By M.D. Johnson, Field & Stream's Mississippi Flyway Duck Reporter
My mother always said to start with the hardest task first because it makes the rest seem easy by comparison. So let's begin with ducks in the northernmost reaches of the Mississippi Flyway—the hardest thing to have to report. One word: Done.
Well, done for the most part anyway. My home state of Iowa finished in two stages: the North Zone on Dec. 6, and the South on the 13th. It was a less than stellar year for many, with the phrase, "Worst season ever," heard on a regular basis. There were some Iowa hunters who did well. Those gunning the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers had good shoots throughout the season for both mallards and divers. Inland, I heard sporadic tales of success. But it's over now for another year. I, along with others, can relax now and not feel guilty that season's in and we're not out.
On a happier note, there are plenty of Canadas scattered over most of the Upper Midwest, and as soon as we get a little weather, the gunning for the black necks should really heat up. Goose numbers locally have increased slightly, thanks to the two-day, stiff north wind we had earlier last week. I've done a bit of pass shooting here with good results including a band and my 18-year-old Tannor Peska scored on a pair of big honkers, one banded, this past Monday.
Mark Brendemuehl, territory manager for Avery Outdoors in Minnesota (and outdoor photographer who landed not one but two incredible digital images in the official 2013 Ducks Unlimited expanded edition calendar) texted me this morning to say that while they have plenty of geese sitting on refuges and roost ponds, the deep snow is making it tough, if not impossible to get into the field. Win some, lose some, I reckon.
Now for the easy part. From north-central Missouri, the entire staff of Habitat Flats reports unbelievable hunting, and the gunning, they say, should last until their close on Christmas Day. "It's very, very good right now," said Tony Vandemore. "Probably filmed the best cornfield hunting (video) segment we've ever gotten. Hunting in the timber is lights out! The boys are guessing there are 75,000 mallards in just our one complex. It's been our best year ever," he concluded.
The every best new come from down in the southern reaches of the Mississippi Flyway. It is, after all, 10 days before Christmas, and those boys should be shooting something up, eh?
Shotguns editor and fellow Iowan, Phil Bourjaily wrote a note to F&S offices on Wednesday, which was kindly forwarded to my desk, that said, "The guys at the Remington ammunition plant in Lonoke, Arkansas, are absolutely pummeling mallards; 78 ducks from one blind yesterday, and the count was at 50 this morning when I talked with them." A major storm pushed birds out of the Dakotas and Upper Midwest southward, where the gunners are now welcoming them with open arms and warm barrels, it would appear.
Four-time Tennessee state duck calling champion, Bill Cooksey, writes from Memphis: "It's feast or famine. Some folks have been doing quite well, but others are suffering. I've heard of more ducks leaving ahead of [this recent] front than arrived." John Gordon with the Avery Team, also in Memphis says, "Mallards, gadwall, widgeon, greenwings, shovelers, snows, and specks are all around in numbers. Plenty of diving ducks hanging around the catfish ponds. There was a definite influx of birds ahead of the recent front. If you were in the right spots, limits were easy to come by."
And finally, in Kentucky, brand new father—Congrats!—and DU-TV host Field Hudnall tells me via his brother, Clay: "We had a small push of birds last week, but with temperatures near 50 and the Ohio River extremely high, what birds are around are really widely scattered. Farm ponds are where the birds are right now. We're traditionally dealing with skim ice, cold, and snow at this time of year, but it's not the case now. So, if you know of a farm pond, I'd be checking that out."
Finished Up North; Fabulous Down South