High-dollar duck leases have made the Highway 15 area legendary, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy this region of the state.
Ducks go where ducks go.
No experienced waterfowler will argue with that.
And that might well explain why the Northeast Louisiana hunting area known as “Highway 15” is what it is: a duck hunting mecca.
What makes this area between Monroe and Winnsboro so good is as simple as that opening statement. It’s where ducks go.
“It’s legendary,” Monroe hunter Dr. Daniel Raymond said.
Millions of migrating waterfowl have been passing this way for hundreds of years. Somehow, areas like this are bred into migrating waterfowl like a GPS with pinpoint coordinates.
It’s like the ducks get ready to leave Canada and quack instructions to their iPhone, “Siri, program nearest route to Highway 15.”
Then the ducks proceed to the highlighted route until their map guidance is complete.
“I think people around the state, when they ask you where you hunt and you say ‘Highway 15,’ they know that this is a legendary area for duck hunting,” Raymond said. “People may have never been here, but as far as duck hunting goes, they have heard of it.
“Highway 15 has had a pretty significant impact on the history of Louisiana duck hunting, especially in this area.”
Where is Highway 15?
Well, the section of two-lane highway in Ouachita and Richland parishes that is the center of this discussion runs from south of Monroe to Alto and then over to Winnsboro.
But the Highway 15 “duck area” actually begins feeding waterfowl from the fields south of Mer Rouge in Morehouse Parish all the way south to the flooded bottoms of the Boeuf and Lafourche rivers systems near Columbia in Caldwell Parish.
Within those boundaries is a plethora of waterfowl opportunities, including some of the best high-dollar duck blinds in the South. But they also encompass honey holes that regular camo-collar hunters can afford — even thousands of acres of public hunting land.
“All that combines to make Highway 15 legendary,” Raymond said.
Want to go first class? You can find some six- to eight-man blinds in prime rice-field locations or sweet spots in flooded timber on man-made reservoirs that go for upwards of $20,000 a year (don’t let your wife see that canceled check).
But you can also fine lease blinds in a pretty good spot for around $2,000 a person.
Some folks who have been hunting the region for decades even own their own property, and share blinds with friends and family.
One thing’s for sure — the high-dollar ducks drawn to the area also provide some good public duck hunting, as well.
“I got into duck hunting when I was about 8 or 9 years old with my uncle, Billy Haddad,” Raymond said. “He owns a place on Highway 15. I developed a passion for it, and that passion has just grown deeper for duck hunting and the outdoors, in general, since then.
“Some of the best memories are in the duck blind — not just shooting ducks, but spending time with friends and family. It’s a social affair, not just a sport.”
For duck hunters not in leases, there are plenty of opportunities for successful duck hunting in the region thanks to a dedicated effort by the state wildlife department.
In fact, Highway 15 (the road), cuts right through the south end of the ever-expanding Russell Sage WMA, which currently stands at 38,000 acres.
Included in that WMA are hundreds of acres of bottomland hardwood that flood each year, offering refuge to ducks.
And Russell Sage has 2,500 acres of public greentree reservoirs that are open for waterfowling. Those honey holes should become even more dependable because of pumping staton upgrades completed earlier this year.
To the south, there is also the 50,000-acre Boeuf WMA that runs into Caldwell Parish. Just about that whole public tract of land floods frequently when the Boeuf River, which makes up the WMAs eastern boundary for nearly 50 miles, and about eight bayous spill out of their banks.
And there are 26 lakes on the WMA, along with an 1,800-acre greentree reservoir, that offer about 2,000 acres of duck-hunting possibilities.
But make sure that if you hunt one of these public areas you know the special regulations and any off-limit areas.
Whether you hunt the Highway 15 corridor’s private sector or public lands, Raymond said the same three basic principles apply.
“After you find where the ducks want to go, the most-important thing of all is making sure you are well hidden,” he explained. “If you are well camouflaged, you have a chance of killing ducks. That means making sure that they cannot see you or any movement.
“Believe me, they are going to look things over before the come in, even with 400 decoys in a spread.”
The second-most-important thing is being able to call the ducks in — which also entails being able to switch calls or techniques so you can speak the language of the day.
“Not all ducks sound the same, and not all ducks respond to the same type of calling,” Raymond said. “It can even vary from day to day with new ducks in the area.”
This accomplished waterfowler also said this region isn’t where one should skimp on decoys.
“Finally, you need a good decoy spread,” Raymond said. “We have a big area, so we use a big spread. There are often so many ducks in the area that we use 300 to 400 decoys, and we usually leave a big spread for the whole season.
“The key is leaving a good, irregular hole in the center of the spread for the ducks to land in — within good shooting range. And you need to have some motion for them, especially when (the wind) is still.”
That motion is almost like a commotion in front of Daniel’s blind. There are Mojo decoys flapping their wings. There is a trolling motor rigged to send small ripples across the water’s surface. There are jerk strings to get the decoys moving in strategic parts of the spread.
Occasionally ducks will even come into the spread while there are still ripples left from when Daniel’s 4-year-old lab Izzy has been out to retrieve a duck on its way to the real duck heaven.
Even with all that setup, Daniel said hunters have to constantly evaluate what they are doing to be consistently successful.
There are days when no extra motion is needed or when calling needs to be held to a minimum.
He even pays close attention to the color of the camo on the blind.
“You don’t want to still be putting green brush on your blind when everything around you has turned brown,” Raymond said. “It is important that your blind match everything near you.
“We try to harvest material for the blind from near the blind and keep making sure it matches as the season progresses.”
Typically, the best days for Daniel’s crew is a cold day with a hard north wind. Right before a storm is sometimes phenomenal.
There are other days when it might be cloudy and warm, and they have to leave the blind and wade flooded woods.
“It sounds overly simple, but you just have to go where the ducks are going,” Raymond said. “When you go wading the woods or backwater, you don’t have a blind and you have to take extra care to hide. You can’t take much equipment with you. If you take a boat, make sure to hide it well.
“And, oh yes: If it’s warm, watch out for gators.”
But no matter what, Raymond said successful waterfowling is a matter of proper perspective.
“Whether you are sitting in a high-dollar blind or wading the flooded woods off Bayou Boeuf, have fun and enjoy the people you are with,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”