Hardy mallards and Canada geese are well known for holding out in the northern reaches of the Central Flyway until bitter cold temps, ice, and snow drive them south. Considering that South Dakota has had little in the way of anything resembling winter weather, it should come as no surprise that there are a few birds still hanging around.
Well, actually, a lot of birds. [As you can see in the video above, which shows just a few minutes of a SD mallard hunt with DU Magazine editor Gary Koehler and Avery Outdoors Pro-Staff members, Martin Hesby and Tyson Keller.]
“The most recent survey of waterfowl on the Missouri River had around 750,000 mallards and just over 300,000 Canada geese using those waters in the central part of the state,” says Rocco Murano, chief waterfowl biologist with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “There are still a large number of both ducks and geese using the pothole country of eastern South Dakota as well.”
It’s a good news-bad news situation for those hunters further down the flyway waiting for the migration to hit high gear. The good news: there are lots of ducks and geese yet to wing their way south. The bad news: they might not be going anywhere anytime soon.
“There really isn’t any reason for them to leave here right now, and they’ll hang on as long as there is open water and no snow in the fields,” Murano says. “It looks like we have a chance at some colder weather next week, but snow is really the big factor. They’ll hang out on the ice for quite a while if they can still get at the food in the fields.”
The large concentration of birds in South Dakota hasn’t made hunting easy for local waterfowlers, however, particularly for duck hunters.
“It’s been miserable,” says Martin Hesby, an avid waterfowl hunter and Avery pro-staffer. “You’re lucky if you get a crack at one or two flocks each hunt.” After a brief period of cold weather around Veterans Day, Hesby says the full moon put mallards on a nocturnal feeding schedule. Then the temperature warmed up, and the ducks have stayed in the routine of feeding almost exclusively at night.
“You’ll maybe see a little flight in the morning, but the afternoon hunts have been your best bet,” Hesby says. “Even then you might only get a flock or two to come out before the end of legal shooting light.”
Tough hunting or not, South Dakota will continue to hold tremendous numbers of waterfowl until cold and snow finally push the birds down the flyway.
John Pollmann is an avid waterfowler and freelance writer living in Dell Rapids, South Dakota.
Find hunting and migration reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.