By Michael R. Shea, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
There's still time to shoot ducks in Florida.
The season closes on Sunday, Jan. 29, but good numbers of green-winged teal and ring-necked ducks could make for a strong last dash in the Sunshine State. But you may have to work for it.
"We had a big push of ducks at the beginning of January," says Eric McHugh, a pro-staffer with Hard Core. "Things have slacked off since then, but the birds are still here if you know how to hunt them."
With a full moon, the shooting was slow last week, McHugh says. The birds rafted in big numbers on Lake Okeechobee and other big water spots during the day, and then fed closer to shore—where most hunters hunt them—at night. This week the moon won't be a factor, and overcast skies are called for over the weekend.
"These birds are pressured now, and won't hangout by or fly over cattails," McHugh says. "People laugh when I push off shore and throw out a few decoys, but the ducks haven't seen that. They've been looking at big spreads set in the weeds all season."
McHugh adds that he plans to spend most of the week scouting and will either hunt ringnecks from a layout boat or hunt the marsh for teal if he can find them in an out-of-the-way spot. He's also planning to hunt during midday hours.
"In the morning, I've done the best after 9 a.m., and in the afternoons the shooting has been best between 2 and 3:30 p.m.," he says.
Mark McBride, waterfowl and small game management program biologist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, agrees with McHugh's assessment.
"Late morning has been really productive because guys pack it up and motor in," he says. "Early afternoons are also good because the bass fishermen and other recreational boat traffic gets birds moving. The ringnecks, especially, have been conditioned to fly late."
This year has been interesting for Florida duck hunters, McBride says. There was a strong, early flight of green-winged teal, but the bluewings never turned up in any huge numbers. Normally the opposite occurs.
Hurricane Matthew, which impacted the Carolina coast in October, may have blown the greenwings down early, he says. Numbers of "big ducks," such as pintails and wigeon, were also strong during the first few weeks, especially on the state's many Stormwater Treatment Areas.
"If it doesn't get really cold up in the Carolinas, the birds don't come all the way down to Florida," McBride says. "They got some cold weather early that moved birds, but then it warmed up again. Nothing has been real consistent."
Michael R. Shea is a New York–based freelance writer who hunts waterfowl throughout the Atlantic Flyway. Shea will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Atlantic Flyway during the 2016–2017 waterfowl season.