By Chris Jennings, Ducks Unlimited Magazine Web Editor
Kansas's Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area is a 19,857-acre wetland complex northeast of Great Bend. Last year's drought limited waterfowling opportunities on the area, but this phenomenon allowed natural and planted vegetation to gain a foothold throughout the property. Late-summer rains pushed rain gauges to 10 inches the first week of August, creating superb waterfowl habitat conditions.
"I've been here for 26 years, and I think these are the best conditions we've had," says Karl Grover, area wildlife manager at Cheyenne Bottoms. "We've had great habitat before, but the heavy rains filled every pool. This habitat is just unbelievable."
The property is currently holding between 10,000 and 20,000 ducks, half of which are blue-winged teal
. This total is a little low compared to recent years, but Grover expects these numbers to increase throughout this week.
"We typically hold 20,000 to 30,000 teal this time of year, so our numbers are down slightly, but I think bluewings will continue to arrive this week," Grover says. "Our hunter numbers are strong, with a little over 800 hunters using the property since the opener. The duck-per-hunter average is close to four, which is great."
While 800 hunters sounds like a high number, hunting pressure has been low in this vast wetland complex. John Ritchey, DU's senior regional director in Kansas, has hunted Cheyenne Bottoms for years and was surprised by the light turnout by hunters last week.
"Typically, this hunting area draws crowds from all the major metropolitan areas – Wichita and Kansas City – but the crowds weren't there for teal season," Ritchey says. "It may have been the heat. We hunted in 101-degree temperatures one day. We managed to shoot limits every day but one."
Ritchey says the property looks to be in perfect condition, which he attributes to the hard work and dedication of the staff at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area.
"They have put so much hard work in out there and finally got the rain to support their efforts." Ritchey says. "There's millet planted, water levels look great, and it's just amazing to see the clouds of teal buzzing the property."
The 2013 Kansas teal season ends on September 22, but local hunters are now looking forward to the opening of the general duck season. If water levels hold up and weather cooperates, the table is set for migrating ducks.
"The pools are full of barnyard grass, sprangletop and smartweed. The teal are getting in there for the barnyard grass, but the smartweed hasn't matured yet," Grover says. "The smartweed will be mature later this fall."