Next Front Should Turn Good Hunting Great

This week, I'm coming to you folks from Habitat Flats in Sumner, Missouri, and the heart of the Mississippi Flyway. I've been here since Saturday, November 3, and while I would consider the hunting nothing less than spectacular, owner Tony Vandemore and his crew are watching the skies--and The Weather Channel--for the next big front to push new birds southward.

"We've been killing ducks," Tony told me as we headed out that first day, "but we've been dealing with no wind now for better than a week. There's weather in the Dakotas, though, and things ought to get good this weekend."

South Dakotan, Ben Fujan, who guides for Vandemore and drove in from Sioux Falls last night (November 7), speaks of excellent bird numbers to the north and east of Missouri--ducks just poised to start making their way to the Show-Me State and points south.

Overall, I have seen both good and great days here in Sumner. Mallards have been plentiful, though the guys tell me the numbers are nothing like they'll have around Thanksgiving and on through the close of the season on Christmas Day. Green-wing teal, like the brace of handsome drakes shown here, were everywhere; I even saw a handful of diehard blue-wings on a small willow pond that first afternoon. Wood duck and gadwall numbers are high, but the pintails have come and, for the most part, gone. "We lost a lot of our pintails with that last cold front," Vandemore said. "There's some here but not like we had last year at this time."

As an aside for you Wilson's snipe enthusiasts, they're here and the time is now! Vandemore was kind enough to turn me loose on one of his partially flooded impoundments Tuesday afternoon, and I would say, conservatively, I saw no fewer than 100 jacksnipe during my two-hour walk through the short soggy stubble. I managed six, one of which is pictured here. I won't say how many shells I fired.

From Toronto, Angelo Casbarro with the Avery Outdoors Team says "the migration is at its peak right now, and that heavy flights have brought in good numbers of both ducks and geese. Hunters are still enjoying tremendous success in the fields and have also been taking advantage of healthy diving duck populations on the big water."

Eric Wolf from Waconia, Minnesota, tells of an uptick in more divers and Canada geese recently. "I've noticed more canvasbacks on some of the big waters in the past few days." An glass-half-full kind of guy, Wolf claims "hunting has been average to above average for most waterfowlers in the area." Elsewhere in the Upper Midwest, the word isn't so positive. In Iowa, the common denominators appear to be "slow," "dry," and "not very optimistic." Goose numbers, however, appear to be slowly building throughout portions of southern Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, but hunters in the upper stretches of the flyway really need some rough weather to the north before the gunning will get hot.

Eavesdropping at the lodge, I overheard a young man from south of Sikeston, Missouri, tell of good hunts during their opener this past weekend. "Limits on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday," he was telling a buddy. "They got their mallards, and finished with grey ducks, teal, and some woodies." Hunters at the tail-end of the flyway--Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi--have another 10 days or so of chomping at the bit before they can run the cobwebs out of their barrels. From Stuttgart, Kevin Taylor reports "great numbers of mallards and gadwalls in the woods and in any agricultural fields holding water. I'm also seeing spoonbills and teal. Plenty of specklebellies and snows are showing up, too. The first large migration has come in full forces, and we're seeing great numbers for this early in the year. Dry conditions of the north," he said, "have helped push more ducks to us earlier than usual. It could be a banner year for the South."