There’s a chill in the air and a faint hint of fog on the water as Carl Childree slides into the still waters of the pond in a remote area of Barbour County. Duck hunting can be a cold, wet adventure, but for those like him who claim addiction to the sport, the weather barely matters.
“I love all kinds of hunting, but if I had to rate it, duck hunting would be first by far, followed by turkey, then deer hunting,” said Carl, 29, who serves as chairman of the Barbour County Farmers Federation’s Wildlife Resources Committee. “Duck hunting is different than the others because it’s something I can do with my buddies, and there’s a lot more action involved.”
The action comes as ducks fly, sometimes at lightning speed, toward the water. Hunters wade into the water, hide in brush or in a ready-made blind and wait until the time is right to open fire. Even then, a high degree of skill with the shotgun is required to bring home a bird.
Barbour County, home to Lake Eufaula and a National Wildlife Refuge, offers a natural setting for ducks. But farmers in the area are helping lure more waterfowl to the region by planting areas that provide food for migratory species.
“We’ve got several areas that we’ve planted in brown top millet,” said Carl, as he walked through one such plot with his father, Kenny. “Normally, these areas would be flooded by now and would be filling up with ducks. But the drought here has us really dry. There’s one swamp that we normally duck hunt on that is so dry we can walk across it with tennis shoes right now. My granddad (Frank Grant) says he can’t ever remember that happening.”
Alabama’s normal abundant water resources make much of the state a great location for a variety of ducks including gadwall, widgeon, bufflehead, teal and mallard.
In years past, Carl’s family would plant corn for the ducks, but they found millet has more to offer.
“The deer would eat all the corn before duck season even got here,” he said. “The deer won’t mess with the millet.”
David Hayden, assistant chief of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Recourses, says the state offers a total of 60 days of duck hunting each season.
“The number of duck hunters, based on our surveys, fluctuates from year to year,” Hayden said. “I heard from a few people last year that thought the number was up because toward the end of the season, we had some cold weather that the drove some larger ducks South into our area. We don’t have real information on that, it’s just conjecture.”
The hobby can be pricey, Carl said. Besides a shotgun, (steel shot) shotgun shells, a duck call, waders, decoys and possibly a boat, a hunter’s best friend can be a good dog, he said.
“I hunted for years without a dog and I can tell you there’s a lot of difference when you have a dog,” Carl said. “My brother-in-law, Jonathan Clark, has three dogs, and we usually hunt together. It’s always fun to watch the dogs work. We almost never lose a duck any more.”
Duck hunters commonly use Labrador Retrievers, which have the instinct to swim and fetch. Once the dog has been trained to obey basic commands, swimming and retrieving the birds comes natural, Carl said.
For beginners, Carl suggests going with a friend who likes the sport or hiring a guide, but he adds a word of caution.
“It really is addictive in a way,” he said. “It’s the most fun I have hunting, and once you start it, it can be all you think about.”
For more information about hunting in the state, including license requirements, seasons and limits, contact the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Recourses at www.dcnr.state.al.us.