By David Draper, Field & Stream's Central Flyway Duck Reporter
As expected, last weekend's winter storm in the northern Central Flyway finally got ducks on the move. The snowy conditions were accompanied by sub-freezing temperatures that locked up the sheet water and smaller impoundments up north, pushing waterfowl down the flyway and onto the mid-Plains states where hunters have been waiting for fresh birds since the October openers.
My contacts in the Dakotas all reported seeing high migrators passing them over on Sunday, a day or so after the storm first hit. In South Dakota, Chris Hull sent in the following e-mail, complete with capitalization to better get his point across that the birds are really on the move:
"Spent the weekend in north central S.D., and let's just say the migration was as BIG as it is going to get.
"Saturday morning…a few birds trickling high. Saturday afternoon was spent on a large slough - 2 miles by 5 miles - that was FULL of snows, specks, mallards and swans. I would say EASILY 50,000 snow geese and that many mallards as well. Saturday afternoon's blizzard conditions had the birds scrambling for food and shelter. By Sunday morning, the birds and the sloughs were frozen. LOTS of high migrators all day. Monday morning, we hunted in vain, packed up and left for Pierre. Didn't see a goose until we got to Whitlocks on Lake Oahe. Lots of birds in the Pierre area, though."
In Montana, Avery Pro Staffer Jeremy DeVries also witnessed a major push of birds into the area. He reports "great numbers" of Canada geese and mallards, along with widgeon and gadwall "in good numbers." The cold front did get what blue-winged teal and wood ducks were in the area moving on to warmer climes, and he noted "big movements of divers have not materialized" as of early this week. A warming trend, along with good availability of feed, has DeVries predicting this new push of birds will hang out for awhile and provide continued success that has been, as he puts it, "exceptional."
As for that success, DeVries says it's all about location. "People hunting on the Clarks Fork, Yellowstone and Bighorn Rivers all have positive reports," said DeVries. "Limit shooting for most groups so long as you are in the right spots." He also reminded boat hunters to be careful of low water. "Several reports of boats being stuck high and dry on the Bighorn this week due to changed river channels, gravel bars and VERY shallow water conditions," he said.
Farther south along the Flyway, several hunters checked in with reports of both a major migration and resulting success. Nebraskan Mark Nelsen hopped just across that state's southern border into Colorado and reported he and four friends had two days of great mixed-bag shooting. On Saturday they managed a five-man limit, counting seven different species of ducks, including Nelsen's first scaup and this banded mallard drake shot by friend Tyler Nicely. On Sunday he checked in again, saying the ducks were flying, though the group only managed four species. Nelsen also echoed other reports from the area, saying "lots of new geese flying" Sunday morning.
Find migration and hunting reports in your area on the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map.
Migration Moves into the Mid-Plains States