By Dr. Scott Stephens, Ducks Unlimited Canada director of regional operations, Prairie Region
In what has become a tradition for my son and me, we made a trip to the pothole country of southwestern Manitoba to chase blue-winged teal for the opening portion of the Manitoba duck season. Manitoba hosts significant breeding populations of bluewings, but by our September 1 opener, they are already staging and some are heading south. It's a bit of a “beat the clock” situation where you better seize the opportunity to shoot a few teal before they are all headed for Texas or Louisiana.
After a good runoff this spring, we experienced a rather hot and dry summer. That resulted in many wetlands drying out quite a bit. The shallowest seasonal wetlands are now dry, or very close to dry, but a good amount of water and habitat remains in deeper wetlands to support ducks across southwest Manitoba.
The other unique aspect of this year's trip was that it was the first hunt for our newest canine hunting partner, Ulu. Ulu is now 16 months old and has been through the paces of retriever training over the past year, so I was anxious to get her into the real game of hunting ducks. Our scouting on Aug 31 proved that there were good numbers of bluewings and other ducks spread across the landscape.
We settled on a location that I had hunted in years past that was holding lots of birds and after knocking a little rust off our shooting with the first opportunities, we shot a couple of teal.
For our afternoon spot, we found my favorite situation where both the sun and wind were at our backs, and we settled in to watch over our spread of 32 teal decoys. Bluewings began to trickle in, and I doubled on the first two. My 16-year old son, Gage, dropped a nice pintail that decoyed next. During the rest of the afternoon, teal trickled into the decoys as pairs or small flocks until we had filled our limits. It was an awesome way to start the season.
Weather was still warm (80s for highs), and I wouldn't expect much migration activity from the prairies, expect for bluewings, pintails, and northern shovelers, until frost becomes commonplace at night. But with strong duck numbers and fair production amid drier conditions, there should still be plenty of birds headed south from the Canadian Prairies this fall.
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