By David Draper, Field & Stream's Central Flyway Duck Reporter
This time of year, any rumor of a storm can get waterfowlers worked up and ready for new birds to arrive, and it seems the cold fronts that pushed their way across the northern Plains late last week finally got some ducks and geese moving south. And none too soon, as forum posters were bemoaning that this is the worst season ever, despite the fact it's only October and bird counts are at record highs. I can only hope those poor-mouth hunters got their perpetually half-full cups filled up with a dose of ducks over the weekend.
I heard from my friend Phil Francone who hunts just outside of Winnipeg. He's been putting the hurt to the geese for the past few weeks, but says ducks there have been few and far between.
"I am surprised by the lack of ducks in and around Winnipeg," said Francone. "We shot 40 geese last weekend, and only two ducks. Granted, we were hunting corn fields and there were groups of ducks flying around, but I would guess the goose to duck ratio was 100 to 1 or better. There are so many stinking geese around here it is amazing."
Francone did mention he has heard reports of hunters limiting out on ducks west of Winnipeg in the Shoal Lakes area. He said high water requires a boat to get to the good gunning, but those who are so equipped are shooting lots of big ducks, mostly mallards.
Strong northwest winds that blew through the area last Thursday and Friday likely pushed some of the birds south, if the following two reports from North Dakota are any indication.
Jason Berger works for Cabela's Outdoor Adventures division and lives near the company's HQ in Sidney, Nebraska. He's originally from Valley City, North Dakota, and annually takes a week off in October to hunt deer and ducks back home. He promised a full report upon his return, but I did get a text message from him while he was up there saying "Birds are thick…lots of northern birds moved in the past two days."
Another North Dakotan, Chris Hustad, who operates the Duck Hunting Chat forum boards and spends nearly every day hunting in the state, dropped me a quick note to confirm Berger's observations:
"The migration is starting up into full swing right now in North Dakota," he said. "The past two days has sent a lot of birds south. Most of the strings appear to be specks, cranes, and lesser Canadas."
Down in my neck of the woods, Nebraska's Zone 3 units opened up the weekend before last and I heard from a couple different hunters who braved the weather (It was sunny and 70 that weekend), yet still managed to bring home a few birds.
Coming fresh off the Nebraska State Cross Country Track Meet, high schooler Sam Arterburn and a couple of buddies celebrated the end of track season with a duck hunt. They managed to pile up a mixed bag of birds, as seen in the photo above, and reported Zone 3 provide better gunning than the Zone 2 area he had hunted earlier this month.
"We shot 16 with three guys saw a lot of birds flying down," said Arterburn. "[There were] more hens than drakes, but it was a successful opening day given the weather was way too nice for duck hunting. I also felt like I saw more birds down in Zone 3 than I did up in Zone 2."
Matt Arndt also hunted the North Platte River both days opening weekend and passed along this e-mail:
"I thought it was going to be a teal shootout on Saturday, but it was a very slow opener. Still managed to shoot eight ducks between two hunters, and those eight were the only ones that decoyed. Sunday was a little better (I shot my six.) and I actually saw a group of gadwalls and wigeon and about six groups of mallards, but it was pretty slow as well. Probably not slow in comparison to the weather we've had, but really slow in comparison to last year. We were absolutely covered up with teal, gadwalls, wigeons and mallards this time last year. I don't have much water to work with this year so I'm hoping for a push this weekend so I can really start whacking them before I freeze up. I did hear one small group of cranes on Saturday (didn't see them) and then I saw a 5-pack of cranes heading south on Sunday. Other than the 5x5 elk staring at me while picking up decoys and the 4-pack of river otters that was out frolicking around, there's not much else to report."
Find hunting and habitat reports in your area on DU Migration Map