Most of Kansas is dry, just like much of the Central Flyway. But in this drought where can hunters find birds? The first place to look is in the north-central part of the state near Jamestown WMA. “You have to catch them on a front coming in,” said Ducks Unlimited Regional Director John Ritchey. “If you wait a day or two they spread out from there.”
Birds disperse to wherever they can find water. These areas in Kansas include reservoirs, including Lovewell. “Lovewell has good habitat,” said Ritchey, “including millet. I hunted the area in November and there had to be 20,000 ducks there. But again, our first day shoot was a lot better than our second day.”
The difficulty, even where there are ducks, is a lack of aquatic cover with such lower water levels. In addition, the Kansas River is holding so little water that managing it with a boat isn’t an option.
But there remains positivity. “I’ve heard from multiple hunters that a lot of birds, particularly mallards, are held up in South Dakota and parts of Nebraska,” added Ritchey. When these areas begin freezing, look for birds at the front of weather and you can still have some very good shoots.
However, in areas that have already frozen, like many places in western Kansas, look for birds feeding in fields. This has gone on throughout the fall and will continue as new puddle ducks, including gadwalls and especially mallards, push in with each new front. “It sure seems like a lot of ducks are still held up north of us,” agreed DU’s Josh Williams. “but you’re just not going to show up one day and find birds the next. It’s going to take more work than that.”
This point is especially true as a higher concentration of hunters look for the smaller concentration of places ducks are frequenting. With historically-significant waterfowl areas like Cheyenne Bottoms empty of water, opportunities still exist but they are definitely fewer than normal.
Unless you’re in the eastern part of the state. While water and habitat conditions are similar to the central and western parts of Kansas, the east has one major feather in its cap – winter wheat. “A lot of farmers have been planting no-till wheat after harvesting corn, and there are birds in those places for sure,” said DU Kansas Regional Director Russell Hawley.
“There are a lot of fields that have wheat right now, and farmers are still turning over ground for wheat right now.”
As soon as that food source starts to appear, waterfowl will find it. Then it’s the hunter’s job to ride roads and watch the weather as new birds appear with each new front. And when they do arrive, hopefully they’ll have something green to eat to stay around for more than a few days.