By Wade Bourne
"Dead." "Pathetic." "Very slow."
These are three reports from corroborating sources that paint a bleak picture of waterfowl hunting in southern Illinois as of December 19. Duck and goose counts on local refuges are far lower than normal for this time of year. Two of the three sources had talked to friends who reported large numbers of birds farther up the flyway. And no severe weather that might push more birds south is in the immediate forecast. So, southern Illinois hunters are in a wait-and-hope mode: waiting for a push of new birds and hoping it will occur before the season ends in late January.
The story is in the numbers. An aerial waterfowl survey conducted in the southern Illinois area on Dec. 12 tallied 52,400 ducks. This is less than a third the 5-year average for this date in this area – 123, 967. The picture for Canada geese is worse yet. The aerial survey counted 2,980 Canadas, approximately one fifth the 5-year average for this date – 14,698.
"Hunting is very slow here," reports Dan Wollard, waterfowl biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. "I live next to the Union County Refuge, and there's been very little shooting there in recent days. We've had a lot of flooding, and I think ducks may be scattered by the abundance of high water. But now area rivers are dropping back into banks, and the waterfowl count on local refuges doesn't appear to be increasing. I'm hearing from friends up north that there are still a lot of ducks in the upper part of the flyway."
Marlene Schaede, associated with the D&M Hunting Club in Marion says "duck hunting is bad and goose hunting is pathetic." She says D&M has been canceling hunting reservations because slow shooting. "We've got to have some weather up north before things are going to pick up here," she reports.
Leven Cox owns a farm just south of the Union County Refuge, and he leases blinds to hunters. "We had a significant migration of ducks last Wednesday (Dec. 14), and hunting was pretty good the following two days. But now it's slowed up again. The Ohio River is still at flood stage, and I think the ducks that showed up have scattered out. Also, I talked to a friend who lives in Milwaukee, and he said there are still a lot of ducks and geese way up in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Hopefully the river will drop, and we'll get some weather up north, and some of those birds will come on down. But until that happens, our hunting prospects won't be very good."
Find reports in your area
Access waterfowling tips and tactics