Mallards Making Their Way South

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas on the Central Flyway as winter storm Draco pushed across the northern plains this week, bringing snow, freezing temperature and high winds with it. Hopefully this equates to an early gift of new ducks for hunters as the mallard migration works its way down the Flyway, where hunters have been impatiently waiting all season for a push of greenheads.

Here in the Panhandle of Nebraska, I can report plenty of fresh ducks to accompany the large numbers geese using the North Platte River. My girlfriend T. Rebel and I spent a couple days earlier this week hunting at Cheyenne Ridge's North Platte Outpost near Minatare. Tuesday morning temperatures were positively balmy, so our guide Toby Welch decided to forgo the blind and set up in a cluster of Russian olives overlooking a shallow braid of the river instead. With a freeze in the immediate forecast, he wanted to hunt this stretch one last time before it locked up. We made the most of it, ending the morning hunt about 11 a.m. just one mallard short of our limit. As you can see in the photo, we also added two bonus widgeon and couple of big Canada geese to the bag.

Wednesday's hunt was a classic shoot out of a mallard hole tight against a thin slough. Amid cold temperatures, a strong breeze and snow flurries, we had our 10 drakes by 8 a.m. The only reason the hunt didn't end even earlier than that is it took us a few practice shots to adjust our shooting for birds that dropped straight out of the sky into our spread. After the hunt, we did some quick scouting at a few of the area's spring creeks and warm-water sloughs and witnessed hundreds of new mallards piling in.

Did I mention the thousands of Canadas, both lesser and honkers, that have set up shop in the area? All Tuesday morning, flock after flock of geese were either going out to feed in one of the corn fields that line the river valley, or coming back into water. Just a few miles from where we hunted, Brian Hauptman and friends filled out a three-man limit of Canadas and managed to scratch a couple of early-morning mallards from the decoys.

Last Saturday, I drove I-80 from Sidney to North Platte and saw lots of geese using both the Lodgepole Creek valley and the South Platte River. Interestingly, as I approached the I-80/I-76 Interchange near Big Springs (which is also where the South Platte River enters Nebraska), what I thought were Canadas coming up from the south turned out to be several flocks of snow geese numbering probably a thousand or more birds strong. I'm betting Wednesday's blizzard and Thursday's high winds sent the snows scurrying back southward in a hurry. Snow goose counts from the Missouri River system also dropped from 12,000 to 1,200 in the past week, adding a sense of normalcy to what had been an abnormal migration.

The Region 1 reports from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Fish and Parks are also starting to look a little closer to normal for mid-December, as the mallard migration is reaching its peak at Lovewell and Glen Elder reservoirs, both of which are counting impressive duck numbers. Officials at Glen Elder estimate the number of mallards at 19,000, with another 8,000 diving ducks and a plenty of gray ducks in the mix. The Low Plains Early Zone closes a week from Saturday (December 30), so hunters home for the holidays have one last chance to fill their straps. Elsewhere in Kansas, duck numbers aren't so strong, mostly due to continuing drought conditions, but Marais Des Cygnes remains a bright spot, with 25,000 ducks reported there prior to the new push this week.