Southern Impressions

Southern Impressions

Trading the Prairie for the cypress

I turned off my flashlight. All was quiet. It was an eerie calm. The silence was amazing. It was far different than the open agricultural areas where I was accustomed to hunting. There was no wind. There were no howling coyotes and there were no familiar sounds of farm animals starting to wake up. It was kind of creepy, as over the years while hunting the Canadian prairies, I had become very accustomed to hearing those usual sounds while I waited in darkness prior to a hunt.

Watching, waiting for the morning flight.

The silence was broken as we started loading gear into our boat. Then with a pounding heart, I stepped into Mike's boat knowing my adventure was going to quickly escalate.


I grew up hunting ducks in dry fields of Saskatchewan. Over the years, I've also done my fair share of duck hunting on the Alberta and Manitoba prairies. The vast majority of my duck hunting has taken place in dry fields. When I've hunted ducks over water, most times it has been over small potholes less than four feet deep, surrounded by bulrushes or slough grass and without a boat.



Over the years, while reading magazine articles and watching hunting shows on TV, I learned of the opportunities available to hunt ducks in the cyprus or flooded timber of the southern regions of the United States. The pictures and stories that I saw were intriguing, interesting and yet they were so foreign and far away. With each added exposure to this unique hunting style, I started dreaming of one day traveling south and finding myself hunting ducks in these unique environments.

After many years of dreaming, my dream finally came true. Arrangements were made to travel to northern Mississippi and meet up with some buddies at Tunica, Mississippi. From there we'd travel a few miles south and hunt with Mike Boyd in the flooded timber of the famous Beaver Dam Lake. I was so excited, not only is this area legendary for fine gunning it was also the stomping grounds of the famous outdoor writer Nash Buckingham.


I sure would've liked to have seen my hunting area in the daylight prior to hunting there. Unfortunately, airline travel delays prevented me from arriving in Tunica during daylight hours. In fact, it was well after midnight when I finally got to bed. Even at that, it seemed like 4:30 would never come. I was up and dressed well before the alarm went off!


Our meeting point was the Blue and White Restaurant. When I walked in Mike greeted me with a smile and a firm hand shake. I was far too excited for breakfast, but I just had to try some of the southern cooking that I had also heard so much about. In the end, I had a large plate of tasty food, including some grits which after some coaxing, I tried for the first time in my life.

What amazed me while eating breakfast was the number of camo clad hunters also sitting in the restaurant. While I'd seen camo clad hunters dining in many small town Canadian restaurants, I'd never seen so many at one place and time. It really was cool to see and made me realize how special duck hunting was in this region of the United States.

Between bites, I visited with Mike. In reality, it was more of an interrogation session. I started off slowly with regular hunter/guide conversations, such as how's the hunting been, what to expect for the morning, where we were going, etc. From there, I had to ask him "hunting related" questions that I'd never had to ask when hunting in Canada. These questions included what the possibility was of encountering alligators or poisonous snakes or if any trees would fall on us while we were hunting.

From within the blind, I could smell the swamp water. To my nose, it was a strange foreign odor much different from the earthy, dusty and grain type smells I was accustomed to smelling when hunting. I really couldn't identify the odor and could only describe it as dank, stale and musty. For some the aroma would have been offensive, to me it was intriguing and I inhaled heavily to relish the moment.

The perfect cyprus hide.

Ever so slowly, nighttime gave way to dawn. As it did, the surrounding trees and tree tops of the cypress swamp that had originally appeared as apparitions in the flashlight beams really started to materialize. The trees were extremely tall and had gigantic trunks. The tree trunks were much bigger than I had anticipated. The trees also had way more branches than I had ever envisioned and seemed to spread out in every direction.

As the light levels increased, my eyes went from the tree tops to the water. I was fully expecting to see an alligator or some type of swamp monster, but instead saw a fair size opening of open water devoid of any trees. It was a duck hole and within the hole was a spread of 100 plus decoys consisting of every dabbler duck species I could imagine.

Oh what a pleasure it was to see the decoys. I was really starting to wonder when and how we were going to set up the decoys. With shooting time getting so close, I was quietly getting worried we might not be prepared, because back home, we'd take an hour or two prior to each hunt to set up decoys. While doing so, we'd walk around, work up a sweat and second guess ourselves about being in the right place and if we were setting up the right pattern.

At that point, I asked Mike about our location and quickly learned that in the cyprus, the duck holes are limited and such spots are hunted on a regular basis day after day, season after season. In fact, from what he knew the spot we were hunting at had probably been hunted for close to 100 years. What a change from back home where it seems I rarely hunt the same place twice in a season and may not even hunt the same place for years.

Almost unexpectedly, I heard a familiar sound. Even though I was in a strange environment, there was no denying the whistling of duck wings circling above. My heart beat faster. I glanced at my watch and realized it was 10 minutes into shooting time.

Moments later, four gadwalls materialized directly out front of us. They flew over our duck hole and quickly disappeared into the tree branches behind us. When they went out of sight, Mike called to them with a short series of soft calls. Out of the corner of my eye, I also saw him pull a jerk cord rope, which brought the decoys out front of us to life. The gadwalls went around and around numerous times. With each swoop they got a little lower.

On their sixth or seventh pass, the gadwalls committed to the spread. They dive bombed through the branches of the cypress trees and quickly closed the distance. It was incredible to see how acrobatic the birds were as they came through the tree tops. I had never experienced such an amazing sight in years of hunting ducks in dry fields and over small potholes. It was absolutely breath taking to see them coming through the trees!

From within the blind, I could smell the swamp water. To my nose, it was a strange foreign odor much different from the earthy, dusty and grain type smells I was accustomed to smelling when hunting. I really couldn't identify the odor and could only describe it as dank, stale and musty. For some the aroma would have been offensive, to me it was intriguing and I inhaled heavily to relish the moment.

Another gray duck for the game bag.

Ever so slowly, nighttime gave way to dawn. As it did, the surrounding trees and tree tops of the cypress swamp that had originally appeared as apparitions in the flashlight beams really started to materialize. The trees were extremely tall and had gigantic trunks. The tree trunks were much bigger than I had anticipated. The trees also had way more branches than I had ever envisioned and seemed to spread out in every direction.

As the light levels increased, my eyes went from the tree tops to the water. I was fully expecting to see an alligator or some type of swamp monster, but instead saw a fair size opening of open water devoid of any trees. It was a duck hole and within the hole was a spread of 100 plus decoys consisting of every dabbler duck species I could imagine.

Oh what a pleasure it was to see the decoys. I was really starting to wonder when and how we were going to set up the decoys. With shooting time getting so close, I was quietly getting worried we might not be prepared, because back home, we'd take an hour or two prior to each hunt to set up decoys. While doing so, we'd walk around, work up a sweat and second guess ourselves about being in the right place and if we were setting up the right pattern.

At that point, I asked Mike about our location and quickly learned that in the cyprus, the duck holes are limited and such spots are hunted on a regular basis day after day, season after season. In fact, from what he knew the spot we were hunting at had probably been hunted for close to 100 years. What a change from back home where it seems I rarely hunt the same place twice in a season and may not even hunt the same place for years.

Almost unexpectedly, I heard a familiar sound. Even though I was in a strange environment, there was no denying the whistling of duck wings circling above. My heart beat faster. I glanced at my watch and realized it was 10 minutes into shooting time.

Moments later, four gadwalls materialized directly out front of us. They flew over our duck hole and quickly disappeared into the tree branches behind us. When they went out of sight, Mike called to them with a short series of soft calls. Out of the corner of my eye, I also saw him pull a jerk cord rope, which brought the decoys out front of us to life. The gadwalls went around and around numerous times. With each swoop they got a little lower.

On their sixth or seventh pass, the gadwalls committed to the spread. They dive bombed through the branches of the cypress trees and quickly closed the distance. It was incredible to see how acrobatic the birds were as they came through the tree tops. I had never experienced such an amazing sight in years of hunting ducks in dry fields and over small potholes. It was absolutely breath taking to see them coming through the trees!

The author and a handful of fowl.

My eyes were glued on the approaching gadwalls. It looked as if they were going to crash right into the trunk of a large cypress tree just to my right. At the last minute they twisted and swerved. Two went behind the tree and disappeared behind the blind. The other two kept coming straight at us and somehow slipped through the thick web of tree branches. Before I knew it, they were suddenly right in the opening in front of us.

Mike called the shot. In all the excitement, I was able to shoulder my shotgun, single out the bird closest to me and pull the trigger. The bird collapsed in mid air and started dropping from the sky. At the same time, one of my buddies to the left of me cleanly folded the other bird. As the two drake gadwalls splashed onto the water our shots could be heard echoing through the timber and the rich aroma of burned gunpowder lingered in the air.

In a flash, Mike's black lab "Molly" was out of the blind and in the water. She quickly retrieved the first bird and brought it back to the blind. When I saw the duck in my hand, I was totally amazed. It was stunningly beautiful. I had never held a duck with such fine plumage. Moments later, Molly returned with the second bird and it too was perfect.

Throughout the morning, small flocks of gadwalls and mallards, coming off the Mississippi River in search of food and a safe resting location buzzed around our spread. As they did, they gave us amazing aerial displays. While watching flights of ducks a couple of things became evident that were much different from my home stomping grounds.

For starters, the ducks flew in much smaller flocks than they did at home. There were no big groups of 300 plus birds that I typically encounter on mid to late season field hunts. Instead, the average flock of ducks was six birds, sometimes a dozen, sometimes two.

The other thing that stuck out was how cautious the ducks were. When hunting Canadian fields, ducks normally circle three or four times and those dropping into a pothole seldom go around more than two or three times. Here, the ducks went around and around and around, especially the gadwalls.

It was also interesting to note that the gadwalls that are often scorned for being so dumb back home were so cautious down South. Amazingly, they would often work the spread and disappear for some unknown reason without offering a shot. On several occasions, they even pulled mallards away from the spread and off to safety, which was a true role reversal from my experience back home.

The spectacle of ducks dive bombing through the trees continued. Before I realized what was happening, it was time for us to head for dry land. It had been a great morning of duck hunting in a unique and special place. The next day brought about just as much excitement and breathtaking scenery. However, on that second day, I was much more relaxed. I was able to soak in the sights,

sounds, smells and atmosphere of this Southern scene and store them away in my memory bank.

I now have swamp fever. I can't wait to get back and experience the unique sights, sounds, action and atmosphere of such an extraordinary duck hunting location.

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