By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
The cold front that swept through the Dakotas last week didn't bring the big flights of mallards to Nebraska as expected, but the change in the weather did usher in improved conditions for hunters in the Cornhusker State.
Leading up to last weekend, the hunting had been slow for Avery Pro Staffer Andrew Schlueter along the Interstate 80 corridor near the Missouri and Platte River, with local Canada geese providing action early in the season. A hunt in the northeast corner of the state earlier this week, however, produced fast limits of Canada geese.
"There are definitely new dark geese in the area, and we did see some snow geese flying around as well," Schlueter says. "Duck numbers have picked up a bit, too, as I'm seeing shovelers, green-winged teal and some new mallards in the area."
Overall, the increase in duck and goose numbers hasn't been overwhelming, Schlueter says, but it has been a welcome shift from what was becoming a pattern of challenging hunting conditions.
"This has been a nice change," Schlueter says. "More fun than chasing the stale local birds that we've been after for quite a while."
The weather system had a different impact on the Rainwater Basin in the south-central part of the state, says Mark Vrtiska, waterfowl program manager for the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission.
Vrtiska reports that the big winds which accompanied the front on Friday didn't bring in the duck numbers he was expecting, and the cold temperatures were enough to actually freeze the area's shallow wetlands come Saturday morning.
"We didn't see really any sort of push of ducks, and I think that we lost a lot of the pintails and gadwall that were here. But there were both snow geese and Canada geese on the move across the basin," Vrtiska says. "You think that this system would shake stuff loose up north, but it didn't, at least I didn't see it where I was hunting."
The good news, Vrtiska says, is that temperatures have warmed in recent days, allowing the Rainwater Basin's wetlands to open back up.
"Wetland conditions are somewhat dry this year, which could impact things a bit, but if there is any sort of migration, we'll still see birds stop here," Vrtiska says. "We should be okay. We just need some more weather."
Further north and outside the Rainwater Basin, Doug Steinke says a sizable migration of both ducks and geese moved through the state with last week's cold front.
"There were a lot of little Canada geese, white-fronted geese and some snow geese pushing through on Friday as well as a good number of mallards, but a lot of the birds we did see did not stick around; they kept pushing south," Steinke says. "We still had some really good hunting, but things have slowed down a bit as birds have settled into areas where they are tough to access."
Though water levels on the river systems are good, Steinke believes that the dry wetland conditions in the area that he hunts likely prompted the birds to keep moving, though the region has received some welcome precipitation this week.
Compared to previous years, Steinke believes the state is about three weeks behind in terms of the stage of the migration, and he remains hopeful that there are more birds yet to come from the breeding grounds to the north.
"I'm hoping that we're at the point of the season that whenever there is a north wind we seem to get a little push of birds," Steinke says. "It's not much, but it's the difference between seeing two flocks of mallards and 20 flocks of mallards in a morning."
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 2016-2017 waterfowl season.