By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
Avid Oklahoma waterfowler David Williams says that he can gauge the potential of the upcoming waterfowl season long before the first flights of ducks and geese arrive in the Sooner State. It all comes down to food, Williams says, so when he sees farmers enjoying a productive summer growing season, he knows that migrating waterfowl will have a buffet come fall. And this year, Oklahoma has duck and goose food aplenty.
"We've really had an outstanding year of crop production, which is good news for producers and waterfowl hunters," Williams says. "When we have abundant food for the birds, it makes it easier to keep them around once they get here."
And like most other states in the Central Flyway this fall, Williams says that waterfowl hunters in Oklahoma have benefited from timely flights of fresh birds, pushed by powerful cold fronts from the north.
"Early in November we saw a lot of gadwalls, pintails, wigeon, green-winged teal, and some mallards," Williams says. "Every time a cold front would move through, we'd pick up new birds. They weren't huge numbers of birds; it was slow but steady."
That changed the first week of December when a massive cold front dipped down from the Dakotas into Nebraska and Kansas, Williams says. Waterfowl season was closed at the time because of the season split, but when the second season opened on December 14, the game had changed in Oklahoma.
"That was our first significant influx of mallards, and the number of lesser Canada geese saw a big spike at the time," Williams says. "All in all, we have certainly been having a better season than the previous two years."
Drought conditions have gripped much of Oklahoma in recent years, impacting crops and water bodies used by migrating birds, but the same abundant moisture that had farmers smiling earlier this summer also recharged many rivers, ponds and reservoirs.
Oddly enough, some areas actually had too much water this summer, says Josh Richardson, migratory game bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Conservation.
"Kaw Lake, in particular, is one location in the north-central part of the state where we typically sow millet in late summer on exposed mud flats, but after that heavy rain, those mud flats were 12 to 15 feet under water," Richardson says. "Consequently, there is not a lot of shallow-water food sources there or on any of the other areas that were impacted by the rain."
Richardson says that drought-like conditions remain in portions of western Oklahoma, where popular hunting destinations like Fort Cobb Reservoir and Hackberry Flats are very low or completely dry.
"What attracts waterfowl to those areas, however, are the crop fields, and fortunately fields of corn, soybeans and milo do have food in them," Richardson says. "So where there is water, you'll still find some birds, but they could really use some moisture out there."
Hunters are still reporting good success in the north, east and southeast regions of the state, Richardson says, as those areas have enough waste grain and water to attract and hold ducks and geese.
Williams says that the hunting has slowed in recent days because of moderate temperatures, southerly winds and a full moon, but he expects that to change soon.
"There is another major winter system bearing down on Kansas and Missouri in the coming days, and that may be enough to cover up the food sources there and send those birds south," Williams says. "All we need are those weather systems to keep pushing birds our way. Once they get here, I think they'll stick around."
John Pollmann is a freelance writer from Dell Rapids, South Dakota who is an avid waterfowler and conservationist. Pollmann will provide hunting and habitat reports for the Central and Mississippi Flyways throughout the 2013-2014 waterfowl season.