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Wetlands of the MS Delta

Mississippi Duck Hunting Wetlands

Last updated : 03/21/2016

The Mississippi Delta is a maze of small rivers crisscrossing the region and joining up on their way to the Mississippi River. In an effort at flood control, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed up three of the rivers at the edge of the loess bluffs bordering the Delta. Beginning in the northern portion of the Delta, the Coldwater River originates from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Arkabutla Lake. The Tallahatchie River has its beginnings at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Sardis Lake and the Yocona River flows from the spillway of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Enid Lake. Both the Coldwater and Yocona Rivers empty into the Tallahatchie River in Quitman County. The Yalobusha River has its origins at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Grenada Lake from which it winds its way to Greenwood where the Tallahatchie and the Yalobusha Rivers come together to form the Yazoo River. The Sunflower River is given life by Moon Lake (a Mississippi River oxbow lake) from which it flows along the western edge of the Delta and is joined by the Quiver River on the Sunflower River’s way to emptying into the Yazoo River in Yazoo County. After being joined by the Sunflower River, the Yazoo River traverses across Yazoo and Warren Counties until it empties into the Mississippi River at Vicksburg. Finally, the Big Black River cuts across the southeastern corner of the Delta before flowing into the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg. Of course the "Ole, Mighty, Muddy" Mississippi River flows along the entire western boundary of the Mississippi Delta separating it from Arkansas.


An abandoned channel of a river which no longer flows with current but which feeds into a river is called a bayou. The beds are often populated with ancient cypress trees while the banks provide home to river bottom hardwoods. Bayous are strongly associated with Louisiana and Cajun culture where the word is pronounced bi'u. However, a native Mississippi Deltan will always pronounce the word bi'o. Do not be caught speaking like a "foreigner" when hunting ducks in the bayous, lakes and brakes of the Mississippi Delta.


Oxbow Lakes
An oxbow lake is located in a former bend, curve or meander loop of a river prior to the river bypassing the bend through the process of erosion. The river's change in course would normally occur at a high water time and would leave the abandoned crescent or horseshoe in its channel as an oxbow lake. Typically, the oxbow lake is unprotected or connected to the river channel from which it was born and rises and falls with the level of the river. Some oxbow lakes are protected or cut off from the river's channel by a man-made levee or through a natural process of silting or filling in. The distinction becomes important in determining whether or not an oxbow lake is public water and open to all to duck hunt. The relevant law in Mississippi strongly indicates that oxbow lakes that were formed by navigable rivers are public waters and accessible by the public for duck hunting and fishing. An exception arises where a member of the public would have to trespass across private land to gain access to the lake's waters. As a result, protected oxbow lakes which are completely surrounded by private ownership with no public access can be enforced as private duck hunting areas and the public denied access. Beaver Dam Lake is a private access oxbow lake while Tunica Cutoff, DeSoto Lake, and Moon Lake are public access oxbow lakes.

Cypress and Tupelo Gum Brakes
Low-lying areas that hold shallow, non-flowing water for most, if not all, of the year and populated with cypress and tupelo gum trees are know as cypress or tupelo gum brakes. These bodies of water do not open up into a river or stream and are low-lying areas fed by rain and runoff. They are rich in aquatic life and a favorite resting area of dabbling ducks returning from flooded agricultural fields. These brakes are often best hunted from dawn to mid-afternoon. Large, visible decoy spreads combined with light quacks and low feeding calls will usually reassure the ducks that this is a welcome place where their buddies are talking to each other. These brakes often provide a good setting for a permanent tree house blind suspended up off the water and accessible by a small boat. Ideally, the blind will accommodate four to eight hunters.


Low lying areas that are normally dry during the summer months and filled with shallow backwater during the winter or wet months are known as sloughs. They typically have willows or other water tolerant trees along their edges. Traditionally these areas are best duck hunted in waders and through seeking cover along the brushy edges. Sloughs are usually rich with grass seeds and aquatic invertebrates.


Green tree reservoirs
This is an area of low-lying, hardwood forested bottomland which is temporarily flooded during the fall and winter months. Historically, much of the Mississippi Delta would become a large green-tree reservoir during the rainy fall and winter months. The bayous and rivers crisscrossing the region would spill from their banks flooding the low-lying forested areas. Migrating ducks would settle into these flooded areas, feeding on seeds dropped from the hardwood timber. As much of the forested area was cleared to make room for agricultural operations, the green-tree reservoirs disappeared. Ducks were relegated to the flooded open agricultural fields, as well as, the year-round flooded tupelo and cypress brakes. Duck hunters followed the ducks into these areas. However, in recent years many productive duck hunting clubs have returned to developing and managing green-tree reservoirs. Since natural flooding in the Mississippi Delta has been reduced by 50-90 percent, management often requires installing water control structures to hold rain and run off water during the fall and winter months. Larger duck hunting clubs in Mississippi even install irrigation wells to utilize in flooding the reservoir during the early fall and dry winters.


Harvested grain fields
Furrow irrigation has become the irrigation method of choice in the Mississippi Delta. In this type of set up, the agricultural fields are precision leveled so that the fields fall from a high point on the edge (or in the middle) of the field to the opposite outlying edge of the field or low point. Water control structures are placed at the low points so that the run off rain or irrigation water can be captured before it flows into the adjoining drainage ditches. The water control structures are closed after harvest to capture the water and flood the harvested fields which are rich with cast off grain left by the harvesting equipment. These fields are duck hunted by strategically placed sled or pit blinds, or by utilizing temporary duck blinds such as coffin or lay out blinds. While pit blinds are heavily utilized in the Arkansas Delta and in the Northern Mississippi Delta, they are not used as frequently in the Mid to South Delta. Large expanses of open, unobstructed acreage best take advantage of the large GPS navigated farm equipment. Obstacles such as tree lines and farm houses have been removed as part of the modernization of agricultural practices. Many farmers feel that installing a pit blind (that remains permanently in the field) only serves to create an obstacle that will lower efficiency during the farming year. As "duck-friendly" grain crops have grown in popularity, flooded field duck hunting has become much more accessible.


Grassy corn or millet
On some of the larger more affluent private duck hunting clubs in Mississippi, as well as, on federal refuges and state wildlife management areas, agricultural fields have been designated and managed to grow crops of millet and corn to be left un-harvested as feed for wintering ducks. This process has been perfected by Dr. Rick Kaminski, Professor of Wildlife and Chair of the James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation. In the spring 2007 issue of Delta Wildlife, he introduced the concept of "grassy corn." This involves planting corn on widely spaced rows and allowing natural grasses to grow up between the corn rows. Dr. Kaminski reports that the corn in combination with natural grasses can increase potential available food energy for ducks about ten-fold per acre. When fields surrounding green-tree reservoirs or cypress and tupelo gum brakes, are planted in "grassy corn," left un-harvested and then flooded in the fall, this provides the ideal Mississippi Delta duck hunting scenario. The ducks will feed in the flooded "grassy corn" fields and then fly into the protected confines of the flooded timber to rest - where the duck hunters await.