Perhaps no other hunters are as dependent on weather as waterfowlers. They not only depend on cold fronts to push birds down the flyway, but they also typically need a little weather to keep birds moving during the day. While those of us here in the Central Flyway did get the cold weather needed to usher birds south in early November, warm temperatures since then have made for some challenging hunting conditions. Still, with bird numbers up in the central and southern sections of the Flyway, many of you can still shoot a limit of ducks and geese as long you can shoot straight during the first hour or so of the day. After that, you will be mostly just working on your tan.
According to the latest reports, bird numbers in North Dakota have been on a steady decline for the past three weeks, with many of the ducks disappearing daily. Some refuge counts are now below 1,000 birds as smaller waters and wetlands freeze over. What ducks are in the area are roosting on bigger lakes and flowing water in large, tough-to-decoy flocks. The Low Plains zone closed yesterday, so duck hunters there are already dreaming of next season. The High Plains zone opens back up December 8 and runs through December 30, giving hunters out west a final crack at any birds remaining on the Upper Missouri River.
Though waterfowl counts at Sand Lake and other refuges in South Dakota are also trending downward, hunters in South Dakota are still reporting good success. Estimates at Sand Lake last Wednesday put the numbers of ducks at 13,000, down from a season high of 200,000 tallied there at the end of October and less than half of the birds that were using the refuge just a week ago. Though goose numbers at Sand Lake have also declined accordingly, hunters near Pierre, where the Lake Oahe system (LINK: http://gfp.sd.gov/hunting/waterfowl/counts/week03.aspx) holds birds nearly all winter long, are having a banner season. Chris Hull has still been focusing on pheasants, but said in an e-mail his buddies are “really shooting them up here.”
Hunters on the North Platte River in Nebraska have also been shooting birds, though my contacts say the week of warm weather has put the brakes on their success. Klint Andreas reports from near Bayard that the holiday weekend was filled with limits of Canada geese for him and his friends, but after Monday birds were hard to come by. While out for dinner in nearby Bridgeport on Monday night, I overheard some hunters saying they were encountering the same challenges.
Next weekend, I’ll be hunting Colorado’s northern Front Range with Avery Pro Staffer Vance Stolz, who reports the area has “more geese than we typically see this time of year…with very large numbers of small geese as well as some medium and large birds.” I only hope my upcoming hunt isn’t a “should have been here yesterday” situation, as Stolz says the hunting this last week has been very good. But with temperatures trending south throughout the coming days, I, like most waterfowlers, remain optimistic.