Author Wade Bourne w/Ducks Unlimited
The stage appears set for one of the biggest waterfowl migrations in recent history, and hunters in the Mississippi Flyway are among those who stand to benefit the most.
Based on data collected during the 2014 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey (conducted in late spring), the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service have estimated a total of 49.2 million ducks in the traditional surveyarea in Canada and northern U. S. states. This figure is 8 percent higher than the 2013 count and 43 percent over the long term average. Further, hatching and brood rearing conditions have been generally favorable through summer months. The result is that both puddle and diving ducks should be funneling down the flyway in abundance in the weeks ahead. Also, numbers of both dark and light geese remain relatively stable for this fall, with some populations showing small increases and other populations experiencing slight declines.
Paul Schmidt is Chief Conservation Officer for Ducks Unlimited. Schmidt says, "Hunting prospects are very good for the upcoming season, but the weather and local habitat conditions must cooperate to ensure birds in any particular location. There's still a lot of water in the potholes and crops in the fields in the northern prairies, which may affect the timing of the migration. What we do know is that there are big numbers of ducks and geese on the landscape, and if the weather is favorable for a normal migration, hunters should see plenty birds over their decoys."
Avery pro staffer Mike Hungle of Regina, Saskatchewan reports that the southeastern part of this province has "lots of ducks." Hungle says he is very impressed with this year's hatch, and numbers are very strong. He adds, however, that the migration is about a month behind due to abnormally warm temperatures and a delayed harvest. Hungle notes, "Yesterday (Sept. 25) we had a record high of 33⁰ C (91⁰ F). But next week we're supposed to get back to normal temperatures for early October (highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s.), and this should cause the birds to move more."Hungle also noted that only approximately 50 percent of this region's grain crops have been harvested to date, far behind the normal harvest schedule.
Scott Stephens, director of regional operations/prairies for DU Canada confirms Hungle's observations. He says, "I went hunting this morning (Sept. 26) with my son and one of his friends, and we bagged 24 ducks. (Manitoba allows a daily bag of 8 ducks per hunter). They were mostly blue-winged teal. We've had abnormally warm weather for September, and there's been very little movement of local ducks heading south or ducks from up north moving into Manitoba. Based on the summer-like weather and the late harvest, I'd guess that the migration will likely be a bit delayed this year."
The regular waterfowl season kicks off September 27 in Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan. (Check local regulations for specifics on zones and hunting dates.) Steve Cordtz of the Minnesota DNR expects hunters in his state to see good numbers of mallards, wood ducks, teal and ringnecks due to favorable conditions during this year's nesting season. However, forecast warm temperatures and bright skies may put a damper on duck activity and hunter success. Hopefully the forecast cold front in early October will push Canadian birds down into these states.
Barney Myracle of Tennessee returned September 19 from a 6-day hunting trip in central Saskatchewan. He reports that snow geese are already gathered in large concentrations in harvested pea fields. He confirms that, "it's been a very wet fall where we were, and the harvest thereis late. Every pothole is full of water, and every pothole had ducks in it." Myracle has hunted this same area for several previous years, thus providing a viable basis for an accurate comparison in terms of habitat conditions and numbers of waterfowl. "I was very encouraged by what I saw," Myracle states. "It's got me excited for the regular duck season back home."
Wade Bourne is the Ducks Unlimited Magazine editor-at-large, DU-TV host, avid waterfowler and conservationist. Bourne will provide habitat and hunting reports for the Mississippi Flyway throughout the 2014-2015 season for Waterfowl360 and the DU Migration Map.