Duck, Duck, Goose
The Tennessee Valley—located as it is in the east coast migration flyway zone—is the perfect place for hunting waterfowl. Here, five TVA hunting experts share their best tips for bagging the birds.
Every foggy winter morning, the skies are filled with the frantic flapping of wings and the calling of honks and quacks as hundreds—if not thousands—of ducks and geese rise up from the shoreline of Kentucky Reservoir. This is, according to veteran hunter Don Allsbrooks, a kind of ground zero for waterfowl hunting in the western Tennessee Valley, part of the Mississippi Flyway area, an ancient migration corridor used annually by millions of waterfowl as they leave their summer breeding grounds in the north and push south in search of warmer climates and food to sustain them through the winter months.
Plus, Kentucky Reservoir is home to the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, which provides over 50,000 acres of habitat and food for resting and feeding ducks and geese, as well as 11,000 or so acres of land and water managed cooperatively by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and TVA on several managed areas for the purpose of waterfowl hunting.
Allsbrooks, a program manager in Recreation and Shoreline Management at TVA, notes that most waterfowl hunters are aware of the Big Sandy, West Sandy, and Camden wildlife management areas, but there are plenty of TVA shallow water coves, shorelines, and islands that can provide great hunting in the area, making Kentucky Reservoir a must-go destination for any dogged duck hunter.
But many other TVA lands in the Valley can be good for duck hunting, too, Allsbrooks says. “My advice is do your research,” he says. “Contact your local TVA office, your local state wildlife officers, your local Ducks Unlimited chapter and any experienced duck hunter you can get on the phone. Most often they will be glad to share advice with you, and let you know where and when the hunting will be good.”
Clint Jones, another experienced hunter and manager of Cultural Compliance for TVA, suggests going one step further. “Call a guide,” he suggests. “You can just talk to them and ask them where the birds are. But better yet, have them take you out. They can help you with equipment and terrain and technique. Then you can go out and try to replicate what you’ve learned and have a better success rate.”
What You'll Need to Stay Safe and Be Successful
Whether you decide to go with a guide or go it alone, you’ll need a few things to make your excursion successful. Here, Allsbrooks and Jones and three other avid TVA hunters share their advice on what to take and how to use it.
- A duck call: There are hundreds of duck and goose calls to be had, mass-manufactured and hand-crafted. What works best for newbies, according Garry Chappelle, TVA Natural Resources senior program manager, is a double-reed model. “With a double reed, you can get that qua-ACK sound,” he says. “If you get the chance, by all means sit around with some old-timers and let them show you how to use your call; if not, I’m sure there are good videos on YouTube that teach technique.”
- Decoys. “You need a few decoys to make ducks flying in the area more comfortable, to make them think ducks are already there,” says Jones. “You can have the best call in the world, but if they don’t see any ducks around, they are leery.”
- Blinds. Duck hunting can be an individual sport—or, with a duck blind, it can be a social event, according to Allsbrooks. “In blinds you can gather as a group, you can warm up with a heater, and when several hunters are watching the sky, somebody can be sitting in the back frying up eggs and bacon,” he says.
- A boat. Quality duck hunting can be found on land—but there will be competition for it. “Boats let you access the embayments [or coves] on TVA’s reservoirs—you may even have a cove to yourself,” says Allsbrooks. “It’s great to stay mobile, as ducks may populate one cove one day, and another the next.” If you’re going out on a boat, leave behind a float boat plan so that others can find you easily if things go awry.
- Waders. “Chest-high or hip waders let you get closer to your prey,” says David Brewster, manager of Natural Resource Management. “And they let you stay warm and dry. Nevertheless, always bring a change of clothes in case you do get wet.”
- Licenses. There’s no specific license required by TVA, but every hunter will need at minimum a state license and a state and federal waterfowl stamps. Be aware that not all areas around TVA reservoirs are managed by TVA as open public lands. Many areas are managed by the appropriate state wildlife agency, and may have special seasons, restrictions and/or permit requirements. Do your research. (See our list at right for licensing contacts.)
- A shotgun and ammo. You’ll need a 12-gauge shotgun with heavy ammunition designed for waterfowl. It’s illegal now to use lead shot in marshes or over water; look for bismuth or other approved waterfowl shot.
- A dog or two. While not strictly necessary, man’s best friend can add another dimension to a duck hunting experience—flushing out the prey, then retrieving fallen waterfowl. “One of the biggest rewards to me is to train and work with my dog, and then see his excitement when he puts a duck in my hand,” says Marianne Shuler, TVA archaeologist.
Be Respectful and Reap the Rewards
Every hunter consulted for this story pointed to the experience in nature as the single biggest reward of hunting ducks or geese.
“For me, it’s about all the sights and sounds of God’s creation all around you,” says Allsbrooks. “It’s about being able to share the experience with old friends and new friends. And its about being able to pass the experience on to my children and their children, the next generation of hunters.”
That next generation will be the key to the future of hunting. ”Hunting is not a right, it’s a privilege,” he continues. “In the Tennessee Valley we have an abundance of lands and waters, but we don’t need to take them for granted. We need to use those resources wisely so that generations of hunters to come can sit around a campfire and enjoy the fruits of those resources, too.”
But the more tangible benefit counts, too. At the end of a successful waterfowl hunting trip, you’ll have some lovely wild goose or duck to eat. “You’ll have lean food in your freezer provided naturally, with no hormones,” High says. “I always like to say I know where the meat in my freezer came from and how it was handled. I cannot say that for meat bought in the store.”
From Clint Jones’ perspective. “it’s more about the actual successful harvesting when you first start out, but as you get older its about spending time outdoors and about camaraderie. It’s about learning new things all the time.”
His conclusion? “It’s a different way of looking at nature, and it’s a great way to get out there and be part of it. Just try it and enjoy it for what it is.”
You’ll Need a Hunting License
All states require a hunting license, plus a federal waterfowl stamp. Here’s how to get them for each of the seven states in the Tennessee Valley:
Tennessee - Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Alabama - Outdoor Alabama
Georgia - Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Mississippi - Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks
North Carolina - North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Find Your Spot on TVA's Undeveloped Public Lands
Half the battle for waterfowl hunters is finding a spot they love - and that isn't too pressured by other hunters. There is a good map on TVA.com for finding parcels of undeveloped land. “Look for out-of-the-way places what other hunters might miss, such as islands or areas accessible only via reservoir,” says David Brewster. “You may need to have a boat to get to the premium hidey-holes.” Learn more about recreation on undeveloped TVA public lands.
Lands adjacent to TVA public lands may or may not be available for hunting; some will be private property. Know before you go, and get the licenses and permissions you need before stepping on any private or state-run property.
TVA's Hunting Trails
While hunting is not allowed on TVA developed public lands, such as recreation areas, campgrounds and trails, there are trails that will lead you to hunting grounds. These are:
- Lady’s Bluff Trail
- Marbut Bend Trail
- Buck Island Trail
- Cooley Cemetery Trail
- Honeycomb Trail
- East Lakeshore Trails
- Fooshee Trail
- Whites Creek Trail
- Loyston Point Trails
- Johnson Ridge Trail
- Dandridge Partnership Trai