Georgia isn’t known for its red-hot duck hunting. We are a long way from the rice fields of Arkansas and clouds of mallards. For most Georgia duck hunters a good morning hunting means you were able to slog into a beaver-pond swamp and scratch down your pair of woodies.
There are some exceptions. Some private landowners have developed their own high-quality duck ponds where they can attract good numbers, and often a wide variety of ducks.
“We routinely hear from landowners who want to know what they can do to attract ducks,” said Greg. “They may have a spot where they are seeing a few ducks but they want to make it better. The No. 1 thing most folks are after is trying to enhance the food source. That can be done by manipulating the water level to enhance natural vegetation or by draining, planting and flooding.”
In Crawford County, Yancey Houston and three friends are developing a wetland tract where they can pull water off, plant, and then reflood.
Yancey has always been an avid waterfowl hunter, and he was bit with the desire to develop his own piece of Arkansas duck hunting in Georgia.
That opportunity presented itself recently when Yancey, his brother and two close friends pooled resources to purchase a 100-acre tract in Crawford County.
“The place had some old fields and a creek running through it, and we thought it was perfect. The ducks are already in it, and it has some flooded timber that looks like Arkansas.
“We spent $10,000 to build a dam on the back of the fields and put in two drain pipes so we could drain the water off,” said Yancey. “We shut the pipes off a month ago, and we can pump out of a creek from a beaver pond and flood about six or seven acres of corn. The corn didn’t do real well this year, but we have some smartweed growing in the field. And we did grow some corn, and it looks pretty nice right now.
Yancey and his partners hunt the swamp only once a week, and last season the results were good. So they have high hopes for their duck-hunting future.
“We always get our pair of woodies early,” he said. “The mallards come in later in the day.
Drawing mallards can be a hit-or-miss proposition when building your own pond.
“I have another friend who has a pond and all he can attract are woodies and hooded mergansers,” he said. “It’s just like putting in a dove field. There are some places doves like to be, and there are other places they don’t like even with the same kind of food out there. It’s the same thing with ducks.
“The place we bought already had mallards in the timber, so when we get the corn to grow, we are going to have mallards in the field,” he said.
The pond Yancey and his partners have built serves a dual purpose.
“Until it gets flooded, we kill deer in that corn,” said Yancey. “
“We drain it in February or March, so most of the year it’s just a field. You can shoot deer on it, and we have shot doves over part of it, too.”
“It’s going to be world-class in a few years,” said Yancey. “As we can afford it, we want to put in more dikes. We are only flooding one of the four fields, and we want to be able to plant and flood them all and have 30 acres of flooded fields and 30 acres of flooded timber.
Dudley Ottley of Atlanta was the Ducks Unlimited MARSH committee coordinator for four years and has seen the development of a number of state wetland projects. He has also helped create several private duck ponds, including one in Gordon County that was a mallard mecca.
“There was some property near the confluence of the Conasauga, Coosawattee and Oostanaula rivers that was mostly bottom land that was available in 1995,” said Dudley. “There had been a big rain and the property had flooded, and the farmer leasing it hadn’t been able to get his soybeans out of a 100-acre bottom. When we went to look one afternoon just before Thanksgiving, there were 300 ducks on the pond. I said, ‘Good gosh — this is unbelieveable.’ It was mostly mallards, but there were all kinds of ducks — pintails, ringnecks, widgeon, gadwalls, woodies, green-wing teal — everything. We realized that the place was on some kind of natural flyway.”
Dudley and three other individuals put together a partnership and purchased 213 acres for about $1,100 per acre, closing the deal in 1996.
“We hired a former WRD biologist named Steve Johnson who surveyed the property and laid out the ponds. We had to get a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dam the stream using two existing old roadways. We put in flash-board riser water control structures.”
“The first pond was about 17 acres; the second pond was about 28 acres, and they both had a lot of natural food in them,” said Dudley.
The first year there was enough rainfall to flood the impoundments. The second year a diesel engine and pump were used to pump water out of the Conasauga River. The ability to pump is often critical.
“The local farmer who had leased the land in the past planted soybeans,” he said. “I have since learned that soybeans aren’t a good duck food.
Dudley said he has had good luck planting corn, Japanese millet or grain sorghum in various duck ponds because the seeds persist longer. Ducks prefer natural foods like smartweed or natural millets.
The hunting was often outstanding in the Gordon County pond, which was roughly half open water and half standing timber.
Sometimes there were two or three hundred mallards on the pond.
According to Dudley’s records, over the six or seven years he hunted the property, mallards made up 36.5 percent of the ducks bagged.
In Oglethorpe County, John Seginak of Comer has improved both his duck and deer hunting possibilities by installing something called a Clemson Leveler in a beaver pond to be able to manipulate water levels.
A Clemson Leveler is a simple and relatively inexpensive PVC-pipe drain designed to be installed through a beaver-dam so the water level can be manipulated .
“What you do is rip out a section of the beaver dam and put the Leveler in,” said John. “It’s got about 20 feet of pipe that extend from both sides of the dam. Then you cap the drain, and the beavers come back and rebuild the dam, and they think they have fixed you. Then you uncap the pipe to drain the swamp, and they can’t figure out what went wrong.”
“The beauty of the thing is that you can cap it and keep water in a swamp or you can uncap it, drain the swamp and plant for the desired species — ducks or deer.
John said that last season he and his duck-hunting friends killed six different species of ducks.
“The key to creating a good duck pond is having a good water supply,” said Greg Balkcom. “You need to have it flooded by mid November in time for the migration, but September and October are two of the driest months.”
If you dam a stream, you are likely to have to secure permits.
There can be several layers of permitting,” said Greg. “All wetlands and streams are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”
Beaver ponds are an exception, however.
“Beaver ponds have a nationwide exclusion,” said Greg. “You can fool with them, tear holes in them, or blow them up.
“If you want to flood an oak bottom to create a greentree impoundment for ducks, you may have to acquire several permits,” said Greg. “You may need a Soil Disturbance Permit and a Variance Permit that allows you to work in a stream.
“Usually what happens when you contact the corps is that they will send you a list of consultants who can come out and evaluate your project,” said Greg. “If you are enhancing, creating or restoring wetlands, you are probably in good shape.
“I believe that if your project impacts an area greater than 1/10 of an acre, the corps needs to be contacted,” he said.
If you are working on dry land, outside a wetland, and building a dike around a field and flooding it from a creek or a well, you should not have any trouble with the corps, said Greg.
Greg recommends contacting the Natural Resources Conservation Service for help with getting started with design and construction of a pond.
“A lot of factors determine whether you attract ducks,” said Greg. “Water depth is extremely important. If you have six inches to 18 inches of water, that’s plenty. If the ducks can’t reach the food, you’ve got zero acres of available food.”
Ponds tightly enclosed by tall trees tend to attract wood ducks and hooded mergansers. Ponds with more open land or fields around them tend to attract a greater variety of ducks. The vegetation available also affects the species of ducks that may use a pond.
Greg says that flooded corn is the most popular planting for ducks.
“You can plant corn to attract ducks,” he said. “But you must leave it standing. You may not manipulate the crop by bushhogging it or knocking it down or doing anything to make that seed more available to waterfowl.”
“I look at it like this: are you providing ice cream or meat and potatoes,” said Greg. “Ducks will eat corn, but the natural foods provide a better balance of nutrition.
If you have access to a beaver pond, a Clemson Levelor may be all that stands between you and improving the quality of your duck hunting.
“Most beaver ponds have a tremendous amount of natural seeds that have washed in. If you can install a Clemson Leveler and drain the pond, I guarantee you that there is a tremendous seed source ready and waiting there. If you can get some sunlight and oxygen to the soil, you’ll be amazed at how thick the sedges, smartweed and rushes will grow.”
“You don’t want to put too much pressure on them,” he said. “Otherwise they’ll go next door where your next-door neighbor has put in his own pond.”
Article by : Brad Bailey