By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
The door is starting to close on waterfowl hunting in Canada as a series of cold fronts in recent weeks have ducks and geese pushing south. For hunters in North Dakota and South Dakota
, this steady migration of waterfowl from the northern breeding grounds has helped replace those locally-produced birds which filtered into Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and other points south earlier this fall.
In North Dakota, waterfowl numbers are inching toward peak levels, says Avery pro-staffer Joe Fladeland, particularly for snow geese and mallards.
"We've seen some absolutely massive snow goose feeds going on, mainly in the eastern half of the state where water conditions have been so strong this year," Fladeland says. "We've had a good number of mallards for a few weeks now, but their numbers have really increased recently, mainly in the east."
Fladeland cautions, however, that where big numbers of birds are concentrated, hunters are encountering fierce competition for hot fields.
"The hunting pressure in that portion of the state is pretty high right now, so my suggestion is to look for those spots that are a little off the beaten path," he says. "Fortunately, we've got a lot of birds to work with right now."
While the hunting has been hot, Fladeland says that nighttime temperatures have been consistently in the 20s, and it's only a matter of time before North Dakota's wetlands start freezing up tight.
"We know that we're one serious cold snap and snowstorm from the end of the season, at least out east," Fladeland says.
But some good waterfowl hunting opportunities will remain in North Dakota, even after the onset of bitter cold temperatures, says Eric Lindstrom, governmental affairs representative at DU's Great Plains office.
"Things have been slow here along the Missouri River in Bismarck so far, but we know that will change when we get some winter weather," Lindstrom says. "Canada geese and mallards will shift west to the river when potholes and larger sloughs and lakes in the eastern half of the state freeze. Those birds will remain here until we receive enough snow to cover up food sources."
The short-term forecast for eastern North Dakota does include back-to-back days of nighttime low temperatures in the low-teens, and South Dakota hunters are hoping that the chill will be enough to send more birds south over the border.
South Dakota has received steady influxes of waterfowl throughout the fall, says waterfowl outfitter Alex Russo, who guides hunters near Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Waterfowl numbers on the refuge have been steadily increasing since mid-October, with the most recent migration report from November 6 totaling 180,000 ducks, more than 120,000 snow geese, 6,500 Canada geese, and 650 swans.
Russo says that he and other guides have observed growing numbers of ducks and geese outside of the refuge, too, particularly during the past week.
"Some of our main duck roosts have gone from holding 1,000 or 2,000 birds to closer to 10,000 birds in the past five to six days," Russo says. "And the number of Canada geese has been building too."
Russo is hopeful that the large numbers of mallards and other waterfowl still remaining to the north will stop to rest in eastern South Dakota on their way south, instead of just blowing through the state.
"As long as we can avoid a major winter system, I think we're looking at a very good stretch of hunting here," Russo says. "The best might be yet to come."
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 Flyway throughout the 2013-2014 waterfowl season.