Every year, just over a million duck hunters take to the waters and marshes of the United States in search of ducks to harvest. Duck hunting has been slowly but steadily growing in popularity and healthy duck populations all across the United States and the North American continent are staying extremely abundant across all species of ducks. As with any game animal, there are certain places in the United States that just seem to be a hotbed for ducks to thrive as a whole. I are here to give you insight into where those duck hunting hotbeds are and when you should be trying to hunt them. I will touch on four hotbed areas to get your duck hunting juices flowing. So join us as we scour the United States for the best duck hunting spots on the map!
Know the Waterfowl Migration Patterns
If you are new to duck hunting, it is good to know the migratory flyways that ducks use each year. If you are a seasoned duck hunter, this should be a quick refresher. I wanted to add this so that you can see how I arrived at our conclusion of finding the best duck hunting hotbeds in the United States. There are four main duck migration patterns that all move from north to south in the fall (i.e. hunting season) for the seasonal migration. They start in Canada and move south across four pathways to the south.
The Atlantic Flyway simply follows the Atlantic Coast, otherwise known as the eastern coast of the United States. The Mississippi Flyway travels the Mississippi River corridor but is much wider than the Atlantic Flyway. The Central Flyway covers a large swath of land from North Dakota and Montana all the way down to Texas. Finally, there is the Pacific Flyway that follows the Pacific Coast but also stretches well inland all the way over to Idaho, Utah, and Arizona. Knowing these migration patterns can really help you determine some great places to duck hunt and possibly even keep you busy in a blind over the course of many months if you care to travel.
Upper Mississippi River Area
The Upper Mississippi River Area is a great location if you are looking to duck hunt. For those in the Midwest, this would be a great weekend destination duck hunt as there are a wide variety of areas within the region worth hunting. Sticking around the shallow open water, small islands, and marshes that border the Mississippi River around Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, the ducks will be thriving here in the fall. There is tons of public hunting allowed in this 240,000-acre area which is perfect for non-local hunters.
The best time of the season to go to find it teeming with ducks is late October through November. The ducks will be starting to make their way south and all the wetlands around the Upper Mississippi River serve as a great staging area for ducks to gather for their migration. The most popular species of ducks that you will find in abundance there are canvasbacks, redheads, lesser scaup, and mallards.
Heading south down the Mississippi River, you will find some great hunting in the Mississippi Delta. After some early winter rain and all the crops are out of the fields, most of the area floods which creates great wintering ground for a wide variety of ducks. Like the Upper Mississippi River Area, the Mississippi Delta has vast areas of shallow waters, flooded hardwood forests, and wide open flooded plains to hunt on. If you stick near the Delta National Forest and other national and state wildlife areas, you will find plenty of public land to hunt on.
This area is definitely for those who want to hunt later into the season as the duck migration continues south. The best time of the year to hunt this area is in December and January. There are a greater variety of ducks here because the Mississippi Flyway and the Central Flyway converge in this area. You can find mallards, pintails, gadwalls, wood ducks, and green-winged teal.
Getting out of the middle of the United States, we head east to the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding area. This bay is on the east coast of Virginia, and also touches Maryland. Now, this might be some very different type of duck hunting compared to the Mississippi and other inland areas if you actually hunt on the bay itself because you are hunting wide open water. Nonetheless, it has one of the most dense duck populations in the country both for migration and wintering areas.
The Chesapeake Bay itself is completely open to the public because it is open water and there are also numerous other public hunting areas just inshore in wildlife management areas and wildlife refuges. I recommend using these if you don't have the equipment to go out on the bay itself. The best time of year to go hunting in and around the Chesapeake is in December and January. Be sure to dress warm, as it can get quite frigid out on the open water. The most popular species of ducks you will find in and around the Chesapeake Bay are mallards, back ducks, green-winged teal, and canvasbacks.
Central Valley of California
In an effort to acknowledge the western region, we head to the Central Valley of California for our last hotbed duck hunting area in the United States. The Central Valley is home to the biggest duck wintering ground in North America. At the height of migration and wintering, it is home to between five and seven million waterfowl! This gives any hunter great opportunity, as the area is saturated with ducks for quite an extended period of time.
There are some decent public hunting opportunities in the area as well as the very intensely managed national wildlife refuges there. Another avenue to try are the private duck clubs that are blanketed throughout the region. This would be a good opportunity for anyone looking for a destination duck hunt in the near future.
The best time to go is anytime between late November and the end of January. This tends to be the hot time of winter for ducks to be using the area. The species you can find there in large abundance are pintails, mallards, wigeon, and green-winged teal.
If you don't live in these areas, they would be a great place to check out for a destination hunt and you have a great chance at bagging your limit in any of these duck hotbeds. Let your duck hunting obsession take you to new places!
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