Waterfowl seasons have come and gone in the Mississippi Flyway. The Spring Conservation Order, aka Spring Snow Goose Season, started on February 1 in parts of the flyway, but it will be another month, at least, before I head down to central Missouri to spend a few days shooting snows with the guys at Habitat Flats (habitatflats.com). This year I’ll take my wife, Julia Carol; she hasn’t seen the Spring spectacle, and really needs to experience it at least once.
But first, let’s review: I never set a duck decoy in my home state of Iowa this season, a first for me. I killed eight Canadas by pass-shooting, including a banded bird, so I put enough geese in the freezer for a good mess of jerky. As far as ducks go, some Mississippit Flyway hunters did well, particularly the guys gunning the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Most of the rest didn’t fare so hot. Geese, on the other hand, were as thick as crows on a gutpile this season; everyone I spoke with this fall all throughout the Upper Midwest did very well, if not exceptionally well on Canadas. Travis Mueller and Matt Pence, both with the Avery Team here in Iowa, reported excellent hunts during December and into early January. Mark Brendemuehl out of Minnesota, also with Avery, wrote of good goose hunting and some pretty decent early duck outings, despite extremely low water conditions that made getting to and from select locations quite the challenge.
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Erratic weather, a late bird migration, and Super Storm Sandy characterized the 2012-2013 East Coast waterfowl season. For hunters at the right latitude, it was a banner year; while those more south had to work against drought, warm temps and irregular flights. The season opened with high hopes. Drought had plagued most of the country all summer, and while water levels were low along the Atlantic flyway, it didn’t compare to other regions where water was nonexistent. There seemed to be enough fresh water down most of the Atlantic flyway for migrators to stick around. If anything, the lack of water would help concentrate birds, it was thought. There was plenty of duck food incubating, too, as moist-soil vegetation took hold in dry creek beds and empty backwater beaver ponds. When early fall rains moved through, it was a veritable duck buffet most places north and south.
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.
It has not been the best of duck seasons. Better than last year for most, yes, but warm weather, drought and abundant food resources have made it challenging for many hunters, myself included. Yet despite it all, there have been days of great shooting. For me, no surprise, the last day of the season here in Rhode Island was hands-down the best one. We went into Narragansett Bay for a late Saturday hunt, which quickly turned into a scouting trip. On Sunday morning we were back, on the X with hundreds of bluebills overhead riding the 30-knot winds. Hunting from the boat, tucked into a lee thick with cattails and marsh grass, with 80 decoys out front – mostly old Herter’s foam bodies, as you can see in the photo above– it didn’t take long for the birds to commit. The dekes were close, 15 yards out, and the scaup and a few buffies nearly landed in the boat.
The sun sets on duck season this week in the Pacific Flyway, and now geese are the only game in town. Hunters like Jason Haley of My Outdoor Buddy, pictured in this photo, took one last shot at duck hunting before moving on to late-season geese, which offer limited but excellent opportunities until March 10, when the federal framework governing waterfowling hunting closes all seasons until fall.
January 11th marked the closing of Iowa’s South Goose Zone, and it went out with a bang. Actually, several bangs. But only one thud.
Julia Carol and I met friend and F&S Shotguns editor Phil Bourjaily at his home where, after changing into goose togs suitable for 52 degrees, mud, and remnants of snow, we were guided to a hilltop just five minutes from the driveway. With geese already overhead, we set about 100 mixed full-body decoys a short distance downwind of three well-camouflaged, if I do say so myself, layout blinds.
Two to three inches of rain fell over eastern Arkansas Jan. 12, causing slash water to collect in previously dry fields and pushing the Cache and White Rivers into adjoining sloughs, oxbows and green timber flats. The ducks have responded by shifting from managed water areas into these freshly-flooded places where new food sources are available.
Jim Daniel of Bald Knob reports, "It's been a good year for many hunters in east-central Arkansas. Local refuges have been holding close to 400,000 birds – mallards, pintails, gadwalls, widgeons, teal. Before the rain Saturday the best shooting was on managed fields and timber where water could be pumped and controlled. ?
Duck hunters will find nothing great about the Great Northwest as the season comes to a close this week, but the forecast continues to be fair in sunny California. While only a few hearty ducks and geese remain in the Pacific Flyway’s colder climes, it only takes a few to make your day, as Richy Harrod of Harrod Outdoors shows in this photo during a goose hunt with Alex Yerges of Pacific Calls near Moses Lake, Wash., last week.
As seasons start to close down in the eastern half of the Central Flyway, waterfowlers in the western section are still getting birds, as recent cold temperatures and the resulting freeze-up have both ducks and geese on the move. In the southern region, hunters are either seeing birds or still waiting for them to show up.
The National Climatic Data Center just released its state of the climate overview, confirming what bird hunters have suspected all season long: 2012 was the warmest year on record for the United States.
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