Rivers and flyways all seem to converge in Central Louisiana, where the waterfowl hunting is often second to nowhere.
Do you have a favorite honey hole that you keep hunting because it seems to always hold game? If so, you’re not alone. Most hunters have secret spots that they jealously guard with everything but their lives. Some may be so fanatical about keeping their honey hole secret that they would fight to the death.
These honey holes are productive for a variety of reasons. The spot might offer a ready food source for the game. It might have a great watering hole nearby that game move toward after feeding. Or it might be a thick spot that offers game a chance to hole up and feel secure.
The best of these holes offer a combination of these things. In fact, the best honey holes are a convergence of characteristics that make them spots that game can’t help but frequent.
Take the woods behind my house for example. While helping a friend look for a spot to set up a stand for his son to hunt this season, we found several likely looking spots that offered good potential — a bedding area, a clear cut and a trail or two in the woods. Yet we kept looking.
We walked over a little ridge, and immediately spied the spot for his stand. The area was a clear spot under a canopy of various hardwoods that was the convergence of three separate trails that led from the thick woods to the clear cut. A few tracks and some droppings were enough to seal the deal.
These convergence areas help anglers locally all season long, but there is a statewide phenomenon that offers duck hunters in particular a spot where they can hunt one of the most productive convergences of waterfowl in the entire nation.
According to www.birdnature.com, migrating ducks use many routes. Some are simple and easily traced, while others are extremely complicated. It may be said that the great routes of migration conform closely to major topographical features when these happen to lie in the general direction of duck travel.
The great thing about North America is that many of our greatest geographical features like mountain ranges and large rivers don’t depart from a north-and-south alignment. The four major flyways are the Atlantic, the Mississippi, the Central and the Pacific.
Louisiana is a premiere waterfowl hotspot because it lies in a convergence zone where the Mississippi and Central flyways meet. Take into consideration that some of the ducks flying the Atlantic Flyway will change course and pick up the Mississippi Flyway in the zone where Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas all kind of meet, and it’s not a stretch to say that the Bayou State gathers ducks from three of the four major flyways.
Nowhere in Louisiana is this convergence of ducks more readily noticed than in Central Louisiana. While the entire state is located within the Mississippi Flyway, the Central Flyway nudges east in Oklahoma and Nebraska. From there, its eastern-most border sweeps through the northwest corner of Louisiana, where some birds pick up the Red River and fly toward the Mississippi River.
One hunter who has seen exactly what Central Louisiana has to offer duck hunters is Porter Trimble, host of Southern Woods & Water seen locally on KLAX channel 31.
Trimble, who is gearing up to take his show national on the Sportsman’s Channel this year, says Central Louisiana’s ability to draw ducks from the Central and Mississippi flyways coupled with the variety of hospitable lakes, rivers and bayous makes Central Louisiana “Duck Central.”
“You can hunt just about any way you want to hunt in Central Louisiana,” he said. “We’ve got Catahoula and the Red River, which are two popular public-hunting areas. Most everything else is lease-type stuff, and there are some great rice-field leases south of Alexandria near Bunkie.”
Other than the lease option, hunters also have a couple duck hunting outfitters from which to choose. Cypress Point Hunting Lodge in Clayton just north of Ferriday and Duckmasters Bayou Waterfowling just to the northwest of Alexandria are two popular choices. These lodges are pay-per-gun type hunts that cater to novice and experienced hunters alike.
With so many places to hunt, it’s likely you’ll find your own piece of paradise somewhere in Central Louisiana. Ducks like it there, and after your first hunt, you’ll like it there too.
“Catahoula had a decent season last year,” Trimble said. “It wasn’t great, but it was good enough to keep a lot of people happy. The lake was holding tons of ducks right before the season started back in November, but the birds started thinning out as soon as the shooting started.”
The early off-and-on success isn’t going to drive hunters away from Catahoula, though. So many of the hunters on the lake grew up hunting the same blind they hunt as adults today, and they know that Catahoula turns into a duck magnet during the second split.
One of the most unique things about Catahoula is that it is one of the lakes where hunters can reasonably and consistently expect to shoot canvasbacks. Other than that, the lake holds a lot of divers like scaup, and it is known for having swarms of pintails flying in. Of course, the main problem at Catahoula Lake is the amount of pressure it receives.
“The key out there is that if you aren’t within 300 yards of anybody else, you should be able to shoot some ducks,” Trimble explained. “The guys who build those floating blinds out there sometimes get out their rangefinders to check that distance all the way around.”
A view from the air would reveal that the floating blinds on Catahoula are spaced an equidistance apart about as precisely as they can be. With much of the main body of water taken up with the floating blinds, it seems like it would leave very little chance of finding a place to hunt.
As protected as these floating blinds are, the law says that hunters can’t stake a claim to them. In other words, if you get to your blind and find somebody else already in it, you don’t have much recourse other than to let them hunt. Obviously, this can be problematic, but Trimble says there are several ways around stepping on anybody’s toes.
“I would say that most of the guys who build those blinds don’t care if you hunt it as long as you’re not in it when they want to be in it and you are respectful of their brushing efforts and decoys,” Trimble said. “Most of the guys are pretty nice, and they don’t mind if you hunt the blind after they get out. It’s always nice to ask for permission first, though, just to keep everybody happy. The best thing to do is be respectful of what somebody else has created and their property.”
Other than hunting somebody else’s blind, Trimble said there are plenty of places to hunt out of a boat blind in the flooded brush around the edges of the lake. A little common sense and a lot of patience will go a long way in helping you find a spot to hunt on the lake.
All those blinds present another problem, too. Learning to deal with the pressure is part of hunting Catahoula. The advantage of the lake is that it holds one of the largest concentrations of birds in the state. The disadvantage is there are a lot of people hunting them.
“You may be working some birds when somebody two or three blinds over starts shooting,” said Trimble. “That’s just part of it. Birds can also make a wide swing that make it possible for another blind to pull them off you. Most of the time, hunters just one blind away won’t try to call them off you, but it could happen that they like their spread better.”
Thousands of acres of backwaters were created when the Red River lock-and-dam project was completed in 1994, and a lot of that backwater can hold ducks at any time during the season. The farther up the river you go, the more oxbow lakes hunters can find, so the key toward Alexandria is finding some water that somebody else isn’t already hunting.
“I’ve done some hunting on the river up around Colfax and Montgomery,” said Trimble. “There is limited space, but you can have some good hunts. It’s easy to overcrowd these lakes, though, and one or two blinds is about all one lake can take.”
Trimble admitted that the Red River could be hit or miss throughout the season. But the number of birds that use the river as a highway means that hunters could get some good opportunities at a hodgepodge of ducks — mainly teal, mallards and widgeon. The river doesn’t get very many divers, though.
“Unlike the Monroe area, where frozen shallow water will drive birds to the Ouachita River, that doesn’t happen too much down here,” Trimble said. “Even though it seems like we’re pretty close to each other, the temperature can be 10 to 12 degrees warmer in Alexandria than it is up there. I’ve never seen it cold enough to make a difference down here.”
Cypress tree lakes
There are hundreds of cypress tree lakes scattered throughout Central Louisiana. Some are public, but most are private. If you can get access to hunt one of these lakes, Trimble said you could be in for the hunt of your life.
“Gadwall just love these kinds of potholes,” Trimble said. “We’ve had as many as 200 to 300 gadwall circling above us while we were waiting on shooting time. We’ve also had them land right beside us while we were hunkered by a tree waiting to shoot. This is the kind of fun, in-your-face hunting that I love.”
Hunters who don’t quickly fill their limits with wood ducks and gadwall can often stick around for a while to get the later flight of mallards that come to the cypress-tree lakes. The best way to hunt the cypress-tree lakes is to just toss out a few decoys and lean up against a cypress tree.
If you have a private lake or permission to build on somebody else’s lake, building a permanent blind is not only productive but also downright comfortable.
“We have a big blind in the lake I frequently shoot that is basically a cabin with a shooting porch,” Trimble said. “We can go in and cook breakfast then go out on the porch to shoot.”
Lodges and outfitters
Given all the money and effort hunters put into finding their own places to hunt with little guarantee of shooting anything, it’s becoming quite popular to book a hunting trip with a duck guide or lodge and have somebody cater to your every whim.
While they can’t guarantee ducks will be in Central Louisiana, they do know where the ducks are when they are here, thus greatly improving your chances of shooting a limit.
One of the more popular hunting lodges in Central Louisiana is Cypress Point Hunting Lodge in Clayton just north of Ferriday. Cypress Point takes yearly members on a limited basis, but they also offer guided duck hunts during the week.
According to Richie Zimmerman, lodge manager for the property, Cypress Point offers some of the best and most diverse waterfowl habitat in the state. The land is all Mississippi River alluvial land, and it offers everything from timber hunts to flooded cornfields.
“We are driven by fronts,” said Zimmerman. “When the ducks do get here, you’re not going to find many places in the state that hold more ducks than us. We pile up with mallards in our holes, and we pound them pretty good.”
Hunter Shaffett, head guide for Cypress Point Hunting Lodge, said hunts are typically over with pretty early in the morning as long as everybody is shooting well. But he often gets requests to stay later for the big-duck flight that typically comes in.
“Our guided duck hunt is $300 per person, and it includes an overnight stay in our new lodge,” Shaffett said. “It also includes breakfast the next morning, the hunt and cleaning, tagging and packaging of all birds. We also offer a drive-up hunt for $200 that includes everything but the overnight stay in the lodge.”
Hunters visiting Cypress Point Hunting Lodge can hunt in pit blinds overlooking flooded millet. They can crouch down in a flooded field of standing corn. Or they can hunt part of Fletchers Lake — either wade hunting in the cypress trees or out of a boat blind out in the lake.
“If you want to call, we’ll let you call,” Shaffett added. “You can bring your dog if you want to. Our main goal is to ensure you have a great time and shoot some ducks, and we’ll do whatever we can to make that happen.”
Another hunting outfitter just northwest of Alexandria is Duckmasters Bayou Waterfowling, which features about 7,000 acres bordered by the Red River, Bayou Rigolette and Bayou Darrow.
According to Aaron Slayter, one of a partnership that owns the land, ducks flock to the area because of its combination of roosting and feeding areas. The area includes nearly 3,000 acres of WRP land, and it has lots of shallow-water developments as described by Ducks Unlimited.
“This farm held thousands of birds last year when the ducks got down here,” said Slayter. “And we can hunt them several different ways. We have flooded timber, pit blinds, and we have skid blinds so we can move them to where the ducks want to be. Our main goal is to do what the hunter wants to do and shoot ducks.”
The guides at Duckmasters Bayou Waterfowling have several years of experience guiding in Central Louisiana. They’ve been guiding about 30 years combined, and they know how to put hunters on the ducks. One of the most unique aspects of some of the guides is that they bring in ducks by calling with their mouths.
Duckmasters Bayou Waterfowling also is able to rotate its blinds so no one blind gets hunted too much. The ability to do this means that visiting hunters can hunt fresh blinds that offer better shooting opportunities.
“Aside from duck hunting, we want people to be able to come out and experience God’s beauty through our farm,” Slayter said. “We also hope to promote Christ through our duck hunts, although we aren’t going to hit you over the head with a Bible while you’re in the blind.”
Like the spot where those three trails converge behind my house, Central Louisiana is a zone where duck hunters can’t help but find success. The ducks are happy there, and if the ducks are happy, hunters are happy. Duck Central is the place to be.
For more information about Cypress Point Hunting Lodge, call 225-301-7335 or visit www.cphuntinglodge.com. For more information about Duckmasters Bayou Waterfowling, call 318-442-4034 or visit www.duckmasterhunts.com.