By David Draper, Field and Stream's Central Flyway Duck Reporter
Waterfowl hunters in North Dakota kicked off duck season there last Saturday, getting a jump on the rest of the Central Flyway (with the exception of Wyoming's C2 zone, which also opened September 22). The bell rings Saturday, September 29, in Montana and South Dakota, with openers rolling out throughout October as we move south down the flyway.
By most accounts, the North Dakota opener was a successful one for hunters. A mixed bag of birds—widgeon, gadwall, some divers and a few remaining teal—were taken over water, while residents in the know filled their straps with mallards hunting exclusively in the fields. The prairie pothole region of eastern North Dakota is a prime production area for ducks, and locals often spend the few weeks before season patterning large flocks of ducks moving from roost to feed. It's a well-worn tradition up there to hunt these fields, letting the birds have the water to roost on. Doing so ensures the birds stay in the region longer, especially in the early season before bad weather forces them south.
Speaking of weather, long-term forecasts look promising for sunbathers with the forecast for Bottineau and other northern points calling for highs in the 70s and 80s, and nighttime temps no lower than 45 degrees. A mid-week front may bring some rain, but the only thing that might push ducks south for next weekend's openers is hunting pressure. That means many of the birds hunters can expect to encounter will be locals only. Luckily, most of the reports I'm hearing say there are plenty of birds around to provide at least a few good days of gunning. However, if we don't get a sustained cold front soon, mid-October might bring a lull that usually doesn't happen until later in the season.
Avery pro staffer Vance Stolz reports seeing a slight increase in teal, along with some new mallards and pintails moving into the northern Front Range of Colorado. Just north of him, around my stomping grounds near Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Jared Shepard checked in to say that, despite the drought conditions, bird populations are good in the Panhandle.
"We had a great duck hatch in general," said Shepard. "[This is] the largest number of wood ducks I have ever seen out here. Our local goose hatch was also very good."
Speaking of geese, I ran into a couple of friends this week who just got back from hunting Canadas in the northeast corner of South Dakota. The state runs an early season, opening August 4 for residents and September 1 for out-of-staters, targeting the large population of local birds in the area. They had a great shoot, hunting freshly cut cornfields and other agricultural areas, bringing home about 50 birds over just a couple days of shooting. Sounds like a fun way to get a start on the waterfowl season well before the rest of us get to target dark geese.
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