Plan Your Fall: 4 Amazing Bucket List Duck Destinations

Most duck hunters dream of adventurous waterfowl hunts to exotic or otherwise-legendary waterfowl meccas. And with four major flyways snaking north to south across North America

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

New scenery. New species of ducks and geese. New challenges and fresh adventure. Are you ready to take on one of these ‘must-go’ waterfowl adventures? Your planning starts here!

DuckLEAD 600Most duck hunters dream of adventurous waterfowl hunts to exotic or otherwise-legendary waterfowl meccas. And with four major flyways snaking north to south across North America, there are, indeed, some very unique places to plan your next excursion. In fact, some of them are so darned good, they would have to be considered “Bucket List” destinations.

DucksColumbia11 600Got some vacation time saved up? Are you ready to scratch your nagging itch for “out of state” waterfowl adventure? What follows is some solid food for thought when planning a dream hunt to each of the major flyways. To research your options, be sure to check out the areas mentioned herein with help from your Huntstand app; be sure to make good use of the separate “Satellite,” “Terrain,” and “Road” map overlays that can be helpful in understanding lands you intend to check out, and of course, once on site, don’t forget to make use of the unique “Set Zone” feature that shows how waterfowl will approach your blind or hunting location given the current and forecasted wind directions.

Now let’s get started planning your fall!

The seemingly sleepy little east coast town of Stonington, Maine is well-known for its lobster and scallop fisheries. The productive Atlantic seas in the area also produce blue mussels, which are the staple diet of the common eider. The islands in the area produce plenty of eider broods, but the real concentration of these hefty ducks comes in early winter with birds from as far north as Newfoundland and the St. Lawrence Seaway, migrating in and staging in greater numbers.

DucksMaine7 600

Common eider (see above) and long-tailed ducks are plentiful, and if you’ve never hunted sea ducks, you don’t know what you’re missing. I was pre-warned they are extremely fast flyers but never imagined how poorly I judged my lead when shooting at the first drake eider to fly by the decoys. It’s more than double what a goose or mallard would be. They are extremely fast, and strong, making them one of the most-challenging waterfowl I’ve ever hunted.

DucksMaine11 600

Spotting means cruising the inlets, channels and islands looking for groups of eiders (like the equally great-looking hen above) either feeding or rafted up relaxing. Finding the birds one day usually means blazing shotguns the next, and a spot favored by eiders can often be productive for years, as long as it isn’t over-shot.

DucksMaine3 600Decoys are set out in strings from small islands and shelves of exposed granite on the ocean. There are no fancy blinds, and you become one with the rock and sit perfectly still until birds are within range. The birds that decoy and have their feet splayed out in front of them for a landing are the easiest to kill, but you still have to hit them with a full pattern. There is nothing worse than having to chase wounded birds that can dive and swim for hundreds of yards under the surface. They can often escape, especially if the surface of the ocean is choppy, which helps hide birds.

DucksMaine8 600The Mossberg model 930 Pro-Series shotgun is ideal for hunting on the ocean—not only does it have a synthetic stock to stand up to the salt and water but it also offers special coatings on metal components to ensure proper cycling. And, even more importantly, you don’t have to worry about rust forming overnight and compromising your favorite smoothbore, so you’ll be ready on Day 2 when a few drake long-tailed ducks (like the fine specimen above) come whizzing by.

Jumping into an airboat in the predawn light is exciting enough, but racing through stands of tall phragmites and reeds makes it feel like an adventure. The Great Salt Lake is one of the primary staging areas for millions of migratory fowl every year. Whether you’re hunting dabblers, divers, geese or swans, the salty brine becomes a magical place.

DucksUtah14 600As for any waterfowling, spotting is critical, and there are specific areas of this huge lake that dabbling ducks like to utilize to feed and rest. My hunting companions had spent several days just watching big flights of mallards, pintails (see above), teal, wigeon and gadwall bounce back and forth from feeding to well-protected holes where they’d hide out during the day. We threw out four dozen floating decoys and settled our marsh seats inside a stand of phrag to stay hidden.

DucksUtah15 600It didn’t take long for the action to heat up with several full-plumage gadwall and wigeon splashing down after being hit with well-placed patterns. As the morning progressed, we saw more mallards and pintails, and I was able to collect the best-looking drake pintails I’d ever shot. The ducks just kept coming until everyone had a full limit.

DucksUtahCity 600I didn’t think things could get any better but the following morning found us in a deeper bay overlooking downtown Salt Lake City. As you can see above, it was a magical view. We had layout boats strategically placed about half a mile apart, and I jumped into one surrounded by a mixture of floating dabbler and diver decoys. The open water can produce a variety of birds and, depending on the migration, you could see waves of canvasbacks, redheads, scaup and the full assortment of dabblers.

DucksUtah4 600When legal light arrived, a squadron of scaup soared over my head, and I knocked down a nice drake (see above) that soared about 100 yards behind me before splashing down. Then a beautiful drake wigeon tried to land in my decoys and I added it to my bag. The ruddy ducks were in full migration as hundreds of them flocked by, speeding just off the surface of the water. I shot at several and finally figured out the lead to collect my first-ever ruddy duck. I tried to hold out for some colorful diver drakes but couldn’t resist the birds that presented perfectly over the decoys.

DucksUtah(11) 600By noon I had a limit of mixed divers and dabblers and headed to shore where my friends at Camp Chef had a kitchen set up and were cooking duck sausage breakfast sandwiches. It was the perfect end to my hunt, but watching one of the other hunters take my place in the layout boat was just as exciting as being out there.

Using what duck callers refer to as a “Cajun drawl” on the end of a mallard hen sequence could be your ticket to success in this part of Louisiana. Waterfowl congregate en masse at the bottom end of the Mississippi Flyway where it converges with the Central Flyway, making this region a virtual cornucopia for duck and goose hunters. Catahoula Lake, a 60,000-acre waterfowl wintering grounds, is next door, along with the Mississippi River. Honey Brake is positioned where birds funnel back and forth between key wintering wetlands.

DucksHoney(3) 600Honey Brake is located on 20,000 acres of the old Louisiana Delta Plantation, with the lodge overlooking Larto Lake and its tributaries.  The levees, or brakes, were built to control water and is how the destination got its name. Historic flooding of the Mississippi River in the region left natural levees that allowed for settlement in this part of Louisiana in the early 1800s.  Many of the fields on the plantation grow crops in the spring and summer and are flooded to create wetlands for overwintering waterfowl. Permanent blinds are strategically built before flooding, creating some of the most elaborate and comfortable duck hunting quarters you’re likely ever to enjoy.

DucksHoney(5) 600The “First-World Problem” for duck hunters here is whether to shoot a limit of just mallards and pintails or a mixed bag of teal, gadwall, wigeon and canvasback. It is a great problem to have. While marveling in the spectacular flights of birds moving during peak feeding hours. The sky comes alive with activity.

DucksHoney(2) 600One can’t overlook the geese while here, as speckle-bellies, snows, and Canadas are abundant until they head back to the Arctic in the spring.

DucksHoney7 600Make sure to take a good watertight bag, like the Browning Bear 3500 Dry Duffel (see above), or Bear 4500RT Dry Bag with air release valve. You’ll be in or over water the entire time, and a waterproof bag will keep extra clothes and ammunition dry.

If you’re a history buff or enjoy reading about waterfowl, you’ll already know about the market hunting and gunners on the lower Columbia River basin. To say it is steeped in history would be an understatement. It is thought by many to be the birthplace of decoy carving that led to decoy production for sales. Boat builders fashioned hunting skiffs just for waterfowl hunters to be more successful, and safe. The area still has floating duck shacks that have been part of the landscape, or waterway for as long as there has been duck hunting on the Pacific Flyway.

DucksColumbia(8) 600Without a doubt, this is one of the hardest “bucket-list” areas to hunt due to dramatic tide swings, challenging weather and long travel from most any city or destination. It is remote, and that is why the waterfowl love it. The lower Columbia River is one of those hard-to-get-to, but well-worth-the-effort places.

DucksColumbia(2) 600It is a late-season mallard sweet-spot, and the mature pintail drakes will dazzle you with their brilliant plumage. Dabblers stream to prime feeding locations on low tide, and a well-concealed duck boat will put them right in your face. Huge numbers of birds use the Lewis & Clark National Wildlife Refuge to loaf and wait for the right tide to fly out and feed.

DucksColumbia(7) 600If you’re a diver enthusiast, this is an unbelievable scaup or bluebill destination. Rafts of hundreds of birds are common and when they start moving it provides nearly endless gunning. Canvasbacks stage in great numbers and are worth the trip on their own. Your heart will skip a beat when a flock of big bulls roll in, looking like they dressed in tuxedos for a dinner party.

DucksColumbia10 600One of my highlights in this area was taking my first-ever cackler (see above). This compact subspecies of Canada goose has very specific wintering areas and was a prime target on my hit list. If you’re hunting the Oregon stretch, you need to take an online exam to ensure you can identify a cackler from the protected dusky goose, which is similar in size and appearance.

DucksColumbia3 600What are you waiting for? Get out there and make your hunting dreams come true, and don’t be afraid to start your own “bucket list” of amazing duck destinations. The ducks, as always, will be waiting.



HuntStand is the #1 hunting and land management app in the country. It combines advanced mapping tools with powerful map layers to allow users to create and share the best hunting maps possible.