While frigid temperatures, snow and a big north wind blowing down from the Dakotas typically bring high hopes for duck and goose hunters in Kansas
, recent reports
indicate that the early arrival of winter weather
has been a mixed blessing for waterfowlers in the Jayhawker State.
"We went from 80 percent open water to 2 percent overnight," explains Rob Unruh, manager of the 4,625-acre Lovewell Wildlife Area in north-central Kansas. "The hunting was phenomenal last Monday, but the conditions took a nosedive by the weekend."
Leading up to Arctic blast, mallard
numbers had reached 25,000 birds and were climbing on Lovewell Reservoir, Unruh says, but ice has now locked up all but two small patches of open water. In addition to the cold, the area received six to eight inches of snow, a combination that sent the ducks and an estimated 23,000 Canada, snow and white-fronted geese packing.
It is a similar story at the popular Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area in central Kansas.
"In terms of ducks, we've got nothing left here to speak of," says area manager Karl Grover. "The hunting had been great leading up to the split in our duck season on December 1, when we had open water, but now we are 99.9 percent ice covered and the ducks are no longer around."
The duck season returns on December 21, but Grover suspects that hunters will find few opportunities.
"I don't expect that we'll see many ducks return, even if the weather warms up a little," Grover says. "That seems to be the trend in years past when things have locked up like they are now."
Light and dark goose numbers are a different story, Grover says, with "lots of geese" within a 50-mile radius of the Cheyenne Bottoms. If temperatures begin to moderate, Grover expects that the goose numbers will pick up on the Bottoms as open water returns.
Certain areas of Kansas, however, have clearly benefited from winter's arrival.
The Glen Elder Wildlife Area near Beloit received a "major push" of new ducks and geese with the cold front, says Chris Lecuyer with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism.
"Our goose numbers were good before the winter storm system rolled in on Thursday and Friday, but the duck numbers, primarily mallards, got a real bump," Lecuyer says. "We lost a lot of open water, but the birds are using those small pockets that remain or are just standing on the ice."
Lecuyer estimates that Glen Elder has 20,000 mallards and another 10,000 other ducks, the bulk of which are divers. Numbers of lesser snow (90,000), Canada (17,000) and white-fronted geese (2,000) have also increased.
Further south and east, duck and goose numbers continue to increase on Wolf Creek Lake, a 5,000-acre cooling reservoir for a nearby nuclear power plant.
"We have a good number of mallards, snow geese and Canada geese, and those numbers are still building," says Bob Culbertson, area wildlife biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism.
"We really haven't seen that one big push of birds from the Dakotas that we expect when things get so cold up there, but our numbers just seem to be inching up."
That trend has also been evident at the Neosho Wildlife Area in the extreme southeast corner of Kansas.
"We had a strong push of ducks and geese arrive in mid-November, and waterfowl numbers have been slowly building," says area manager Monte Manbeck. The Neosho River as well as ponds in the surrounding watershed remain open, he says, and waterfowl hunters have been having good success as ducks bounce back and forth between water and food sources.
"With basically no snow cover here, I'd expect that our duck numbers will remain consistent or even rise," Manbeck says. "And if we should happen to get a bit of a warm-up, I'd say that the hunting could get very good, as birds tend to filter back in as more water opens up."