Migration Alert: Oklahoma Hunting Cools as Weather Warms

Jan. 10, 2019 – Central Flyway – Oklahoma

Photo © Michael Furtman

By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor

In the wake of a cold front that delivered cold and snow, waterfowl hunters in Oklahoma have enjoyed solid action for ducks and geese. Unfortunately, the recent return of warmer temperatures has birds on the move to take advantage of a thawing landscape, creating headaches for hunters in the final weeks of the season.

Barnie Calef, Drake Waterfowl Field Expert, has been hunting ducks in flooded milo and soybean fields as well as watershed ponds near Stillwater this week, where he has witnessed the change first-hand.

“I’ve seen a similar shift in duck numbers and concentrations like this maybe only one or two times before, where you have a really good group of birds and then in about 24 hours they really move out because of a warm-up rather than a cold front or something like that,” Calef says. “Where we were able to put together some pretty good hunts for a few days for mallards and gadwall, we’re seeing a noticeable difference in duck numbers now with temperatures in the 60s and 70s.”

Calef’s observations line up with those of Josh Richardson, a state migratory bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, who has been surveying waterfowl numbers this week.

“It’s hard to tell just how many birds we have around right now, because the warming temperatures has created a lot of sheet water in the fields and the birds are just spread out right now, but I’d say that we’re at about an average level for both ducks and Canada geese in the state,” Richardson says. “When we got the shot of cold and some sleet and snow recently, it really concentrated these birds, which led to some good hunting, but current conditions aren’t as hunter-friendly.”

There was ample water on the landscape in portions of Oklahoma before the warm-up created melting snow and sleet, which helped attract a good number of ducks early in the season.

Richardson believes that many of the ducks that hunters are targeting now are the same birds that arrived with this first push in November.

“I keep thinking and hoping that we’ll see more birds, but we haven’t had a significant influx of ducks since that initial push,” he says. “Because of the warm-up and how the birds have spread out, hunters are having to work hard and scout and hunt smart, because these birds know all the tricks.”

This includes putting an emphasis on staying hidden, Richardson says, as well as taking a less-is-more approach to calling if needed.

“We have a decent number of ducks and geese here, but a shake-up in the weather would sure do us some good,” Richardson says. “I think we’d all like to see things change a little while we still have some time left in the season.”

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 2018-2019 waterfowl season.