Like politics, all duck hunting is local. Broad population trends mean little if food and shelter aren’t within reach of migrating waterfowl in areas you hunt. In short, good shooting depends on favorable local water conditions.
It’s important to know what the birds are looking for. Ducks are pioneers, quick to seek newly flooded areas that offer high densities of food. So focus your search on low-lying cropfields, shallow marshes, and river sloughs, where a little rain goes a long way.
Then do some cyberscouting. “The Internet is probably the best thing to happen to waterfowl hunters in recent times,” says Marvin Kraft, waterfowl biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Sites maintained by the National Climatic Data Center, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Geological Survey offer everything from up-to-the-minute satellite imagery to monthly rainfall maps. Kraft uses the hydrological measurements reported by Army Corps websites, for example, to identify reservoirs with rising water-and therefore, newly flooded habitat.
Finally, consult the local experts. My home state, for example, floods several thousand acres of marshes and cropfields for public hunting. Yours may offer similar opportunities. Many waterfowl biologists and public-lands managers are hunters themselves, and a polite call to your state wildlife agency can yield lots of useful advice, including tips on newly flooded places and even names of public areas that are apt to be less crowded on opening day.
Water on the Web
Check the following websites to find up-to-date information on water levels throughout the United States: National Climatic Data Center: www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/ncdc.html
National Weather Service: www.nws.noaa.gov
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: www.usace.army.mil
U.S. Geological Survey: www.usgs.gov