By Jay Anglin, WF360 Great Lakes Region Migration Editor
Undeterred by warm weather, many Minnesota waterfowlers are reporting fair to good hunting success since the season began on September 23. While the migration has been somewhat limited by summerlike weather conditions stretching well into the Canadian provinces, hunters have had good luck pursuing abundant local birds as well as early-migrating ducks and geese.
According to reports from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, waterfowl are taking advantage of excellent wild rice production this year, with solid numbers of ring-necked ducks in most areas now. In the northern tier of the state, a variety of duck species have joined local populations of wood ducks and mallards along with Canada Geese over the past few weeks.
“New ducks have been showing up daily along the south shoreline of Lake of the Woods and along the Rainy River,” reports Paul Johnson, owner of River's Bend Lodge. “Teal, mallards, and bluebills are here in strong numbers, and hunters have been consistently shooting limits during morning hunts, leaving plenty of time to fish the walleye run in the Rainy River.”
Matt Breuer, owner of Northcountry Guide Service and Promotions in Bemidji, is encouraged by the numbers of waterfowl that he has seen the past few days. “A bunch of birds arrived on the backside of the big cold front that passed through late last weekend. There’s definitely been an uptick in bird numbers this week,” Breuer says.
Hunters in the central and south zones have also reported a pronounced increase in waterfowl numbers this week.
“Divers are moving through central Minnesota en masse now, including a big push of canvasbacks and redheads. Water is relatively abundant, but high in some wetlands and shallow lakes due to recent rains, which may make some of them too deep for optimal foraging habitat,” says John Schneider, DU's manager of conservation programs in Minnesota. “Further north, in the forested regions of the state, wild rice habitat remains excellent this year. Both mallards and ring-necked ducks should hold until ice arrives in November.”
DU biologist John Lindstrom has observed increasing numbers of field-feeding waterfowl and believes the numbers will only increase as the harvest progresses.
“Fields have been very wet following heavy fall rains,” Lindstrom explains. “Farmers have been getting soybeans out where field conditions allow and some cornfields are being cut for silage. Overall, very few cornfields have been harvested, although that should change soon. In the meantime, flooded fields in the area are holding some large local concentrations of ducks and geese.
“Aquatic vegetation in many wetlands is good. We started the growing season somewhat dry, which allowed both submersed and emergent vegetation to flourish. The heavy rains that followed have inundated these areas, creating prime waterfowl habitat,” Lindstrom adds.
In west-central Minnesota, Avery/Banded pro-staffer Will Harvey is optimistic about the remainder of the season, although he notes that Canada goose numbers remain low in his area.
“We had a fair number of ducks around for the early season, and I’m encouraged by the gradual increase in duck numbers over the past few days, especially divers,” Harvey reports. “We are definitely seeing the beginning of the migration here. About ten days out, the forecast looks much better for waterfowl hunting. Judging by the cooler temperatures predicted to the north and the potential for ice on small water, it seems inevitable that solid numbers of ducks and geese will begin pushing into the southern half of Minnesota soon.”
Jay Anglin is an avid hunter, fisherman, and guide from LaPorte, Indiana. A veteran writer, Anglin, holds a biology degree from Northern Michigan University. He will be providing migration updates from the Great Lakes Region throughout the 2017-2018 waterfowl season.