By Jeff Kurrus
Field reports indicate that over the past couple of weeks the pace of the waterfowl migration has picked up considerably across the northern Great Plains. "The peak migration is now," says Roger Hallevoet, wildlife refuge manager for the Devils Lake Wetland Management District, which encompasses eight counties in northeastern North Dakota. "We have lots of bluebills, mallards, and pintails in the area, mixed in with a good number of Canadas, both large and small. There are also a large number of snow geese in the area."
Avery pro-staffer Evan Sieling has been scouting the Devils Lake region over the past couple of days. "I'm seeing a lot of new snows in the area right now, as well as a good push of mallards," he reports.
With soggy fields finally beginning to freeze after a wet fall, Sieling is looking forward to a great week of hunting ahead. "The snows are flocking up in big numbers and are hopping from field to field along with mallards and Canada geese," he says.
Sieling plans to hunt these mixed flocks with a rig of six-dozen Greenhead Gear full-body snow goose decoys, an equal number of full-body Canadas, and a smattering of mallard decoys. "The snow geese act as confidence decoys that will draw in a lot of mallards. If you set a spread of snows and Canadas, you can take all three species in the same rig."
To the southeast, on the upper Mississippi River, waterfowl surveys indicate that numbers of some duck species are building, while others have already peaked. On November 8, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) surveyed an estimated 213,395 canvasbacks on the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge, down considerably from a peak of 483,070 birds observed just a week earlier.
"We are a major spring and fall stopover location for migrating canvasbacks," says USFWS wildlife biologist and aerial observer Brian Stemper. "Near Halloween each year, 50 percent or more of the canvasback population comes through here." This year's peak number for canvasbacks on the refuge was up from last year's high of 430,695 birds.
While many canvasbacks have moved on, Stemper says more mallards and other dabbling ducks are now migrating through the region, and he expects numbers of these species to peak on the refuge at around 50,000 birds. During the November 8 survey, dabbling duck numbers totaled slightly more than 42,000 birds, the majority of which were mallards and gadwalls. "We're still about a week away from our peak mallard numbers," Stemper says.
Greg Owens hunted all this week on the refuge. "We have a really good mix of waterfowl species on the river right now, and there are more birds arriving every day, including some big flights of mallards."
With plenty of other hunters on the river, Owens tries to give his decoy spread a different look than what the birds are accustomed to seeing. "We've been using a lot of diver decoys as well as a few spoonies to put a little more white in our spread for greater visibility. We've also been using some Canada goose floaters, as more geese have moved into the area."