Mallards in Flooded Timber

Somehow, the sight of ducks working over a timber hole draws more ducks from everywhere. The rest of the ducks make one more circle, but higher and looser. Jumping the two drakes, Kearns and I each shoot one. While we wish the rest had come in, the sight of these two in the trees, hanging over the decoys and lit by the morning sun, makes Kearns an instant convert to woods hunting. Good hunters are secretive. Where he wants to be, and where he don’t mind goin’.” This is a don’t-mind-goin’ spot, hence, the need for decoys and spinners. With two dozen decoys in the hole and four spinners going, we’re looking good. Decoys show up, spinners flash, and the sun creates shadows that make it easy to hide beside a tree. Often in timber hunting, you don’t see the ducks you’re calling or decoying until after they have seen you. Timber hunting means standing in the water, so good waders are essential, especially when it’s cold.
hunter and hunting dog mallards
Looking UP: Two hunting buddies watch for mallards in the Missouri timber.

The best thing about timber hunting is the way ducks multiply. A pair starts to circle, and that pair becomes four, then eight. Eight turn into 20. Somehow, the sight of ducks working over a timber hole draws more ducks from everywhere. It’s almost like squirrels running out onto branches to see what the others are chattering about.

It can build until you’ve got flocks working at two or three levels, and there’s less need for calling than there is for air traffic control. I’ve seen that in Arkansas, but we won’t see it here—in a duck-poor state a couple hundred miles north. The two dozen mallards wheeling over our heads are as good as it’s going to get. But from where we stand, pressed tight to the trees, two dozen is more than good enough. Editor-​in-​chief Colin Kearns and I are doing that thing where you look down but roll your eyes up, trying to peek at ducks without flaring them, and our hearts are beating fast.

Two drakes peel off the bunch and backpedal into the hole. Travis Mueller, a Banded pro staffer, tells us not to shoot. He’s hoping the rest will follow. Kearns and I nod our heads—imperceptibly, we hope—and hold our guns ready. The rest of the ducks make one more circle, but higher and looser. Then they slide away. With the birds in the sky gone, we settle for the two in the bush. Jumping the two drakes, Kearns and I each shoot one. While we wish the rest had come in, the sight of these two in the trees, hanging over the decoys and lit by the morning sun, makes Kearns an instant convert to woods hunting.

Top Secret

Mueller, who scouts as hard as anyone, found this spot in spring by looking for beavers. Beavers plus woods equals flooded timber anywhere, and we’re standing in knee-deep water in the soft maples and willows growing between a couple of oxbow ponds. Mueller hunts here to get away from the crowds on the big water, but crowds have a habit of following successful hunters.

The first rule of timber hunting: No one talks about timber hunting. Good hunters are secretive. Mueller is a great hunter, so it’s no…

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