Over the last few years of duck hunting my philosophy has drastically changed. When I first got serious about duck hunting I was all about hunting in big open water. Several hunting buddies and I would meet at the local waffle house at 3:30am and drive almost 45 minutes to a local river where we would take a 30 minute "body beating" boat ride to our blind (which was not what most would call a "hot spot" for ducks). All of this seemed like a lot of work for the small amount of birds we saw each morning.
I loved duck hunting more than anything in the world, however it was getting to a point where I felt it was almost pointless to spend the majority of the day in a blind where you knew you would only shoot at a couple of ducks.
Last year, in the middle of July everything I thought I knew and loved about duck hunting would change, all because of a train. I was on a back country road as I approached a set of train tracks, I looked to my left and noticed a small marsh area in the corner of a grazing field. I came to a stop for the passing train and could not believe what I was seeing, as I looked across the water there, not twenty yards from my truck were more ducks than I had seen during the entire 2004-05 season! I stared in amazement at hundreds of wood ducks, mallards, hooded mergansers, gadwalls, green and blue winged teal, Canadian Geese, and even a couple of bluebills swimming all through the water and brush. After a few moments the train passed and I slowly drove off, still in shock from what I had just witnessed. Now I realize that this might not be uncommon to all of you that live in Arkansas, Oklahoma, California, or any of the other duck hunting mecca's across the country but here in East Tennessee we do not see that on a day to day basis.
As I returned home that evening I called my hunting buddy up and told him what I had seen. After calling me a liar for over fifteen minutes I finally convinced him to return to the swamp with me the next day. Needless to say, he was calling me everything but a liar when we arrived early the next morning. After witnessing the massive amounts of waterfowl on the water we decided to take a new strategy into the upcoming season. For the next week I spent almost every minute of spare time I had looking at Google earth pictures for any body of water within 15 miles of Athens. You’d be surprised all of the small swamps and marshes that were close to your home that you had no clue existed. I took out a pen and paper and wrote down the location of every piece of water that I saw on the maps. As I woke up the next morning and left my house in search of the ones I could see from a road I thought of what I had seen a week earlier and hoped I would find the same at other swamps in the area. I drove to ten places that morning where I saw somewhere in the area of 1000 ducks and geese. The next day I went to work, trying my best to track down every landowner that these potential "honey holes" belonged to. After locating and calling over ten of them I could do nothing but sit back and smile knowing that three of them had given me permission to hunt. The best part of the whole thing was that nobody had ever hunted on any of them before.
My friend, who had done the same, called and informed me that he had permission to hunt two more places in another part of the county and the following week my friend made the final decision and sold his hunting boat.
We had taken the plunge and sworn off big water for the entire season for something we were unsure would even yield any results. As the season approached we built some small two man blinds out of cedar and surrounding brush on a couple of the swamps and left the others, with decent cover, alone. Four months after I had sat in awe at those train tracks hunting season had finally arrived. As I leaned against a tree in the middle of that same swamp I had no clue what the morning would bring. About fifteen minutes before legal shooting time I stood there and listened to bird after bird hit the water in the thick brush behind me. At 6:56am three of the fattest greenheads I had ever seen hovered over our decoys. The famous "take em" call was ordered and our first three birds of the season were dead on the water! In the next thirty minutes four mallards, two woodies, a hooded merganser drake, and two gadwalls fell to shallow water. After filling our limit in that short time, we could only sit and watch as groups of mallards and gadwalls flew in to our small spread. As we picked up decoys we laughed about what we would have been doing at that same time had we gone to the river blind. We spent the rest of the season bouncing from swamp to swamp and ended up killing over 300 birds of all different species (including a couple of redhead drakes and several bluebills).
Even more to my amazement, we did all of this without blowing a single call. The birds simply wanted to be there bad enough that there was no need for a call. This year we have gained access to a few more of these small, out of the way holes and have shot our limit the first two mornings out. After sharing this information with several other hunters in the area I was surprised at how many would still rather hunt nothing but open water. I am by no means an expert in every area of hunting but what I do know is what has worked for me. If you have never hunting a swamp or small area of standing timber in your area give a try. There is nothing that can replace that feeling of in-your-face hunting that this can bring.