January 15, 2013
Warmer Weather Cools Off Shooting
By Michael R. Shea
The National Climatic Data Center just released its state of the climate overview, confirming what bird hunters have suspected all season long: 2012 was the warmest year on record for the United States.
Nineteen of the contiguous 48 states recorded 2012 as their warmest year to date, and 26 other states had it in their top-10 warmest years. The Atlantic flyway was particularly warm, as you can see in the map above. Eight of those 19 states are in the northeast or mid-Atlantic.
The warm weather dropped off around Christmas for much of the East Coast, with the first real regional snowstorm of the year pushing birds out of Canadian and upstate New York loafing grounds. Now, after two solid weeks of great bird movement and lots of hunter success, the mercury is trending up again.
The cold weather of last week had much of southern New England’s freshwater sources locked up. Bird numbers spiked on the coast as black ducks, mallards, buffleheads, mergansers and some widgeon concentrated on open tidal waters. Since Wednesday those rafts of birds, reliably feeding on the morning’s low tide, have gotten thinner and thinner. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
“This warm weather is not going to be fun,” said Bryn Witmier, an Avery Pro Staffer who hunts Pennsylvania and New Jersey. “The ducks are so scattered already. You can find them, but a lot of time you can’t hunt them. We needed another week of cold for it to be good.”
By true duck hunting standards, it hasn’t been good on the East Coast this year. No one likes being the voice of doom and gloom, but after talking to guides, pro staffers, biologists, and hunters these last 20 weeks, the truth can’t be avoided. “We haven’t had that cold snap to get things right, here in south Jersey, since 2010,” Witmier said. “There are loads of ducks, but they’re so spread out you can’t hunt them.”
Goose hunting, on the other hand, has stayed solid all season long. Recent reports, though, indicate that this most recent warm weather have made birds harder to pattern—they’re staying on roosts during the day, hitting green fields instead of corn, and moving at night. Still, if you only have a few more hunts this season, geese are where it’s at.
Except for the guys in the extreme northern end of the flyway (one glaring exception to the generally poor duck season is upstate New York, where hunters north of I-90 apparently lsayed them from October through December), the duck season this year didn’t turn on until, well, a few weeks ago – and now most state seasons are wrapping up or closed. Maine, New Hampshire (except for a small costal zone), Vermont, and much of New York State closed last month. Connecticut’s north zone closed on the 7th of this month, and the south zone closes next week. Northern New Jersey closed on 5th; southern New Jersey on the 10th. Rhode Island closes next week and the Chesapeake down through the southern states wraps up on the 26th.
I’d trade the whole month of October for two more weeks in January, and I know I’m not alone.