Scouting is essential.
Bear River NWR, Utah
Although boats are allowed on this refuge on Great Salt Lake, much of it is out of reach of motor boats, making it a great walk-in hunting opportunity.
“It’s all real shallow and it has lots of vegetation, so there are plenty of places to hide,” says Avery Outdoors territory manager and Salt Lake City resident Josh Noble. “The hunting can be very good. You can find places where boats can’t go.”
Expect a variety of puddle ducks, including green-wing teal, pintails, wigeon and gadwalls. Much of the refuge is closed to hunting, but access is unrestricted in those areas that are open. There are no drawings or limits on the number of hunters.
Sacramento NWR System
Four national wildlife refuges in California’s duck-rich Sacramento Valley offer walk-in opportunities for a wide variety of species.
Hunters at Delevan, Sacramento, Sutter and Colusa refuges can apply for advanced reservations, put in for a daily lottery the night before a hunt or stand in line the morning of a hunt to wait for unfilled slots to be handed out.
These hunts are popular. Don’t expect to get a slot by waiting in line every time you go. However, opportunities are best on Wednesdays. Hunting is allowed Saturday and Sunday, as well.
Rainwater Basin, Nebraska
Nebraska has hundreds of wildlife management areas that offer duck hunting, but Nebraska Game and Parks waterfowl program manager Mark Vrtiska points to the 90 or so in the Rainwater Basin area as the better ones.
“Not all of them have water every season. It really depends on rainfall, but usually at least a quarter to a third have enough water to attract ducks,” he says.
As with any public walk-in opportunity, Nebraska’s WMAs can get hunted hard, but Vrtiska says thorough scouting and good timing can produce excellent hunting. He recommends early October and early November as good times to throw out some decoys.
Big Lake WMA, Arkansas
Every hunter should hunt Arkansas’ green timber at least once. Thankfully, the state is loaded with abundant public opportunities and several have walk-in access.
Big Lake, located in northeast Arkansas, is 12,320 acres and has walk-in access at Simmons Bridge and some at Bo Doc Landing. Be careful, though. Ditches, natural low spots and underwater obstacles can make wading difficult.
The key to success is to find out-of-the-way areas boats can’t or won’t get to. That means you’ll need to do plenty of scouting and even more walking. But it can be worth it. At peak migration, thousands of mallards can descend on this WMA.