By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
A series of cold fronts featuring strong winds out of the northwest have ushered the first migrating waterfowl of the season into South Dakota. Another round of wind and even some snow scheduled to hit the state in the coming days is expected to bring additional birds out of the north.
Locally produced ducks and geese provided steady action through the opening weeks of the season, says avid hunter and guide Ben Fujan, while recent hunts have been aided with the influx of fresh mallards into the northeastern corner of the state. “Mallard numbers are decent in some areas up here, but I’d say that our Canada goose and diver numbers are well above average for this time of the year,” he adds.
Fujan has been concentrating on hunting corn and soybean fields, although the harvest in this part of the state has been slowed by wet conditions courtesy of rainstorms in late summer and early fall. “The big winds over the past week have helped dry things out, so the farmers are catching up fast,” he says. “There should be more food available by this weekend when the next front hits, and I’d expect that we’ll see a big push of both ducks and geese into the state.”
The same rainstorms that have hampered the harvest in the northeast corner of the state have also impacted field conditions farther south, where hunters have been targeting ducks in flooded soybeans and corn. “The hunting has been fantastic recently,” says Bryce Eimers, an Avery/Banded pro-staffer from Madison.
There isn’t much of a trick to finding birds, Eimers says, as flooded cropland is attracting good numbers of mallards and other puddle ducks. Hunters are challenged somewhat by the sparse cover available in the fields, so extra attention should be paid to concealment. Overall, the outlook is good for this part of the state. “The ducks are here and it seems like more have been arriving,” Eimers reports.
The chilly temperatures accompanying this next cold front (evening lows in the teens or 20s for multiple nights in a row) could put at least a temporary hold on hunting in these shallow-water areas, explains South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks waterfowl biologist Rocco Murano, but the forecasted return of warmer temperatures could make for a stretch of great hunting in the state.
“We are in the midst of a large migration of gadwalls and wigeon right now, and this cold front is sure to bring in even more birds from the north,” Murano explains. “There are good numbers of canvasbacks and redheads showing up in the state, too, so all signs are pointing toward some really good hunting for the next couple of weeks.
“We are by no means at peak levels, in terms of mallard numbers, but with what we have for overall duck numbers in the state right now and what I expect us to pick up in the coming days, things are looking as good as they have for hunters in a long time.”
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 2017-2018 waterfowl season.