By Michael R. Shea, Field & Stream's Atlantic Flyway Duck Reporter
Cold temperatures this week are finally moving ducks south in the Atlantic Flyway. Every state in the flyway is open, or will open, this week or next. Though no serious weather is on the horizon next week, many waterfowl hunters are getting amped for what could be banner hunts.
"It's looking awesome, awesome, awesome!" said Avery Pro Staffer Sean Fritzges. A civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when he's not hunting geese, Fritzges oversees dredging in Baltimore harbor and channels through the Chesapeake. "I see waterfowl all day, everyday, but now it's incredible. There are a lot of birds around and they're steadily coming." Maryland's short season opens on Saturday.
Fritzges hunted last Saturday during Maryland's youth season with his son and three school friends. By 7:30 a.m. they had three geese on the ground. By 9 a.m. they were one bird shy of an eight-bird limit. "That's my rule, because that one bird will keep you coming back for more," said Fritzges, who shared the photo above. "The kids had a blast!"
While geese are being reported across the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and down into the Southern states, by most accounts they are just now getting up in real numbers and moving South out of Canada and the Great Lakes. The waterfowl conservation group Long Point Waterfowl estimates Atlantic flyway ducks are at their peak in the Great Lakes region and upstate New York.
"Basically we're at peak numbers, fantastic numbers, of waterfowl on Lake Erie," said Rick Jackson, a college student at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. Jackson started the Twitter feed @ohiowaterfowl to track birds across the region and collates reports from hunters afield.
"This recent cold front has really pushed a lot of birds," said Jackson. "We've seen a ridiculous amount of Canada geese. A lot of people talked about last year being an incredible season, and that didn't work out, but I think this year will be it." Northeast Ohio, he said, has an uncharacteristically high mallard population this week.
Hunters in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have also reported good shoots in the last week, with no sign of things tapering off. The below-average to average temperatures are likely holding birds in northern and central New England.
Coastal hunting zones of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut open for the short early season next week. All of New Jersey's and Pennsylvania's waterfowl zones open by next Thursday. Delaware ducks and geese open Monday. North Carolina opened last week and Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida open Saturday.
Along the south Atlantic coast, there are plenty of birds to kill, said Froggy Thorton of Capt. Froggy's Hunting & Fishing Guide Service in Hertford, North Carolina. "The hurricane and that Nor'Easter up north pushed a number of ducks down right off the get-go. We have divers, puddlers, and a good number of woodies." Thorton has been hunting the Outer Banks and Pamlico Sound for more than 20 years and believes this year is shaping up to be a banner season. "A lot more ducks are here early," he said.
Good numbers of sea ducks and scup are in open water, but redheads and canvasbacks haven't shown up yet, according to Thornton. Some pintails, widgeon, and teal are around, as are a lot of woodies. The captain also spotted 400 to 500 snows earlier this week – a rarity for North Carolina, which usually doesn't see white geese until middle December.
"Today, the swans came through," he said on Wednesday. "Last night and all morning you could hear them, and in the first few hours of daylight the sky was full of swans…I think it's looking to be an excellent year. Everyone around here is excited. It's starting out with a bang."
Many Ducks Are Flying - Just in Time For Hunters
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