When you think waterfowl hunting, your mind may drift to Stuttgart, Arkansas, or the coast of Louisiana. Sure, those locales have rightly earned their reputation after years of high populations of wintering birds and hunter success. But just to the north in the Mississippi River Flyway, waterfowlers are quickly learning that Missouri duck hunting is superb during the winter migration.
It’s a no brainer Missouri is capable of producing limits of quality ducks. The Mississippi River runs along the entire eastern half of the state, while the Missouri River cuts across the central part before entering the Mississippi Alluvial Plain. The state is also one of the top rice producers in the country. There’s been improved waterfowl habitat in recent decades, as well as warmer-than-average winters the past few years, which helps retain ducks in the state, meaning numbers have remained strong.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri hunters bagged more than 400,000 ducks in 2015, over half of those mallards. While Arkansas is still light years ahead of every state in the number of mallards harvested, in recent years, Missouri competes for second place with Louisiana and Illinois. “It’s a main stop off for ducks in the Mississippi River Flyway,” said Aaron Bennett, a land specialist with Waterfowl Properties.
Those looking to hunt ducks in the state need to look no further than along the mighty Mississippi. The southeastern corner of the state is the epicenter of rice production and “is where some of the best duck hunting in the state occurs,” according to Bennett.
Plenty of rice fields located in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain is one of the reasons why Missouri duck hunting has increasingly gotten better in recent years.
Hunters have success in flooded timber near the rivers and agricultural fields. There’s plenty of public land to go around along the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers near St. Louis. Between conservation areas and wildlife refuges, there’s nearly 40,000 acres of hunting land open to the public.
Located in the southeast corner of the state in rice country, not far from the Mississippi River, is this 200-acre slice of duck paradise. Parts of the property have been enrolled in the Waterfowl Reserve Program since 2010, with wells installed to flood several parts of the property. There’s also a timber section that can be flooded.
In addition to the eastern rivers, Bennett said to target the nearby Mark Twain Lake, Thomas Hill Reservoir and Swan Lake. “People really have some success in this area,” Bennett said. “But there is a lot of competition here.”
Bennett pointed out that one of the overlooked parts of the state with excellent duck hunting is northcentral and northwestern Missouri. “There’s not as much competition in that part of the state,” he said. “There are fewer duck clubs and people in general. Usually, those living in more highly populated cities won’t make the two- or three-hour drive to get there.” As an added bonus, Bennett said land is usually cheaper there, too.
While there aren’t as many backwater wetlands in north-central Missouri, the Missouri River and smaller bodies of water pouring into it acts as a highway for ducks migrating south. Since there’s less water compared to the east, any lakes, ponds and rivers with food will hold healthy concentrations of waterfowl, Bennett said. You’ll find the full gamut of Mississippi River Flyway ducks like mallards, wood ducks, gadwalls and pintail.
In central Missouri, more than 150 acres of wetlands make this 238-acre property ideal for duck hunting. It’s located near the South Grand River, as well as several smaller creeks. To top it off, the property is just an hour east of Kansas City and has a two-story lodge.
Due to the state’s northern orientation, cold weather becomes an issue later in the season. As frigid temperatures roll in, hordes of ducks come with it, but the lakes, ponds and backwaters begin to freeze. “The north part of the state is the first to freeze up,” Bennett said. “But you can still go down to southeastern Missouri where temperatures are milder to harvest ducks.”
When duck holes start freezing over, Bennett suggested hunting large bodies of water like the Lake of the Ozarks in central Missouri, as well as the Truman Reservoir. These two water bodies span for miles, resulting from dams on the Osage River that eventually meets up with the Missouri near Jefferson City.
If you’re looking to get started duck hunting in Missouri, there’s no shortage of quality habitat for you to choose from. Although the state isn’t often lumped in with its neighbors to the south as a duck haven, the locals know better. With quality habitat and healthy concentrations of waterfowl each year, the state’s hunters certainly aren’t complaining.