By Wade Bourne, WF360 Mississippi Flyway Migration Editor
The mallards are in Missouri!
That's the late word from waterfowl biologists and hunters. Harsh wintry weather to the north and powerful cold fronts have pushed peak numbers of mallards into this state. In the north and middle hunting zones, aerial surveys and hunter reports paint a picture of an abundance of greenheads. In the state's south zone, hunters are licking their chops to get in on the action. They get their chance when the duck season opens in the south zone on Thanksgiving morning.
Survey numbers collected on state conservation areas and federal national wildlife refuges on Monday (Nov. 25) tell the story. Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri is holding 112,000 ducks. Grand Pass Conservation Area in west-central Missouri is holding 200,000 ducks. The Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Missouri has 217,000 ducks. Otter Slough Conservation Area in southeast Missouri is holding 67,000 ducks. These figures are equal to or higher than the long-term average, especially for late November.
"We're at peak numbers right now," says Andy Raedeke, waterfowl biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, "and the species composition has changed to mostly mallards as pintails, gadwalls, green-winged teal and other early-migrating species have moved on down the flyway. Now, mallards comprise up to 90 percent of the total population in the north and mid-state regions and 50 percent in the south zone."
Frank Nelson, wetland ecologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, reports that duck numbers in this state now exceed 1 million. "During the second week of November, we were holding 350,000 ducks," he says. "That number jumped to 900,000 during the third week of the month, and now we've broken the 1 million mark. Early freeze-up and snow in states to our north have pushed ducks down in impressive numbers in the last couple of weeks."
As a result, hunters have enjoyed high success in the north and middle zones. "I'd say we've had a pretty phenomenal year up to this point, especially on our (public) conservation areas," Raedeke says. "We've had a few problems pumping water, and now ice has locked up a lot of the shallows on both public and private lands. But where there's open water, hunter success remains high."
This statement is confirmed by two guides: Johnny Porter of Webfoot Guide Service (webfootguideservice.net) of Stockton and Tony Vandemore of Habitat Flats Lodge (habitatflats.com) of Sumner. "This past weekend, we had a good push of birds into west-central Missouri," Porter reports. "We're taking consistent limits of ducks, primarily mallards. It sounds like we'll have to use Ice Eaters to keep our water open this coming week."
"We've got lots of greenheads," Vandemore says. "Essentially, we're shooting a four-duck limit, since most of our ‘odd' ducks have moved further south. We're getting an occasional teal, gadwall, or pintail, but mostly now it's all green."
Raedeke believes the good hunting will continue in the north and middle zones despite current problems with low water and freezing temperatures. "The long range forecast shows some temperature moderation over the weekend and into next week, so some of the ice should melt away. Also, crops are late coming out this year, and there's abundant food available to the birds. This is pretty much true statewide."
Nelson has received reports of mallards feeding in dry grainfields in northern Missouri, especially in the Four Rivers area. And what's the outlook for opening day in the south hunting zone? "This area has been holding a lot of ducks, but now things are a little screwy," Nelson says. "I don't know how the ice will affect hunting in the rice fields in this area. It might slow things down the first couple of days, but I think the ducks will be back when temperatures moderate next week."
In addition, lesser snow and white-fronted goose numbers are high in the state, particularly in the southeast. "I had a report of a rice field near Kennett holding 5,000 white-fronts," Nelson says. "Overall, we've got a lot of opportunity to hunt snows and white-fronts in our state, and if predictions for a hard winter hold, we'll also see an influx Canadas that will offer plenty of opportunities for these big birds."
Wade Bourne is the Ducks Unlimited Magazine editor-at-large, former DU-TV host, avid waterfowler and conservationist. Bourne will provide habitat and hunting reports for the Mississippi Flyway throughout the 2013-2014 season for Waterfowl360 and the DU Migration Map.