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10 Surprisingly Affordable Dream Waterfowl Trips

10 Surprisingly Affordable Dream Waterfowl Trips

Traveling to hunt waterfowl is no longer elitist and many of the best dream trips are surprisingly affordable. One of my favorite hunts last year was a Maine eider expedition, and the guys in camp were regular Joes with guns from DU banquets, and it was their second trip of the season! So I talked to Ramsey Russell, a biologist and international man of duck-hunting mystery, who brokers hunts all over the planet. We came up with a list of reasonably priced must-do hunts in the Americas.

Some of the best are close to home and should be: two of my other favorite hunts of the year took place in Arkansas, within driving distance of WILDFOWL's Illinois HQ. I'll never forget snows sucking into our vast spread like foam packing peanuts whirling into a ceiling fan. Or shooting limits of specklebellies — over water! And just over the border in Alberta, we shot a half-dozen different subspecies of geese in one morning.

This list is not a ranking and is by no means comprehensive — none of the spots I just mentioned are even on it. The Chesapeake Bay isn't, either. Though every waterfowler should make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the hunting on the Bay these days often falls short of epic. This list is merely a good start.

Print out these pages, paste them on the fridge, circle a dream hunt or two and go tell your wife what you want for Christmas. You won't have to twist her arm to go to Mexico. Whether it's 37 species you seek or just great experiences, the only thing that happens if you wait, is you get older.

Venice, Louisiana

An hour or so south of New Orleans is one of the coolest trophy duck games in town. 'People think of canvasbacks, they think of Lake Sinclair and Pool 9, but let me tell you, there is not a better place on God's green earth to shoot cans and pintails; it is the most amazing thing. You run south from Venice down the river an hour or two and branch off into the marsh, and from there you are in a pirot in one of the most imperiled duck habitats on the planet due to saltwater intrusion. It is guaranteed if they haven't had a hurricane (which kills duck food with saltwater from flooding) and if it's stable, you will kill a can and a pintail, then fill out on gaddies and teal. It's unbelievable, ' Russell says. Shoot your limit early and go chase redfish and speckled seatrout. Or in January, you can go offshore and hook tuna after hunting, and January is the best month for a plumed out drake can or pintail.

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Pintails and canvasbacks
-- Starting at $200-$300 a day
-- Peak: January


Shooting thirsty greenheads over peanut fields here is another bucket list experience for the mallard-minded. It's only a five-bird limit, 'but if you think you've experienced hunting decoying mallards, you haven't until you chase them over water in the morning when they are coming in thirsty. These birds are not circling, ' Russell says. 'And in the afternoon, in the fields, you haven't seen anything like sitting under a tornado of mallards that look like little black dots in the stratosphere and start falling like cinder blocks from the sky. You just don't get that in a rice field. When they get full of hulled peanuts they have got to drink. ' You will shoot greenheads and wigeon and some geese, too. Hold out for greenheads.

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Mallards
-- $300 a day
-- Peak: December-January

Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Out in the Aleutian Chain awaits a mixed wing of waterfowl and seafood heaven. Harlequins, broadwing scaup, buffleheads, Pacific common eiders, Eurasian wigeon, Eurasian greenwings, and best of all, Pacific brant. Pacific brant are more beautiful and better eating than their Atlantic brethren. Go in September to hunt brant and geese, and salmon fish in the afternoons. October-November trips bring more fishing, and there is bonus ptarmigan hunting and birdwatching. Later in the fall you can score on halibut. Cold Bay has emperor geese, and you can't hunt them, but it's one of most beautiful waterfowl in the world. 'I took a client out there who either shot or saw 27 new species of waterfowl to add to his life list, ' Russell says. Your guides know where the birds are based on the wind and how that relates to accessibility. Cold Bay's lagoon is split from the Bering Sea by a reef, and the weather can be 40 degrees and sunny one minute and blowing 50 mph and sleeting the next. 'You may boat in to your spot, you may walk in on a bear trail€¦it's as much Indiana Jones as a duck hunt, ' Russell says.

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Pacific brant and elite sea ducks
-- Starting at gallery=12,700-$3,000 for six days
-- Peak: September-January


'In the Lower 48 we are bastardized by a plague of lesser snows and everyone is talking about hundred-bird days€¦Quebec ain't that way, baby, ' Russell says. You are hunting a greater snow goose that is a whole different creature, decoys fantastically and makes a living grubbing on the banks of the St. Lawrence River amid 20-foot tidal surges. You can't hunt on the river itself — it's a sanctuary — but you can drop them on the river bank, a French rule and a fine line. Average kill is 10 per man, per day of these greaters. As compared to Canada's other higher volume hunts, "This is a gentleman's hunt. You can hunt in sneakers or rubber boots, the staff is French Canadian or French, and the food is the best — goose, moose, caribou steaks, it's all superlative. I went up there a few years ago and I thought 'big deal, snow geese' and now it is one of my personal best lifetime experiences," he says.

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Greater snow geese
-- [imo-slideshow gallery=12],800 for three days, lodging, meals, transfers, ammo and ice chest
-- Peak: May

St. Paul Island, Alaska

The only real expensive hunt on this list is all about the journey, a whole different experience up on the Bering Sea, and a chance to come home with a bird very few people have ever even seen. St. Paul Island is a 40-mile long chunk of volcanic rock out in the middle of the ocean, home to this unicorn of a duck that only migrates as far 'south ' as the Bering Sea. 'It's great to be a good ball player on your home field, but this is the Big Away Game, ' Russell says. 'It's so much more than the holy grail species of king eider, a pelagic species that lives right on the ice shelf, and follows the floes as they start to move down. It's a miracle that humans are able to even think about killing these birds. I collect birds, but I prefer to collect experiences, and to be out in that part of world and to be a biologist and see how that bird behaves and the excitement of being on the Bering Sea in January, when it's sometimes minus 40 degrees, it's just magical to see, being a Mississippi boy. ' You can only hunt them the first couple hours of daylight, then they are way offshore. Limit is four birds per year. Huge swells pound the shore, and you must often hunt from the rocks as seas are too rough for boats.

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- King eiders
-- About $4,300, not including airfare (around gallery=12,000 more)
-- Peak: January, when you can hurt yourself on snow crab

Mazatlan, Mexico

This is the honeymoon hunt, the No. 1 couples destination, and you can go in the spring when the Lower 48 is closed. It doesn't get a lot better than this. World-class largemouth bass angling in the afternoons, or head out for marlin on the blue water or simply hit the beach. You will shoot blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, green-winged teal, canvasbacks and plumed out pintails. Mexico always gets tons of bad press and this year is no exception. Travel concerns? 'I go to Mazatlan with my wife and I don't see that stuff. It's how you travel. You need to stay on the resort, stick only to organized tours, ' Russell says. 'We keep abreast of state department warnings. A lot can happen in Mexico, but if you want trouble for sure I can take you to neighborhoods in Memphis or Jackson, Miss., but me or my guests have never had any problems where we hunt in Mexico. The No. 1 rule is mind your freaking manners. You don't go to whorehouses, bars, bullfights or buy pot. You can find trouble if you do that. And you must know that in your baggage there is not one single piece of ammo anywhere. You can bring your gun, but if you have no permit, I can't help you, God can't help you, and that's a fact. '

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Blue-winged, green-winged, cinnamon teal, canvasbacks and pintails
-- gallery=12,400
-- Peak: January-February

Baja, Mexico

This is the good life hunt, and wonderfully close to home. 'I come back from western Mexico and feel so good, the food is great, weather is beautiful, it's my absolute favorite destination and Baja is one of my favorite hunts, ' Russell says. Wintering Pacific brant are the target out of San Quintin, hunted over dekes from ground blinds over the tide line. Limit is 10 birds per day, and expect bonus pintails and scoters. In good years, afternoon quail hunting is great. The incredible fresh seafood makes the hunt something special. Expect to eat brant, crab claws and oysters all straight from the sea the same day.

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Pacific brant
-- gallery=12,450
-- Peak: Late January-February


When it goes well, watching big greenheads flutter like maple leaves down through a hole in the canopy is indeed as good as it gets€¦which is why there is often someone in your spot already at 2 a.m. The lovely thing? The hunting is much better on sunny days, which proves Mother Nature intended us to enjoy this. 'Green timber mallard hunting is simply the best, ' Russell says. 'It's an experience unlike anything else. To have mallards filtering in through the trees, landing all around, it's something holy. And I don't mean cypress or a lake with dead timber, or a stick pond, I'm talking honest-to-God green timber hunting, flooded oaks. I do a lot of cypress hunting for gaddies in Mississippi, and when I'm in Arkansas I often hunt rice fields€¦but green timber is the absolute best mallard experience there is in North America. '

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Mallards
-- DIY, or $350 a day guided
-- Peak: December-January

Las Flores, Argentina

Everyone gets the allure of shooting 40 to 60 decoying ducks per day, the volume thing, but there is more to the equation. 'We as hunters have to have some modicum of respect for ourselves and the resource to not make it just about numbers. What appeals to me about Argentina is the quality of seeing THAT many decoying birds. The other part is the species. We're talking five or six species of teal (including the silver teal, above), two of pintail, and three of whistling ducks. The world's largest wigeon, a groovy red shoveler, and my favorite, the rosy-billed pochard (see front of this article), a good-eating bird that decoys like a canvasback, they just hammer into the decoys. I don't care about shooting 50 ducks, but I want to shoot 15 rosy-bills, it's a thrilling bird to hunt. ' And leave plenty of time to chase perdiz partridge, decoying pigeons and for high-volume dove hunts. Oh, and to kick around Buenos Aires, the coolest town in South America.

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Rosy-billed pochard and 12 other species
-- gallery=12,800-$3,700 for four days
-- Peak: June-July


Two ultimate trophy duck hunts await. One is a coastal hunt for cinnamon teal, the world's highest volume cinnamon teal hunt, with hunters getting a crack at up to 50 to 70 cinnamons. Don't worry, you are not wearing out the U.S. birds during your southerly jaunt. Of the five races of cinnamon teal, this is a healthy and isolated population of a darker cinnamon tone. You will hunt the coastal estuary from shore over dekes in feeding areas, set up in a blind and here they come. The other great Peru hunt is for the Andes torrent duck, which lives in flowing clear rivers at 10,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level. The opposite of a volume shoot, you sit on a rock on a stream and waiting for one to fly past. The limit is one drake or one pair. This is for the Most Interesting Duck Hunter in the World. 'If you've killed your king eiders and everything else, you still haven't had a torrent duck at 14,000 feet above sea level. ' You will also hunt puna teal, sharpwing duck and Andean goose on the high-level hunt.

Ducks, Bucks & Dates
-- Torrent ducks and cinnamon teal
-- $3,500-$4,000 for a week in the mountains or a week on the coast, or three days in each place
-- Peak: April-July

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