I’ve just returned from a hunt in which a friend and I drove from our home in Clarksville, Tennessee, to The Pas, Manitoba, Canada–a distance of over 1,800 miles each way! Our route took us through Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, both Dakotas, and southern Manitoba. During our drive, we clearly observed the effects of the 2012 drought. In the Midwest, we saw field after field of corn that was stunted and bearing no ears on the stalks. Irrigated corn fields looked healthy, but they weren’t nearly as common on the landscape as fields without irrigation. In addition, rainfall in the Midwest is still running below normal, and water levels remain low in many streams and ponds.
Conditions improved as we drove north. We spent our first night with a farm family in northeastern South Dakota. To get to their house, we took a detour off the interstate through some beautiful prairie pothole country. In this area, small wetlands are still holding plenty of water, and most of the potholes we could see from the road were teeming with ducks, including many older broods. Based on our limited observations, waterfowl certainly appeared to have had good production in this area. We also observed good numbers of waterfowl and enjoyed several good hunts at our final destination in Manitoba.
What should hunters expect this fall? The migration will be strong, based on the record breeding population and reports of generally good waterfowl production on the prairies. Once the birds leave the breeding grounds, however, all bets are off. The ducks may move at a rapid clip through the Midwest, due to drought impacts on crops and wetlands. If a flyover occurs, the birds will continue moving south until they find food and water, which means hunters may benefit farther down the flyway. On the other hand, heavy fall precipitation in the Midwest, accompanied by mild temperatures and a lack of powerful cold fronts, could save the day for hunters in mid-latitude states. As always, time will tell.