Tough is the best way I can describe hunting in the Mississippi Flyway right now. The buzz from the north of the border talks of hard weather – and some hard water – in Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are still birds that haven’t worked their way down through the Dakotas and the Missouri River into southwest Iowa, Missouri, and points southward. Mallards and big Canadas in the fields are the norm right now for our Canadian brothers, though Angelo Casbarro with the Avery Team still talks of the migration being at its peak around Toronto, with both water and field hunts producing for those intrepid souls hardy enough to endure the now-cold temperatures, frosty mornings, and almost constant threat of snow.

In central Minnesota, Mark Brendemuehl sounded a bit – well – crestfallen when I spoke with him this morning. “I haven’t hunted in a week,” he said, “what with work and all. But, I have been driving around looking for pheasants, and I haven’t seen much at all in the way of ducks. A lot of geese, but I’m just not mad enough at the geese. We’re down to the last final days, maybe a week or so to go here, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s all but done. The only divers around are goldeneyes, and when they’re here, the season’s about a wrap.”

Elsewhere around the Upper Midwest and Ohio Valley, the song appears to be the same. Slow is the word in major parts of Michigan and Wisconsin, at least as far as the ducks are concerned, though some guys are finding birds. Eric Wolf of Waconia, Minnesota, tells of a good migration the past couple days, with birds riding the strong northwest winds and moving with the colder temperatures. “The past week has been tough, but the best hunting is just now starting,” he says optimistically. Out of Clara City, Richard Shamla reports strong numbers of both dark geese and ducks. “Hunting has been goose from Sunday on as new birds entered the region, and the cold weather has sparked their appetites and gotten them into an aggressive feeding pattern. Duck hunting,” he says, “is possible only on the larger (ice-free) lakes, but it’s been good.”

As far as Iowa is concerned, the North Zone where I’m at has three weeks left in the regular duck season, and I’ve all but put my personal gear away. I’ll get out a time or two if the green-wings make an appearance, but the lack of water here locally has truly taken the air out of my balloon as far as ducks were concerned in 2012. There are some good hunts to be had right now on the Mississippi River, and I’m hearing of some fine puddler/diver mixed bags taken from the Old Man. If it’s a drake canvasback you seek, now’s the time to be stretched out in a layout boat. On a positive note, goose numbers throughout the Hawkeye State continue to grow, and we should see excellent honker hunting during December and into the New Year. Next week’s weather, though, leaves a bit to be desired for ‘fowlers, what with sunny skies and temperatures reaching near 60 over Thanksgiving.

Central Missouri, says Tony Vandemore, got new birds – a LOT of new birds – earlier in the week, and the guys at Habitat Flats near Sumner continue to enjoy spectacular shoots. It was so good, I was able to take my first duck with a muzzleloading shotgun while with Vandemore a while back, the dandy greenhead pictured here. A Pedersoli SxS stuffed with 80 grains of Pyrodex Select, a TPS41 Multi-Metal Wad from Ballistic Products, and 1-1/8 ounces of Hevi-Shot #6s flipped him butt over tea cart like nobody’s business. I think everyone in the blind, most of all me, was shocked when the drake splashed.

‘Fowlers in Louisiana are enjoying good mixed-bag shoots at present, while gunners in Arkansas are impatiently awaiting the opener this weekend; rather, tomorrow. From legendary Stuttgart, Joe James of Avery Outdoors says that “ducks are here in decent numbers, with lots of pintails and grey ducks around. Reports have decent numbers of mallards having moved onto the rice fields. The first good migration of snows and blues appeared over the last few days; specks, too. Some private clubs with flooded timber are reporting a few mallards in the timber, but not much.” The good news: Southerners still have all of December and January to go.