Bird Pile

Nestled in the heart of the Flint Hills of Kansas, SummerDuck Outfitters gives their clients the Kansas duck hunting opportunities that they’ve only dreamed about. If it’s Canada or snow goose you’re after they can help you there too. They also guide a limited number of whitetail and turkey hunters each year and offer put and take upland bird hunting over world championship hunting dogs. Owner Joel Summer has hunted with waterfowl hunting legends and Major League baseball players, but treats every client the same, striving to put them on birds and make their hunt as enjoyable as possible. If you’re looking for some hot Kansas waterfowl hunting action, Summer has you covered.

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Where it all got started

After hearing Joel Summer talk, it becomes immediately obvious that he is not a Kansas native. Summer grew up hunting waterfowl in his native South Carolina. He killed his first duck at the age of nine. On Thanksgiving morning, he waded into a pond (without waders), when three ringnecks came in, Joe raised his single shot and fired at the lead duck, folding the last duck in line cleanly. It turns out that the birds were moving a bit faster than the young Summer anticipated. After arriving home with his first duck, which Summer thought to be the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, the young hunter perused a guidebook to identify the species. The guidebook still bears a slight blood stain indicating the start of passion for young Summer.

Guide Book

When he was twelve years old, a group of hunters hunting a different area of the same duck pond saw Summer and his buddies killing a bunch of ducks. Summer said that after that, every Saturday, the other hunters would say “Hey boys. How about $20 and we come over and hunt with y’all.” Summer continued guiding for ducks, deer and doves in South Carolina while working as a law enforcement officer. Over the years Summer began to get more involved in the business of waterfowl hunting, selling Duck Commander calls starting in the mid-80s. Based on Phil Robertson’s recommendation, Summer went on a hunt with Benny Prince in Carbon, Texas. After seeing Summer in action, Prince enlisted him to help guide hunters. Summer said, “I would save all my comp time and I’d take a month off and go guide for Benny in Texas.”

Aside from guiding in South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Kansas, Summer has waterfowl hunted a total of 37 states in just about every situation possible.

An old summer duck hunting photo

Opportunities abound

SummerDuck Outfitters’ waterfowl clients kill around 3,000 birds per season. According to Summer, around 80 percent of those birds are mallard ducks and Canada geese, but hunters also take down doves, diving ducks, pintails, gadwall, and widgeon. Summer and his guides are not married to one style of hunting, preferring to focus on the tactic or hunting area that is producing the most action for their clients at any given time. Summer said, “We hunt a variety of styles from permanent blinds to layout blinds to river bottom leaning against a tree in flooded timber. We do a lot of dry field shooting for both ducks and geese. Pretty much, anything you can think of, we do.”

Aside from their main business of waterfowl hunting, SummerDuck Outfitters also offers a limited number of whitetail hunts and spring turkey hunts giving clients a chance to hunt big Kansas bucks and Rio/Eastern hybrids on over 30,000 acres of prime hunting ground. Summer said, “We travel a lot of miles to get to where the ducks are and in that traveling you’ve got clients in the car and they immediately say ‘What about the deer hunting opportunities?’” Most of SummerDuck Outfitters’ deer and turkey clients are folks who have hunted waterfowl with them. Summer said, “When they book with us to do a waterfowl hunt, they pretty much get preference points to [hunt deer or turkeys] if they’d like.” Whitetail hunters are asked to let bucks less than 140” walk to ensure an older age class and higher number of trophy animals on SummerDuck Outfitters’ properties.

Pick your season

Hunters looking to chase early season teal can start shooting around September 15. To keep things interesting, SummerDuck Outfitters offers a teal/dove package. Hunters can expect to hunt teal early and round out their hunting day with a dove shoot. Whitetail hunters can chase early season bucks starting around September 15 for muzzleloader and archery hunters, rifle season starts at the end of November or the beginning of December and runs for 12 days, and a late season bow hunt runs into January.

The main event for SummerDuck Outfitters starts on November 12 when all waterfowl comes into season. Aside from a couple of short season closures for ducks, SummerDuck Outfitters clients are laying down ducks and geese until the end of January and dark geese until the middle of February. According to Summer, spring snow goose hunting is a “speed dial situation. We just put people on a list and say ‘If the snows get here and we’re going to get in them, how quickly are you able to come.’ Usually we’ll have three or four groups that are potential candidates. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. [The snow geese] sometimes cooperate and sometimes they don’t, but it’s a lot of fun when they do.”

What to expect

Most of SummerDuck Outfitters waterfowl hunts take place over water, but as mentioned, Summer and his crew are not married to any one style of hunting and do what it takes to get their clients on the birds. Summer said that some hunters request a dry field hunt specifically and he and his crew do their best to accommodate those requests. Summer said, “We want to make the hunter happy number one, but at the same time, provide them with the best opportunity to kill a limit.” Hunters may be surprised at the diversity in habitat that southeastern Kansas provides. According to Summer the land changes about every twenty miles. You’ll see everything from hills (yep, hills in Kansas) to flat expanses of prairie grass. This diversity of habitat, combined with Summer and his guides’ relentless scouting and knowledge of how the birds relate to the habitat typically brings clients an average of five birds a day on ducks. The average on geese runs a little lower due to fact that many hunters don’t even want to shoot them. Summer said, “The ducks seem to be what most folks are coming for and the geese are just sort of a bonus.” It could also have something to do with Summer’s rule of “If you shoot it, you tote it.” Summer said, “Sometimes after [hunters] tote six mallards and six honkers out across a dry field one time, they’ve had enough.”

Pricing for waterfowl hunts includes two-and-a-half days of hunting, food, and lodging and runs $1,200 per hunter. Deer hunts are five days and run around $2,400 for archery and $3,000 for gun hunters. These hunts are also all inclusive including food, lodging, and stands or blinds and knowledge of the hunting area. Turkey hunts are $900 for a three-day hunt. Remember, if you want to hunt deer or turkeys with SummerDuck Outfitters, it’s best to book a waterfowl hunt first to help earn some “preference points” with Joe.

Mallard Skies

Stay in style

Hunters who book with SummerDuck Outfitters have an option on their lodging. The five star Remington Ranch is about as luxurious as you’ll find anywhere and is located just outside of Independence, Kansas. Summer said, “I’ve had hunters stay there and say ‘Joel, it’s too nice.’” If a fancy ranch house isn’t up your alley, SummerDuck Outfitters also has several farmhouses located in a country setting. Summer meets with clients the night before their hunt to make plans for breakfast since some hunters want a quick and easy bite before heading out to hunt and others prefer a big home-cooked meal.

Hard work pays off

Summer and his guides work hard to keep their clients on birds, but success doesn’t always come easy. Summer said, “At 4 a.m. [the guide] better have his coffee made and his plans in place.” After meeting up with that day’s clients (and sometimes rousting them from bed), the guide will lead the hunters to the area they will be hunting. After getting the hunters in place, the guide sets the decoys. As the morning progresses, the guide does all the calling. Summer said, “We’ve got guys that like to call and if they’re accomplished and they’re not hurting the hunt, we’re not going to say anything, but we’re not going to let someone sit there and highball at ducks that are locked up and coming in. I’d much rather you handle your shotgun than your call and do your business when we say ‘Cut ‘em’.” After a successful hunt, the guide will retrieve and separate the clients’ birds, collect the decoys, clean the birds, get the clients back to the lodge, then head out scouting for the next day’s hunt. Around dark Summer and his guides meet up, create a plan for the next day and get ready to do it all over again.

All of SummerDuck Outfitters’ guides are accomplished waterfowlers. They include owner Joel Summer, who still hunts every day, and head guide Trevor Bays of upstate New York. Throughout the season, particularly during the busiest times of year, Parker Watkins of Pure Hen Duck Calls comes from Missouri, and Greg McDaniels and Alex Cheatham make the trip from South Carolina. Summer and his crew typically hunt two groups of four hunters per day and a total of around 140 groups per season. Summer said, “We try to hunt four and four, but if we’ve got what I call a ‘mallard blaster field’ where there’s 10,000 mallards just flogging a field, we can set up and we can hunt everybody. When you get 500-600 ducks over you at a time, you want as many guns booming as you can get.”

Summer was quick to point out that the work doesn’t start and end with hunting season. Outside of hunting season, he is constantly working to build impoundments, improve access roads, build permanent blinds, and, most importantly, maintain a working relationship with the farmers and landowners on the places he hunts.

Have we seen you somewhere before?

Waterfowlers who started following Phil Robertson and the Duck Commander crew before “Duck Dynasty” took off might recognize Joel Summer from the “Fear the Beard” video series. Summer’s operation has also been featured on “Eyes to the Sky” but Summer said, “I let Trevor handle that. He’s young and a lot better looking.”

Personal service for every client

SummerDuck Outfitters’ clients come from all walks of life, from Major League Baseball players and surgeons to nine to five regular joes. Summer said that he strives to be honest with his clients and give each and every one of them the best experience possible. If you have questions or concerns leading up to your hunt, give Joel a call. If he doesn’t answer right away, expect a call back soon. Keeping the lines of communication open with his hunters is very important to Summer as is giving his best effort to make every hunt as good as it can possibly be. Summer said, “If you come hunt with us, you’re not going to get a second-rate effort.”

A case for leaving the calling to the guide

While Summer was still guiding for Benny Prince in Texas, a hunter came from California. Summer, Prince, and the client, who claimed to be the California state duck calling champion, were hunting a small pothole about 1/3 acre. Every time the ducks would start to come in Mr. State Champ would start wailing away on his call and the ducks would leave. Summer said, “He sounded good, but it was just too loud and the ducks didn’t like it.” After the situation repeated itself several times, Prince asked the State Champ what kind of call he was blowing. The fellow responded that it was the exact call he’d won the state championship with. Prince asked to see the call, the man handed it to him, Prince threw it into the water, and blew it to smithereens with his shotgun, saying something like, “That’s what we think of a duck call down here in Texas.” While Summer has never resorted to measures this extreme, he does appreciate it when clients let the guides do the calling and let their shooting show what excellent waterfowlers they are. He said, “When you come hunt with me, I’m not worried about how pretty your duck calling is, I’m not worried about how good your Lab is, all I want you to do is to hide and shoot and we will be best friends. I hate to see a duck get away that should die.”

What It takes to get It done

Clients hunting with SummerDuck Outfitters don’t need much in the way of special equipment. Guides do all the wading, so waders aren’t necessary. All that’s required is a pair of knee boots, clothing that will keep you warm and concealed at the time of year of your hunt, and, most importantly, a gun that you shoot well. Summer and his crew try to decoy birds in close. Therefore, he recommends a modified choke for most of his clients.

Big buck realities

Summer pointed out that, while Kansas holds some big whitetail bucks, there’s not a 170” or 180” buck on every farm. He advises his hunters to take any buck they see over 140”. Summer said jokingly, “I tell my guys, ‘If you see a 140” [deer] and don’t shoot him, don’t tell me because I’ll probably backhand you.” He and his crew run trail cameras year-round to keep an inventory on the bucks on their properties. They also do something unique in that they hang the cameras on the stand tree where you’ll be sitting. That way, clients can see the buck (if he comes in) in the exact place that they saw him in the photo. Not only does this help give hunters confidence in their stand locations, it also reassures them that the buck they saw isn’t living in Missouri or some other far-flung locale.

If you’re looking for an honest outfitter that will keep the lines of communication open with you before and after your hunt, all while working his tail off to create the best hunting experience possible, look no further than Joel Summer's operation. Visit SummerDuck Outfitters' page or give them a call at (803) 275-4927.

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Waterwofl trophy picture

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