If there is one thing you can count on in the world of migration tracking this season it’s change – and what a difference a new year can make. A warming trend during the first week of the year ignited a number of reverse migration events, and birds returned to a number of previously snow-covered states. Duck numbers in southern Illinois, southern Missouri, Kentucky and Arkansas rebounded significantly over the past week, as waterfowl totals on the Illinois Natural History Survey reached number nearly two times the 10-year average for the lower Mississippi survey area.
Hello folks, and, as always, welcome to Waterfowler.com.
With the final month of the General waterfowl season underway in the south, moderate to exceptional drought conditions persist in much of the south. With temperatures rebounding in the central tier of the United States, ducks that were driven south by ice and snow are rebounding northward into areas with better habitat conditions.
While hunters are reporting flights of northbound ducks in a number of states, the bulk of the migration remains in the Deep South. Of course, the areas holding the most birds are those with water – albeit natural or well managed habitat that has been saved by the pump.
For the late season hunter in the southern states, duck numbers are good to excellent in most areas and hunting is, as it always is this time of year, not without its challenges. Birds are educated, wary and pressured. Most of these late-season survivors carry a masters-degree in decoy avoidance strategies and the lazy, lucky hunter can often go home empty-handed despite a volume of birds in their area.
While the northern hunter that is used to a half-dozen mallards over the decoys might wish for the massive groups the southern hunter can work over the decoys, there is a huge difference in having a couple of ducks land mindlessly on top of a spinning wing decoy early in the season and having hundreds of eyes looking for an excuse to flyby. Scratching out a limit in either case is never a given, and no less difficult – that’s why they call it hunting, not shooting.
Of course, every duck hunter, at some point in long duck-hunting career, experiences a shoot. It’s the kind of day where everything goes to plan and you found yourself in the right place at the right time. The birds come. Group after group they work like champions and finish like a Terry Redlin painting. You shoot straight, the dogs set the benchmark for breed standard and at the end of the hunt you kick back on the tailgate with full lanyard and soak in the moment. Yep, it’s the kind of day that every duck hunter dreams about for years to come and the tale of “that day” is retold to friends and family over and over – understanding that embellishment is acceptable, earned and actually expected.
As hunters in the south trudge forward in search of the perfect duck day, opportunity for spring hunting adventures are right around the corner for special light goose season. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to plan and book your Light Goose Adventure and experience a day under the deafening calls and tornado-styled flights of the mid-continental light goose. With a number of affordable guides operating in the Central and Mississippi Flyways, the opportunity to extend your hunting season into the spring months is merely a phone call away. So, what are you waiting for?
Duck numbers are good to excellent for this time of year from California to New Mexico. Hunter success in California varies with the weather and winds – as it always does. Goose numbers in northern Californian remain excellent at this time and hunter success above average.
Duck numbers remain at peak in along the Gulf Coast of Texas, with mallards scattered throughout the lower portion of the flyway. Hunting in Oklahoma remains good to excellent in most areas with duck numbers and hunter success lower in Kansas over the pat week. Light goose numbers remain near peak in eastern New Mexico and Texas. With dark goose numbers best from the panhandle north.
Mallards are scattered throughout the south from Southern Illinois to Louisiana. Numbers have declined slightly in Louisiana and increased in Arkansas over the past week, as ducks slid north on southerly winds. With hunting in Missouri now closed pressure management will become more critical in bordering areas with seasons still open.
Duck numbers remain good to excellent in the Carolinas at this time with hunter success improving greatly over the past week. While drought continues to plague many areas in the southeast, the mobile hunter willing to find water is finding birds. Hunter success in northern Florida is good to excellent at this time, with bird numbers up significantly over previous years.