By Wade Bourne, DU Magazine Editor-at-Large
The outlook for waterfowl hunting in Wisconsin is improving as duck and goose numbers continue to build along the Mississippi River and on the famed Horicon Marsh. A strong cold front is set to blow through the Badger State on Oct. 25, bringing rain, gusty winds and freezing temperatures. Biologists expect this front will bring a new push of waterfowl, adding to already strong numbers of birds in these traditional waterfowl strongholds.
"I'm very optimistic about hunting prospects in coming weeks along the upper Mississippi River," states Brenda Kelly, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources biologist in La Crosse. "Up until now, we've had a very mild fall, and many local birds are still holding in the various pools along the river. Also, we've recently had a strong migration of northern birds. The divers have arrived earlier than normal, and their numbers are building. We should see peak populations of most divers by the second week of November. We're also holding some strong numbers of mallards and other puddle ducks.
"So, with the local birds that are still here, the new ducks that are coming in, and the prospect of more favorable weather conditions, I feel we're setting up for some great hunting in the weeks ahead."(For more information, contact Kelly by phone at 608-785-9994 or e-mail at Brenda.firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Things are also looking up for waterfowlers in central Wisconsin. Recent heavy rains have recharged potholes and shallow marshes that were dry earlier in the season, and ducks and geese have responded by shifting to this new habitat in noteworthy numbers.
"We've been really dry, but now we're getting the rain we need, and the birds are showing up. We've had a big jump in mallard and Canada goose numbers in the last week," says Paul Samerdyke, a biologist at the Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area.
Waterfowl surveys on Horicon Marsh verify Samerdyke's observations. Mallard numbers on the marsh increased from 6,712 birds on Oct. 12 to a whopping 76,337 birds on Oct. 17. The Canada goose count more than tripled to 75,776 birds during the same period.
"I took an airboat ride on the marsh yesterday (Oct. 23), and I kicked up a ton of ducks and geese," Samerdyke continues. "Many of the ponds in the marsh still have only a few inches of water, and access is difficult. But the birds are using them. Hunters who put in the time scouting and the effort to reach some of the remote areas can expect good shooting."
Find reports in your area using the DU Waterfowl Migration map.