As I write this from my office rocker, it’s somewhere in the high single digits here in eastern Iowa. Temperatures like this, especially when combined with no snow, make the diehard ice anglers all giggly, but for me they only give a clearer understanding of why smart, older folks leave the Upper Midwest in November and don’t come back until it’s time to pick morel mushrooms.
That said, there’s still some hunting to be done in the Mississippi Flyway from about mid-Missouri down to the mouth of the Old Man. Tony Vandemore, co-owner of Habitat Flats, just called from Sumner, Missouri–actually from the bottom of a layout blind at the edge of a dark goose spread. “There’s a bunch of ducks around, and I mean a bunch, but the Canadas just aren’t here in the numbers they should be,” he told me. “There’s 300 to 400 on the refuge (Swan Lake), but there should be 5,000 to 15,000. The river should be loaded, but it’s just not. Still we’re killing our Canadas; we just had our first bunch in this morning, and took eight, over pasture ponds. Everything’s frozen, but we put a hole in one pond and ran an IceEater. It’s working, and we’re having decent hunts,” he said, “but we’re not seeing a lot of geese.” Vandemore and company will be heading to Missouri’s Bootheel on February 1 to begin their annual snow goose eradication campaign.
To the east of Vandemore, Avery Pro-Staffer, Shaun Patrick, of Troy, Missouri, is also picking on the last of the season’s dark geese–and with similar results. “Everything’s frozen, except for the big rivers,” he wrote. “Hunting has been tough the last few weeks, with little to no migration happening. The local birds are on to all of our tricks and are feeding after dark. The Mississippi has produced some shooting in a few areas, but it’s been few and far between. On the 22nd, though, we got a light dusting of snow, and saw more bird activity than we’d seen all year. It’s got some folks wondering if we didn’t get some new birds.”
From out of Chatham, Mississippi, John Gordon of Avery Outdoors reports that while water conditions have improved dramatically over recent weeks, bird numbers haven’t followed suit. “The Mississippi River is rising rapidly to more normal levels for this time of year” he emailed. “Area lakes have come up as much as two feet, and the fields are holding ample water. The feed conditions are strong now, with birds focusing on the flooded summer growth that’s been dry until recently.” Gordon continued by saying that while there are some mallards and grey ducks around, “most of the birds have been here since early December and are wise to the ways of hunters. Overall, it’s been very inconsistent, with some strong hunts but mixed results for the most part. A few small pushes over the course of the season, but the weather’s been so mild.” The closing bell for Gordon rings on Sunday, January 27, with a youth waterfowl season slated for the first weekend of February.
In southern Arkansas, Avery Team Member Jay Hayter is also beginning to hear the large lady sing. “The rivers are cresting and filling the bottoms that have been low all season. There’s fresh flooded woods and fields and new feed opportunities for the birds that are here. But there are very few mallards, and all this new water has scattered the ducks that are around.” Hayter’s hope is that forecasted north winds will bring a last-minute push of new birds; unfortunately, he doesn’t sound all that optimistic. “Hunting’s been poor in most areas,” he said. “This should be our prime time, but it’s falling short of expectations. It almost feels like a reverse migration, where we had more birds early than later.”
Surprising given it’s the final weekend of duck season, I was able to talk to friend Rob Haydel of Haydel’s Game Calls out of Bossier City, Louisiana, who, not surprisingly, was finishing up at the office and packing the truck to head for duck camp near Lake Charles. “It’s been a crazy, crazy type of year for us here in southwestern Louisana,” he said. “I’m hearing mixed reports over much of the area. We had such an influx of water late in the year that it either dispersed the birds we had, or the birds simply never got here. I hear tell of lots of birds still in northeast Arkansas and southern Missouri. It just never did get right for us over here in this corner. What do I expect this last weekend? If we can shoot some half limits, I’ll be happy,” said the legendary callmaker. “But if we don’t, we’ll have fun and close out the year. I don’t have to shoot limits to have fun.”