Talk Loudly and Have a Lot of Decoys
Author’s Note: “I hunt every single day of duck season,” says Billy Blakely, chief guide at Blue Bank Resort on Reelfoot Lake near Tiptonville, Tennessee, located between three waterfowl refuges and only a short distance from the Mississippi River, one of the premier duck hunting regions in the U.S. “I’ll guide 80+ days per year for ducks.” When Blakely takes a party of duck hunters out to Reelfoot Lake for a day of hunting, he often carries 4-10 hunters at one time plus a dog, guns, ammunition and food. Blakely usually will carry his party about 2 miles before they set-up to hunt. That 2 miles of the lake includes stumps, shallow water, deep water, brush and ice. If he is hunting from his permanent blind, he pulls his boat into a covered slip.
Question: Billy, let’s talk about Reelfoot Lake. What makes it such a great duck-hunting spot?
Blakely: First of all, Reelfoot Lake is right off the Mississippi River. It was created when an earthquake opened up a hole so close to the Mississippi River that the river flowed backwards and filled up that hole we today call Reelfoot Lake. Reelfoot is right below Cairo, Illinois, where the Mississippi and Ohio rivers meet. When the ducks come down those two rivers from up north, they pour right into Reelfoot. To sweeten the pie, we have three major waterfowl refuges here around Reelfoot, so the ducks have plenty of water to rest and feed on, and they have plenty of food inside those refuges to eat. We have more like a paradise for ducks, and we always usually hold plenty of ducks here on Reelfoot.
Question: How much duck-hunting pressure do you have up at Reelfoot?
Blakely: We have quite a bit. We have more than 200 registered blinds on the lake, but probably only half of those get hunted every year. However, there is plenty of competition on the water but numbers of ducks for everyone. Besides the people hunting from registered blinds, probably another 100 hunters are out there where we are daily.
Question: How do you out-compete those other hunters?
Blakely: I usually put out larger spreads than other people do, and I may put out as many as 1,200 decoys. I take someone extra to call, so there are always two callers instead of just one. That way I can out-call other hunters. We call louder and harder than most people on the lake. We don’t ease up on the calling until the ducks get almost in range. Especially when you’re hunting in the open water, you have to out-decoy the other hunters and out-call them, and that’s what we try to do.
Question: What kind of decoys are you using?
Blakely: I like those over-sized Greenhead Gear decoys, especially the black mallard decoys, since those decoys are much easier for the ducks to see, especially when they are high up. The black-mallard decoys can be seen twice as far by the ducks than the regular mallard decoy. If I’m putting out 1,000 decoys, I’ll put out about 800 black mallard decoys, and the others will be mallard, teal and a few widgeons.
Question: Tell me how a duck hunt is conducted at Blue Bank.
Blakely: We get up and put on our hunting clothes, except for the heavy outerwear, and eat breakfast. Here at Blue Bank, it’s a buffet style breakfast, and after breakfast we put on our heavy clothes, get our guns and shell bags and head to the boat ramp. We put the boat in, load our hunters up and decide where we want to go hunt. Once we arrive at the blind, we will hunt from a permanent blind, unload the hunters and put out the decoys. Then we’ll decide where we want to park the boat and get ready to hunt. We cook lunch in the blind. We usually have pork chops or ham, fried potatoes and some kind of bread. We have as good of a hot lunch as you’ll have at home, while trying not to miss any flights of ducks. When we get in from the hunt, there is a duck cleaning station where you can take and have your ducks cleaned. If the weather is pretty, and you finish up early, you have the opportunity to crappie fish. Catching 1-1/2 to 2 pound crappie during duck season isn’t uncommon. You also can catch some pretty good sized bass slow-rolling a spinner bait.
This article is part of a series on winter duck hunting. Click here to go back to part two, talking ducks down. Check back next week for part four on using different duck hunting tactics and going mobile.