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Duck Hunting Land in Mississippi


Last updated : 12/27/2012

As the final stifling heat of summer settles over the Mississippi Delta in mid July, while buzzing mosquitoes hover over the thick brown waters meandering through the rivers to the Gulf, thoughts turn to colder times when ducks will replace the mosquitoes and the buzz will give way to the cacophonous chorus of duck filled wetlands. And so it has been for generations. Native Americans traveled by canoe to this vast hunter’s paradise, followed by hunter’s in steamboats and on trains. The planning may have evolved from the campfire and café to email, Twitter and cell phone. The travel may have advanced from canoe and boat to four wheel drive trucks and all terrain vehicles. The attire may have changed from deer skin moccasins and rubber hip boots to the latest Drake Waterfowl neoprene. But the camaraderie and anticipation of the greatest buddy hunt remains the same. The wetlands will once again be filled with sounds of the hunt - shouted congratulations of friends on that great shot, the trembling whimpers of retrievers awaiting that first leap into the cold waters, hail calls from prized duck calls, and the reverberations of gun shot volleys at dawn’s light. Come join the MS Delta Ducks tour, from the northern Delta to the southern Delta and all points in between.


Beaver Dam Lake
To begin our tour, let’s start at the beginning. According to Dr. William “Chubby” Andrews the famous Beaver Dam Duck Club is “the oldest still functioning duck hunting club in the United States.” The four original members of this club (from whom Dr. “Chubby” is a direct descendant) began their annual journeys to Beaver Dam Lake in 1878, when they departed Memphis by steamboat for the waters of this Tunica County oxbow lake. In 1882, the railroad opened up the Delta and the four hunters officially formed Beaver Dam Hunting Club. It was not by accident that we know so much about the duck hunts on Beaver Dam, but rather by the design and words of writer Nash Buckingham whose colorful prose produced a steady stream of newspaper and journal articles as well as books about the duck hunting adventures on Beaver Dam.

Beaver Dam Lake is an oxbow lake formed from a meandering of the Mississippi River over 10,000-plus-years ago. It is a protected oxbow lake whose banks and waters are owned and controlled by a small group of families. There is no public access to the lake. Mike Boyd and his son, Lamar, own and control one end of the lake where they operate Beaver Dam Hunting Services, a commercial outfitter.

The middle of the lake and its surrounding inlets and back waters is home to Beaver Dam Hunting Club. Through the years, club members have constructed tree house blinds crafted like long, dry boxes with waterproof roofs. Suspended off the water, each blind can accommodate four to eight duck hunters. The blinds carry the names of families, like the Andrews Stand, or the holes are named after the physical characteristics of the site, such as Round Pond. This type of tree house blind is an ideal set up for oxbow lakes and cypress/tupelo brakes and sloughs. In the situation of unprotected, public access wetland areas, a camouflaged duck boat with a pop-up blind is an excellent alternative. When the boat is equipped to attach to trees, it presents an extremely stable platform for shooting ducks.

Through the years, Beaver Dam waters have seen duck decoy materials and appearance change from the hand carved wood decoys to the Drake Double Duty Decoys. The evolution of design has not silenced the debate of duck decoy position. There are many well known duck decoy grouping patterns such as the fishhook or v-shaped groupings – each with a dedicated following. On the other hand, many experienced duck hunters have concluded that the shape of the grouping is much less important than motion in the spread. Much of the emphasis has shifted to the motion component in duck decoy design, but, if we are honest, many of us still like to grab a box of decoys that look alive on the showroom floor. Oh well, let the debates rage on.

Moving to the far end of Beaver Dam, much of the lake and surrounding wetlands has been placed in private conservation easements by the landowner families. While providing some tax benefit to the owners, these easements assure that Beaver Dam will never be subdivided or commercially developed but will remain in its natural state for the generations that follow. Private leases are available on some of these tracts for those duck hunters afforded the rare opportunity to possess a piece of history – if only for a season.


North Delta Mississippi River Oxbow Lakes
In addition to Beaver Dam there are three other large oxbow lakes in the northern portion of the Delta which provide the proper habitat for a duck stop off. The first two: Tunica Cut-off Lake and DeSoto Lake are unprotected oxbow lakes. The water levels in these lakes are affected by the rise and fall of the Mississippi River from whose meanderings they were born. To check water levels, the best gauge to reference is the Mississippi River Helena Gauge.

Tunica Cut-Off Lake is roughly halfway between Memphis and Clarksdale. It is a large 2,500 plus-acre oxbow lake with public boat landings and access. Any duck hunt on Tunica Cut-off should either begin with breakfast or end with lunch at the Blue and White Restaurant on Highway 61 at Tunica. The mornings at the Blue and White are filled with aspirations for that perfect morning and lunch is replete with tales of the morning’s duck hunt. Very few spots on earth contain such good food served amidst the “wisest of waterfowlers.”

Moving south, DeSoto Lake is another productive oxbow lake with public access. Located west-southwest of Clarksdale, DeSoto Lake has a free public ramp located toward the middle of the lake and another located at the upper end. For those equipped with a good camouflaged duck boat, DeSoto Lake presents a public setting for open water duck hunting. It is important on all public waters to become familiar with the area and the favored holes of the wintering ducks prior to the morning of the hunt. The duck hunter should always have more than one location in mind and programming the locations in a GPS system provides valuable assistance in navigating the pre-dawn waters. In many ways, duck hunting public waters requires more expensive equipment and longer hours than a private counterpart.

Moon Lake is a 2,200 acre protected, public access lake located north of Clarksdale. It is a popular recreational spot where many a young guy or gal has experienced the first time of getting up on water skies in the summer followed by a congratulatory, “Nice shot! You got that duck!” in the winter (even when dad’s quick and accurate follow up shot played a great part in dropping the duck). Also, Moon Lake gives birth to the Sunflower River whose deposits of heavy clay soils and winter flood and back waters provide thousands more acres of wintering grounds for ducks. The Sunflower River area is a favored locale for wintering geese.


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lakes
Back when duck hunters traveled into the Mississippi Delta via steamboat and train, the region was a vast expanse of bottomland hardwood forests, flooded bayous, brakes and sloughs, with some high sandy ridges cleared for agricultural purposes. The winter floodwaters were inevitable with the forces of nature as the only factors. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertook the daunting task of taming this vast wilderness so that the deep, fertile alluvial soils could be utilized to feed and clothe an expanding world population. Fortunately for the sportsman, the taming of the Delta did not result in an exodus of the wildlife but, rather, through the years has resulted in vast areas of controlled and managed wildlife. Federal and state governments along with private individuals, clubs and corporations have created a marriage between wildlife habitat/hunting and flood control/agriculture. In many ways, wildlife habitat grows richer each year in what could be seen as a return to the sportsman’s paradise of the untamed wilderness.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Arkabutla Lake, Sardis Lake, Enid Lake and Grenada Lake are at the heart of Delta flood control. During the wet winter months, water is held in these lakes and then released over the dry summer months. This process helps to maintain the levels of the rivers throughout the year. In a great sense, the Mississippi Delta begins at the spillways of these four lakes. Obviously, these large bodies of water are attractive to groups of migrating ducks. The lakes are primarily open water but as the water levels rise in the fall and winter, sloughs and areas of dead hardwood off the main body fill with rising backwater creating food sources that were not available until the water started to rise. As with all the public waters, knowledge of the area is crucial to successful hunting.

Sardis and Grenada Lake each have waterfowl refuge areas that fill with migrating ducks each year. The area within the refuges is closed to hunting, but the large congregation of ducks creates opportunities in the surrounding lakes, sloughs and flooded agricultural fields. Always remember, ducks feed and rest. Food areas must have ample sources to justify the energy expelled in the foraging. Resting areas need to be close to food sources, be open enough to allow free access in and out, and yet, have enough cover to create a buffer against the winter winds.


York Woods
This 5,500 acre conservation easement property located near Charleston is owned by James C. Kennedy, chairman and chief executive officer of Cox Enterprises Inc. Kennedy has led the way in private wildlife management. Rance Moring is the manager of York Woods, and he has worked closely with Dr. Rick Kaminski, Professor of Wildlife and Chair of the James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation, in merging agricultural crops with natural grasses and vegetation as part of a moist soil habitat program. Their efforts have been followed by other private groups who approach waterfowl habitat management as a scientific endeavor. The results are astounding and beneficial to adjoining properties. York Woods and surrounding acreage is a significant North Delta waterfowl area.


Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge
A major step forward in North Mississippi Delta duck habitat was the establishment of this national refuge in 1990. During the late 1960’s through the 1970’s, a race was on to clear every possible acre of the Mississippi Delta for row crop production. Many marginal areas were cleared. One of these areas was land lying along Highway 8 between Phillip and Holcomb. The farmers and owners who sought to be successful on this ground created a revolving door. Seasons with normal rainfall resulted in lush crops, but then, the next season – rain would fall and “the hammer would fall” on the producer with a total crop failure. The low-lying grounds would either be too wet to plant or too wet to harvest. Many a Delta resident would ride through the area and comment - “that ground isn’t good for anything but the ducks” – without truly understanding the prophetic nature of those words. In fact, all 4,083 acres of the Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge were agricultural lands upon acquisition - when the government wisely chose to return this marginal agriculture land to hardwood forests. About 1,300 acres has been reforested with bottomland hardwood species and most of the remaining acreage is being managed as moist soil habitat. Some successful private duck hunting clubs have been established in the adjoining area with the potential open for more. In addition, the refuge has been opened up to public duck hunting. It is a symbol of the region’s maturity in the area of conservation to see the real estate for sale signs replaced with refuge and private conservation easement signs. Success from failure.


Six Shooter Hunting Club
Growing up in the small town of Drew, the question that I was asked most frequently when I went to Ole Miss was “Do you know Archie Manning?” Now the sign on the highway at the Drew city limits has been changed from “Home of Archie Manning” to “Waterfowl Capitol of Mississippi,” but the speed limit on the Ole Miss campus remains 18 mph in honor of Archie’s number, and the Mannings are indisputably the royal family. Sunflower County has always been home to abundant wintering ducks, but only recently, have they realized the commercial value of these winter visitors. Grittman’s Brake was always known as the best of the best in local duck hunting circles. Now the bank of the brake is home to a state of the art duck hunting lodge, and the brake and surrounding agricultural property have become a private land management and duck habitat owned and operated by Six Shooter Land & Timber LLC. They have engaged in a program of returning much of the 2,400 acre farm to hardwood bottomland while reserving 300 acres for grain production. The owner’s of Six Shooter have taken a valuable wildlife area in the former Grittman’s Brake and incorporated top wetland management practices to the benefit of all the surrounding land owners. Six Shooter represents stewardship of the land and natural resources at the highest level.


Fighting Bayou Hunting Club
Fifteen miles from Drew, the former Pee Dee Plantation has become the famous Fighting Bayou Hunting Club and nowhere in Mississippi is the duck hunting better. To a native Deltan, even the air around Fighting Bayou smells and feels heavier. The dark, clay based soils are rich beyond description but difficult to farm and navigate when wet. Anyone foolish enough to venture into the wet fields will watch the size of his foot grow with each step as the soil sticks to his waders. You can only imagine what this Delta gumbo will do to an all terrain vehicle. The good news is that the canals leading into the hunting woods are located at the rear of the Fighting Bayou clubhouse on the edge of the gravel parking lot. The green-tree reservoir is surrounded by grain fields. Some fields are planted and harvested while others are planted in grassy corn for optimal moist soil habitat. The other good news is that they have not forgotten Archie at Fighting Bayou. The Drew Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in recent years have held a raffle @ $100 per ticket for the benefit of a community center where the winner was allowed to join Archie Manning in a hunt at the Fighting Bayou Hunting Club. It doesn’t get anymore Southern than that.


Delta Mallard Farms
Acquired in 1996 by Delta Mallard Farms, this 40 acre property takes full advantage of location. Between Drew and Ruleville, this small farm has 27 cropland acres with the balance in an adjoining slough. This is a prime example of choosing a small farm in a good area and managing it properly for productive waterfowl hunting. The owner stays abreast of all developments in wetland management and always looks for an edge to improve his property. Traditionally, he hunts from a pit blind over the agricultural field where the ducks feed on waste grain. He recently added a moist soil habitat in a small field of cleared hardwood. This will provide an additional source of food. In hunting over waste grain, one of the developing problems for the hunter is the increased efficiency of harvesting equipment. According to Five Oaks Wildlife Services out of Stuttgart, Arkansas, a rice field today has 60 or less pounds of waste grain per acre compared to 300 pounds per acre in the late 80’s. In response Five Oaks has developed a variety of millet that can be planted behind rice or soybeans and will produce 2,000 pounds per acre with fertilizer and irrigation. The millet is biannual and will come up again in the field the next season. Delta Mallard Farms plans to add Five Oaks millet or something similar to its management plan. If you have champagne taste with a beer budget in looking for a duck hunting property, keep your eyes open for a small farm located in close proximity to larger managed areas. But don’t forget, for productive hunting, you must also institute a management plan on your small acreage. Your superior duck calling simply will not suffice.


Buford Brake and Mallard Manor
One of the first high profile waterfowl hunting land purchases in the Mississippi Delta occurred when Memphis, Tennessee, cotton merchant, Billy Dunanvant, purchased a 400 +/- acre green-tree reservoir from the T.C. Buford family. Located out from Glendora in Tallahatchie County at the edge of Leflore County, across Highway 8 from Fighting Bayou, this tract of woods was developed as a high end duck club. It lies just west of Tallahatchie National Wildlife Refuge. When Dunanvant made the purchase, he established the commercial value for pure recreation property in the Mississippi Delta. Prior to that time, emphasis was strictly on crop production and areas of land that could not be cleared, drained and farmed were considered to have little or no market value. Dunavant’s purchase forever changed that mindset. Details of the transaction spread through the coffee shops, country stores and farming hangouts of the Delta. More importantly it garnered the attention of appraisers and other real estate professionals. A significant wildlife land purchase without government involvement -Hmn, maybe we have something here.

Mallard Manor is a commercial duck hunting lodge situated on the same series of bayous and sloughs as Mallard Rest. Both these properties are located in the heart of a waterfowl stronghold consisting of Tallahatchie, Sunflower, Leflore Counties and extending upward into Holmes County. This is the strength of Mississippi’s rich Delta waterfowl region. Mallard Manor went to the heart of waterfowl country and raised the level of southern hospitality to new heights.


State Wildlife Management Areas
On a somewhat smaller scale than the federal counterparts, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Wildlife Management Areas enhance wildlife habitat in the region. They are worthy of mention at this point because our tour through the Delta has arrived at Malmaison Wildlife Management Area and the McIntyre Scatters. Malmaison is by far the most significant WMA in the Delta because of McIntyre Scatters, but there are also some smaller WMA’s that have an impact.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Migratory Game Bird Program makes recommendations on the management and care of the WMA’s. This team of biologists will also assist private land owners in establishing a wetland management program for their land. Locating a private club or waterfowl property in close proximity to a WMA and then requesting the assistance of the Migratory Game Bird Program in developing a management plan is a tremendous means of dedicating outstanding resources to the attraction of waterfowl.

Hunting on WMA’s is generally limited and even prohibited in some instances. The number of hunters is sometimes controlled through a lottery system. In addition to Malmaison, WMA’s that allow duck hunting are Howard Miller, Mahannah and Twin Oaks, all near Rolling Fork, and Muscadine Farms close to Hollandale. These WMA’s enhance their respective areas and provide some excellent, though limited, public duck hunting opportunities.


Malmaison Wildlife Management Area
Located north of Greenwood along a six mile stretch of the Yalobusha River, the 10,000 acre Malmaison WMA is definitely ahead of the other WMA’s in waterfowl resources (only Mahannah competes). As with all public lands, you have to know the area well to effectively hunt Malmaison. Bobby Windham, Jr. and Tate Wood, co-founders of Drake Waterfowl Systems, both grew up duck hunting Malmaison and have duck hunted its hardwood bottoms and oxbow lakes for over thirty years. Tate has a gift with the duck call which is an important attribute when duck hunting Malmaison – the competition is fierce.


McIntyre Scatters
McIntyre Scatters is a 500-plus wetland area within Malmaison and is the heart and soul of this WMA’s waterfowl area. Like Beaver Dam Lake, Six Shooter’s Grittman Brake and Fighting Bayou, ducks have poured into the Scatters since before waterfowling was considered a sport. The richness of the area as a duck habitat cannot be overemphasized. The entire Delta region surrounding Malmaison and the Scatters is a productive duck hunting area. A good aspect of this part of the Delta is the absence of large groups of geese. Hunters do not have to devote the time and effort to keeping geese out of the food as their counterparts do in the Leflore-Sunflower-Tallahatchie County area from Minter City to Webb.


Backwater Brake Timber Company
Backwater Brake Timber Company is a twenty-five member hunting camp that has been effectively managing wetlands in the Malmaison area for over twenty-five years. This 1,850 acre exclusive club is located close to Greenwood and commands a high price for a 1/25th membership.


Wixon Farms LLC
Wixon Farms LLC manages a small grain farm directly across Whaley Road from the Scatters. Again, this is a great example of making a small farm part of a larger waterfowl management area. The 80 acre grain farm is precision leveled with water control structures allowing the capture of rain and irrigation water. At the end of harvest, boards are placed in the water control structures to begin capturing rainfall and creating a large sheet of water to attract the migrating ducks. The waste grain creates an excellent food source. Most falls will have enough rainfall to completely flood the fields prior to the season. However, in an unusually dry fall, the irrigation well can be utilized to flood the acreage in short order. Mississippi’s increased corn production provides another profitable grain crop to rotate with rice in providing both a high income farm grain crop and a highly productive waste grain crop for ducks - a win-win situation.


Mathews Brake, Morgan Brake and Hillside National Wildlife Refuges
Mathews Brake, Morgan Brake and Hillside National Wildlife Refuges line Highway 49 from northern Leflore County through Holmes County to complete the mid Delta waterfowl dynasty. They are part of the seven WMA’s comprising the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Complex:

  • Hillside National Wildlife Refuge
  • Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge
  • Mathews Brake National Wildlife Refuge
  • Morgan Brake National Wildlife Refuge
  • Panther Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge
  • Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge
This Complex carries the rich duck habitat from the mid Delta into the southern Delta region. Each refuge provides a home to a range of 30,000 to over 125,000 wintering waterfowl. Notice the emphasis on each. This Complex alone would put the Mississippi Delta on the world waterfowl map.

Flood control in the Delta not only gave rise to the Corps lakes, it also brought with it massive channelizing projects in the systems of rivers. These streamlined rivers carry water to the Gulf in a much more expeditious and efficient manner. This is a great tool in protecting Delta residents and crops from the ravages of the 100-year-flood but has the potential for devastating effect on the wetlands – enter the WMA’s. Refuge staff members manage the water levels in the management areas through the use of water control structures. They close the structures during the winter months allowing backwater to gather in the bottomland hardwood areas and then open the structures in late winter to allow the hardwood forests to drain prior to the rising of sap. They continue to maintain water in the tupelo/cypress sloughs and brakes throughout the summer months – a vital component in supporting the aquatic vegetation and animal life needed as food sources for the wintering ducks.


Five Aces Land and Timber Co.
Five Aces Land and Timber Co. owns a private, managed wetland area which lies directly between Morgan Brake and Hillside. Like the refuge staff, the owners of Five Aces maintain the water level in the wetland areas – keeping an adequate supply for the sloughs and brakes while draining the hardwood areas to prevent damage to the trees. Five Aces has essentially created a private WMA which mirrors its state owned counterparts. The land that it encompasses is not suitable for a large agricultural operation but is ideal for wetlands management.


Rivers Run
Will Primos, founder and president of Primos Hunting Calls, also took advantage of the opportunity afforded private landowners in the Theodore Roosevelt Complex area by purchasing agricultural property, placing it in a conservation easement and restoring the land to bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands. He named this private hunting refuge, Rivers Run. For his conservation efforts, Primos was a recipient of the 2009 Wetland Conservation Achievement Award in the private citizen category. The award was presented at the Natural Resources Conference in Arlington, Virginia. We agree with Primos, “The sights and sounds of wetlands when they are full of ducks is enough of an award for me.”


Summary of Mississippi Delta Waterfowl Areas
As we bring the tour to a close, it seems that a categorization of the major waterfowl areas in the Delta is in order. They fall into these major areas:


We hope that our tour is helpful or thought provoking in some way and welcome your comments. Through our eyes, the Mississippi Delta is a waterfowl paradise and a place where duck hunters’ dreams come true. Find out for yourself and come join us on the tour, but be careful, the allure of the region may stick to your heart in the same way that the Delta gumbo sticks to your feet.

MS Delta Ducks, Deer & Farmland Properties
Licensed MS Real Estate Company
Contact Cris Wilson, Broker
662-392-8825(Broker#)




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