Arkansas Sampler

There's a reason ducks love "The Natural State": diverse habitats and plenty of water.

With a flashlight illuminating the darkness, we waded to a small island in the middle of a flooded rice field. While we stowed our gear in the pit blind, our guide Jim Ronquest made a few adjustments to the 100 decoys that surrounded the pit. By shooting time we were settled in and scanning the horizon for birds.

It wasn't long until a distant flock of mallards caught Jim's eye and he went to work on the call. It was a textbook example of championship calling--a series of highballs attracted and turned the birds and they came in high over the blind. As they winged closer he shifted from the high ringing call to a staccato feeding chuckle punctuated with several seductive quacks. The birds broke high and right and appeared to lose interest.

Jim switched to the come back call and the birds made a wide pass and dropped altitude. More feeding chuckles and a few lonesome hen calls brought the birds in range. When they were 25 yards out and over the decoys Jim gave the command and we rose to at least a dozen committed birds. I picked a greenhead on the right and squeezed the trigger. I missed with my first shot and anchored the drake with the second. When the shooting was over, three mallards and a gadwall were lying on the water.

If you are a serious waterfowl hunter, when Arkansas is mentioned the first thing that comes to mind is mallard hunting in flooded timber. Arkansas winters more mallards than anywhere in the U.S. and flooded hardwoods forests, known to many as green timber, form the cornerstone of the habitat base. Arkansas is a place where duck populations reach legendary proportions and mallards are given celebrity status.

The reason for this concentration of birds is the variety and quality of the habitat available. Along with flooded timber, Arkansas has flooded rice and soybean fields, dead timber breaks and marshes. While timber hunting is all about mallards and wood ducks, rice/soybean field and dead timber break/marsh shooting provides the opportunity to take a variety of species including mallard, gadwall, wigeon, green-winged teal, shoveler, pintail and wood ducks along with snow, Ross's and white-fronted geese.

When hunting Arkansas and the birds are not in the "woods," one simply has to look to the fields, marshes and timber breaks to work a hard-charging retriever.

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