MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

November 8, 2013

Young hunters relate experiences

There are plenty of duck hunters coming up through the ranks at Muskogee High School and the television show “Duck Dynasty” still seems to be a real hit with the students.

Hailee Ferguson, a junior, started duck hunting when she was about 10.

“I waterfowl hunt on my friend’s pond, said Ferguson. “Hunting is sort of a stress reliever for me.”

Ferguson uses mainly duck calls and occasionally decoys and she loves to warm up for duck season by skeet shooting in the early fall.

Clayton Sheffield started hunting ducks when he was 12. He has mainly hunted in Tennessee, having just moved here from Memphis.

“We marinate them in Italian dressing and then grill them,” said Sheffield. He’s getting to know other hunters at school and hoping to get to hunt in the area this season.

Morgan McDowell is also new at Muskogee High, moving there from Checotah. He started duck hunting at age 14 and like all species off ducks, however, he does name a favorite.

“Teal is the best to shoot in my opinion, because they fly pretty quickly. I like using between a 4 to 6 shot,” advises McDowell.

Josh Richardson, migratory game bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said waterfowl numbers "look very good" this year, although slightly down from the last two record-setting production years.

In addition, improved habitat conditions over much of the state as a result of drought relief should have a positive impact on duck hunting.  

"To our benefit, water conditions across most of the state have improved, and recent rains and forecasts of more to come continue to bode well," Richardson said.

 With duck season in full swing, avid waterfowl hunter Casey Ashwill of Wagoner offered up some suggestions to those just starting out this season.

 Ashwill became a student of the game at the early age of five or six with a BB gun. That was over 20 years ago.

Waterfowl hunting is his passion and apparently he’s pretty good at it.

“The primary thing at this time of year is to look for a food source and water,” said Ashwill.

“We are just now getting some cold weather up north and it should start pushing the birds south.”

Ashwill gets on his computer every night and tracks the weather, the migration routes and even makes calls to friends and family up north to check the status of the movement of the ducks.

“A problem this year is that the ponds are full of water, as are the ditches, and some fields have water standing in them. That scatters the birds out rather than concentrating them,” said Ashwill.

“In my opinion, the only way up to this point to find the birds is to get out and really drive those back roads looking for them. Then, you have to secure permission from the landowner to hunt.”

If you are courteous, some landowners will readily agree, I have found.

 Once the birds begin coming down in groups, Ashwill likes areas in the northern reaches of Lake Fort. Gibson.

“Gibson has a lot of drawn-in blinds that are in good locations and these are already taken. However, check the regulations. Some hunters are ‘no-shows’,” said Ashwill.

Something that allows Ashwill to be more flexible is that he runs a G3 aluminum camouflaged duck boat with a Northern Flight pop-up blind on it.

Especially later on in the season, the boat makes it possible for Ashwill to be more mobile.

“Dakota decoys are the cream of the crop, particularly the flockheads. Avian-X are a close second choice for me,” said Ashwill.

A final note: Ashwill uses a 3-inch shell with No. 3 shot. However, later in the season when it’s colder, the birds are a little heavier with feathers and fat. That’s when he switches to 3 1/2 inch shells with No. 2 shot to give him more knock-down power.

Ashwill believes that the birds are smart, having been shot at up north. He recommends that hunters “camo-up” from head to toe because the ducks are above a hunter and can peg the hunter quickly.

His son, Casey, Jr. turns 8 in December and is in the second grade at Wagoner. While Ashwill won’t let him carry a gun, he did take Casey, Jr. teal hunting this season.

 Except for a small break in the Zone 1 and 2 seasons that runs Dec. 1-14, Oklahoma sportsmen can hunt ducks for the rest of the year and into 2014. Full season dates, details and regulations can be found in the current "Oklahoma Waterfowl Guide," available free online at wildlifedepartment.com and in print where hunting licenses are sold.

John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. Reach him with news or comments at (918) 348-9431 or jkilgoreoutdoors@yahoo.com.

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