December 31, 2012
Hard Water Sends Birds South
By David Draper
By most accounts, Texas waterfowlers have been enjoying a banner season, especially during the second half of the split. The December 8 opener coincided with the arrival of cold weather in the northern half of the Central Flyway, driving a fresh population of birds into Texas. My contacts there, along with forum postings, indicate a true mixed bag of ducks for hunters, including gadwall, green-winged teal, ring-necked ducks and plenty of pintails. What has been missing, at least until recently, has been a consistent population of mallards. Now that temperatures up north have struggled to overtake the freezing mark for the past week or so, water there is locking up, sending birds south where gunners await. The most recent mallard migration index puts peak numbers of birds in east Texas and along the Gulf Coast.
Over the past few days, duck hunters in north Texas have had to contend with a rare snow as well as icy conditions on some smaller ponds. While the cold weather may be causing typically fair-weathered waterfowlers to bundle up, those that have been braving the elements have been enjoying some gunning guaranteed to make them forget about the cold.
In Oklahoma, fellow Field & Stream blogger Chad Love reported he’s starting to see ducks show up in his area, though populations there are still very slim, which is directly attributable to the ongoing drought.
“A few (very few) mallards trickling in, as well as a few gadwall and a lot of Canadas,” Love reported via e-mail. “Went hunting this morning. All our water's frozen up solid, so I had to break ice and hunt pocket water on one of our local rivers. Shot a limit, (first one of the year, how pathetic is that?) four gaddies and the only two mallards to come into the decoys.
“Overall, though, my little corner of the state is mostly duckless, due to lack of water and food. Been talking to my county warden most days I'm out at the lake. He does the weekly waterfowl counts and he just hasn't been seeing any large groups of ducks, just small scattered groups here and there. Truth is, the vast majority of the ducks currently in Oklahoma are well east of my location. I'm envious of those guys, as they seem to be shooting decent numbers of ducks.”
In the eastern half of Nebraska, waterfowlers there went out with a bang, closing the season with some good shoots on ducks before the cold drove them out. One of my contacts in the central part of the state manages a hunt club and he sent in the following e-mail late last week.
“Our duck season ended last Tuesday. We had a great last week on mallards. Then we got 6" of snow and ice and the party was over. We lost almost all of the ducks and geese. We ended with a great duck season and so far a decent goose season. We are in dire need of some new geese.”
Here in the western part of the state, new geese and ducks are showing up on a daily basis. Toby Welch at North Platte Outpost sent me a text saying a lot of fresh geese had shown up in the past week. He also said he had his clients on some good duck hunting in the Scottsbluff area this past weekend. I was stationed in a cornfield not far away and can confirm there was plenty of shooting going on from that direction.
Some friends and I did manage a four-man limit of geese on Friday, then followed that up Saturday with seven more Canadas to the bag. True to the reports I had been hearing, the goose hunting along the North Platte was very inconsistent, with birds following no established pattern. I attribute that to the mix of cold temperatures adding large amounts of slush to the river, along with this week’s incredibly bright full moon. Luckily (for hunters, maybe not for farmers), the snow we’ve gotten has been very dry and powdery, leaving plenty of access to corn and alfalfa fields for birds to feed.
Out group did witness an incredible display of waterfowl migration on Saturday morning, when what I would conservatively estimate at several thousand ducks lifted off a small slough on the north side of Highway 92 at dawn. At one time the string measured a couple miles long as the ducks headed back to the river. That alone was worth risking the frostbite. We hunted the exact same area the day before and probably saw less than a couple hundred ducks, leaving me to speculate birds were either out feeding all night or a huge push of birds had moved in under the full moon.