The splash of water takes us by surprise. It’s barely light enough to see the color on the Carry-Lite decoys bobbing in the brown water 10 yards out and our cased shotguns are still lying on the seat in the blind behind us. The sound, however, is the unmistakable swoosh of ducks landing among the decoys. Four of us scramble as we dig for shotgun shells and uncase our guns.
“Are we legal?” I whisper to our guide, Charles Snapp as I fumble for shells. Snapp bends toward the east to get a clear view of his watch as three of us start pushing shells into our guns.
“Yep, take em,” hisses our guide.
It’s too late. The mallards figure out the game and scramble for safer country before we can push the lid off the pit blind. That’s okay, Snapp assures us, there will be others. Not only are there others, the four of us shoot until our shoulders ache and then shoot some more. For three hours, we peer out of a narrow crack in the blind and watch flock after flock of ducks appear as tiny specks in the distant sky and then circle once before teetering into the decoy spread. In between the duck action, we pop out of the blind and pass-shoot low-flying snow geese. We see thousands throughout the day, but most are either too far away or too high to bring down. Still, we manage to scratch down a handful to add to our mixed bag of ducks. Mallards, teal, gadwalls, even a banded drake pintail round out our take on this mild January morning.
We are in Arkansas, of course. But we are a long way from the fabled region of Stuttgart, the self-proclaimed duck hunting capital of the world. Instead, we are in a rice field on the outskirts of Walnut Ridge, a tiny, run-down town in northeastern Arkansas that may not win any awards for beauty, but may take over as the next great duck hunting destination. Snapp, a lifelong resident of Walnut Ridge and a widely-respected guide and outfitter, says the duck hunting has gotten better over the last 10 years for a number of reasons. His hunters average nearly five ducks per day, an incredible number considering all the variables. Snapp credits that to the abundance of ducks around his home town.
“We’ve had milder winters, so the birds are staying a little farther north. However, we are cold enough that the rice that gets spilled on the ground doesn’t all germinate early in the season, so there is plenty of food all winter to keep the birds around,” explains Snapp, who leases or controls nearly 10,000 acres of the best duck hunting spots in the region.
If a morning in a pit blind overlooking a flooded rice field isn’t your thing, Snapp has access to some of the best flooded timber in the state. Of course, that all depends on fall and winter rains. Without it, the trees will stay dry and the ducks won’t use them. Of course, that just means more ducks will pour into the decoys in the rice fields. And pour in they do.
In three days with Snapp, I see more ducks and geese than I’ve ever seen. One morning, we stand in the shadows of oak trees, knee deep in water, and wait for birds to drop through the trees to our decoys. The next, we sit in a pit blind between two rice fields and shoot until our shoulders are sore. The third day we hunker down in flooded bushes on the edge of another rice field and watch thousands more ducks and geese pass by our decoys. Some drop in, but with so many real birds sitting on a mud flat a quarter-mile away, most don’t. It’s a good problem to have, Snapp and I agree, but it’s a problem that some might call duck hunter’s hell. For us, however, it’s pure heaven.
Contact: Charles Snapp; 800-541-5590 or www.arkansaswaterfowl.com.