3. Bighorn River Mallards and Canada Geese with Trout
During the 1990s, south- central Montana’s Bighorn River achieved renown among North America’s fly-fishermen. At the time, stretches of the river’s shallow, swift waters held an amazing 6,000 mature trout per mile. While its fish numbers have declined in recent years, the Bighorn continues to produce plenty of large rainbows and browns. These big fish attract big crowds of anglers in spring and summer. But by late fall, summer crowds are long gone.
All the better for waterfowlers. In December, trout fishing remains productive on the Bighorn just as duck and goose action is peaking. Each winter, migrating mallards and Canada geese stop in the Bighorn and Yellowstone river valleys to feed on waste grain in harvested croplands. As cold weather settles in, shooting can heat up on the river. “Ducks and geese gravitate to the Bighorn because it’s a fast-moving river that stays open when local reservoirs and other wetlands have frozen up,” says Randy Renner, a DU biologist in the Great Plains region.
4. Saskatchewan Ducks and Geese with Huns and Sharptails
The prairies of southern Saskatchewan have long been considered a top waterfowling destination, and for good reason. Each year, millions of ducks—including more than 2 million mallards on average—return to the province to breed. In addition, large numbers of staging Canada, snow, and white-fronted geese feast in Saskatchewan’s harvested croplands before moving to wintering areas in the United States. This abundance of waterfowl ensures that hunters in Saskatchewan enjoy high success rates on a wide variety of ducks and geese. Harvest estimates from the CWS indicate that Saskatchewan has led all Canadian provinces in annual goose harvest during the past several years and ranks second only to Ontario in average annual duck harvest.
On top of this waterfowling bounty, southern Saskatchewan supports large numbers of upland birds. Beginning in mid-September and lasting usually through mid-October, hunters can follow up a morning of duck and goose hunting with an afternoon filled with Hungarian partridge and sharp-tailed grouse. These two upland birds inhabit hedgerows and windbreaks adjacent to agricultural fields where they can be hunted with dogs or flushed on foot. Adding these flushing birds to the bag is another memorable wingshooting experience that shouldn’t be missed while visiting this wide-open province.
5. Central Florida Ducks with Largemouth Bass
Florida may not be the first place that comes to mind as a waterfowling destination. Yet the Sunshine State averaged more ducks harvested per hunter during the 2004 and 2005 seasons than any other state in the Atlantic Flyway. Two of the hunting venues that helped produce this impressive statistic—Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area—are public wetlands within a 90-minute drive from Orlando. During the duck season, which runs from mid-November to late January, both refuges provide prime habitat for wintering blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, and ring-necked ducks. Hunters after exotic birds may also get a shot at fulvous and black-bellied whistling ducks and resident Florida mottled ducks.
But fishing is the main attraction on several of central Florida’s freshwater lakes. For more than 10 years, state biologists have included Lakes Tohopekaliga and Kissimmee in their published list of top spots for catching largemouth bass. Both Orlando-area lakes regularly produce plenty of fish that tip the scales at 10 pounds or more, and some of the biggest bass are landed during duck season.
6. Central Kansas Ducks with White-tailed Deer
Located in the middle of the Central Flyway, Kansas is at the heart of the nation’s waterfowling action each fall. Starting in mid-October, ducks converge on Kansas wetlands to spend the winter or gather strength for another southward push. During years when heavy rains recharge key wetlands, waterfowl numbers in the state swell into the millions. Scott Manley, DU’s director of conservation programs in Kansas, says lots of hunting activity is concentrated on Cheyenne Bottoms and McPherson Valley Wetlands wildlife areas and Quivira NWR—which form a complex stretching 70 miles across the center of the state.