September 19, 2012
Cold Sends Teals, Woodies Down
By M.D. Johnson
Good things are happening north of the border right now. Cranes, Canadas, specks, and snows – and ducks, of course – are being hunted in Saskatchewan, and freelancers who are putting in windshield time are doing well. But with Sask fuel averaging $4.85 a gallon, it comes at a cost.
In Minnesota, Mark Brendemuehl, a territory manager for Avery Outdoors and avid waterfowl photographer, posted “Is it Saturday yet?” on Facebook in reference to their 22 September regular opener. “There has been a smaller migration the past couple days,” said Brendemuehl, “with a goodly number of fresh birds. This cold front has pushed a lot of teal and wood ducks down this way. A friend who did a solo goose hunt recently said he couldn’t believe the numbers of geese that have moved into the area. But it’s not going to be easy,” he continued. “We had an unbelievably dry summer, and a lot of the potholes and wetlands up here"--two hours west of the Twin Cities--"are dry. In a way, it’s good as it will concentrate the birds. On the other hand, the situation will concentrate hunters, especially around the metro areas.”
It's the same story in Iowa as we look at the five-day early duck season opening also on 22 September. There’s so little water here in eastern Iowa that I’m not upset about having to work my second job from 6:30 to 11 the morning of the opener. My good friend Travis Mueller has been looking for birds. “It was scout, scout, and scout some more," he said this morning. "We finally found a little creek that the beavers had dammed up with some woodies and teal, but even that’s gone down a foot in the past week. The (Iowa) River’s getting lower. The Cedar’s getting lower. It’s going to be tough.” A cold front pushing through the Upper Midwest mid-week prior to the opener should bring a few more blue-wings, woodies, and pintails into the region. Whether or not they stay for long due to the lack of water is yet to be seen.
I’m headed to Louisiana on 24 September to hunt teal with the folks from Ducks Unlimited around the Buras area. According to a recent count conducted by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, blue-wing teal numbers in the southeast marshes where I’ll be bunked are low – thanks in part to Hurricane Isaac, higher than normal water levels, and aquatic vegetation degradation or, in some cases, an absence thereof. Blue-wing counts in the southwest portion of the state, however, are more than 20 times those found in the east; adequate to good habitat/feed conditions being the answer there.
If you're looking for a place to hunt in the Mississippi Flyway, there's some good news.
Hunters often bellyache about a lack of public hunting opportunities. And in many a case, our complaints are justified. I live in Iowa, a state that currently ranks 49th out of 50 in terms of public land ownership. That’s approximately 1.4 percent of Iowa’s land total, or roughly 485,000 acres – which might sound like quite a bit, but it really isn’t.
Other states across the nation – and surprisingly, many in the Mississippi Flyway – share Iowa’s lack of public ground pain. Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio; they all rank somewhere, sadly, in the 40s. This dearth of free-to-roam ground makes it tough on a body, particularly for waterfowlers whose migratory quarry can be, and often is, here today and gone tomorrow, leaving gunners to stare at the same seemingly sterile 100-acre puddle day after day after birdless day. The rivermen, those on the Mississippi, Ohio, or Missouri, may disagree with that last statement, but you ask those inland, and I’m willing to bet a fifth of Gentleman Jack and a rack of Pabst you’ll hear some grumbling.
There is good news for Midwest public-land hunters, though, in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent announcement of the addition of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge near Michigan to the list of those federal refuges allowing hunting. Detroit, specifically, will open for the first time for the harvest of migratory birds, as well as upland and big game. But that’s not all--16 other refuges, including six in the Mississippi Flyway, have increased hunting activities within their boundaries. For a complete list of those refuges expanding their permitted hunting activities, consult the Federal Register here.