Migration Alert: Good Duck Numbers, Tough Hunting in Illinois

Dec. 4, 2018 – Mississippi Flyway – Illinois

Photo © Michael Furtman

By Jay Anglin, WF360 Great Lakes Region Migration Editor

Great Lakes Region waterfowlers have been riding a weather roller coaster for several weeks. Short-lived cold snaps have provided good gunning days, but the unseasonably warm conditions have quickly returned to slow the action down. Illinois hunters are facing difficult conditions, but it’s not due to a lack of ducks.

While some zones were not surveyed, the combined totals from Illinois waterfowl surveys conducted late last week totaled roughly 900,000 ducks, which is similar to the previous week’s count, and over 28,000 geese.

While goose numbers remain relatively low in Illinois at this time, good concentrations of white-fronted and snow geese can be found for those willing to put in the scouting time and obtain permission from private landowners.

Illinois is no different than the other states in the region dealing with this frustrating weather pattern, but the Prairie State does have a few geographical advantages in the form of major river systems, including the Mighty Mississippi. Even during the worst waterfowl seasons, Illinois can offer those fortunate enough to hunt the river valleys a multitude of opportunities.

“Most of the non-mallard ducks have headed south; however, we still have a bunch of mallards along both rivers,” says Forbes Biological Station Waterfowl Ecologist Aaron Yetter. “I am trying to be optimistic about hunting opportunities with a lot of the season left, but these mallards have been here a while and are becoming increasingly difficult to hunt. To be successful, I think we will need to try different approaches and decoy spreads in the coming weeks.” 

Yetter also believes the bulk of the canvasback migration has likely passed through the area, having counted only 18,300 of the birds on Pool 19 of the Mississippi River during a survey flight conducted on November 30.

In contrast, waterfowl hunters in southern Illinois have finally shaken off the doldrums when a winter storm and frigid temperatures brought an influx of new birds from the north.

“Our southern Illinois survey showed 132,000 ducks, which was up from 48,000 birds last week,” says Randy Smith, Illinois Department of Natural Resources wetland wildlife program manager.

The bottom line is that Illinois hunters are blessed with a state that offers an incredible array of waterfowling options. As temperatures drop in the north this week, hunters farther south may be in for the best hunting of the season.

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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 2018-2019 waterfowl season.