With temperatures still peaking around the century mark and a persistent drought, it’s kind of hard to believe duck season is just around the corner. Despite the conditions, many hunters are anxious to get out next week when early teal seasons open up in several states along the Central Flyway. Unless the remains of tropical storm Isaac suck some moisture up onto the Plains, the biggest challenge for hunters might be finding a huntable piece of water.
I drove across a good portion of the southern Central Flyway last week and my eyewitness account confirms that conditions are dry. The Arkansas River was barely a trickle in eastern Colorado and the same goes for the south fork of the Republican and the South Platte rivers. There are pockets of moisture here and there, and, because they are few and far between, I expect they’ll end up holding a lot of waterfowl. In fact, I predict that will be a season-long trend. Find water, no matter how small, and you’re going to find ducks. To illustrate my point, last Tuesday, in northeast New Mexico, I flushed about 20 blue-winged teal off a small puddle created by a leaking stock tank.
Teal hunters should note my contacts in Kansas are seeing small flocks of blue-wings wherever there is water. Here in western Nebraska, what few I’ve seen are concentrated along the North Platte corridor. There isn’t much sheet water around and nearly every seasonal wetland is bone dry. Reports from the Sandhills have been good as the Ogallala Aquifer bubbles close enough to the surface there that the potholes are currently holding local birds. Mike Johnson, game management section leader for the North Dakota State Game and Fish Department reported a third of the ducks in that state right now are blue-winged teal that are working their way south.
Despite this dry and dusty introduction to duck season, I am cautiously optimistic about the upcoming fall. Record numbers of ducks are set to migrate down the flyway. Early reports from Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota are extremely promising with lots of ducks staging on the lakes and swarming the fields as farmers are finishing up the harvest. Most of these are locally hatched birds as the ducks from the far north haven’t shown up in any numbers yet. That will change soon as nighttime temperatures are starting to dip and, hopefully, in the next week to 10 days the northern reaches of the flyway will mark the first frosts of the season.