By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
A weather system predicted to hit Oklahoma later this week could bring heavy rain and ice to the Sooner State, continuing a pattern of changing weather conditions that have impacted waterfowl hunters all season.
Drake Waterfowl field expert Barnie Calef experienced the wild swings in the weather on a recent duck hunting trip in southwestern Oklahoma near Ft. Cobb.
The first two days of hunting produced solid action on mallards using watershed lakes in the area before Calef says the temperatures took a nosedive.
"Boom, it got real cold, and of course the mallards sat tight," Calef says. "It's kind of been like this all season; too hot, then too cold. It's made for a tough year, that's for sure."
Josh Richardson with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation says that Calef is not alone, noting that hunters across Oklahoma have endured weather extremes for weeks.
"We didn't just go from hot to cold and then settle into a pattern of colder temperatures," Richardson says. "It has been a series of swings up and down all year. I don't think we've seen a significant loss of ducks in the state because of it, but the hunters have had to adapt as the ducks move from shallow water to rivers or deeper reservoirs in response to the weather."
While the weather has not been consistent, Richardson says that the migration of waterfowl into the state has been, with pulses of fresh birds arriving with each frontal system.
This steady migration has waterfowl numbers in the state at good levels as the final weeks of the season approach, but Richardson says that the severe weather expected to hit the state on Friday could impact those numbers—both positively and negatively.
"I think there are good numbers of ducks spread out from northern Oklahoma up into Kansas and Nebraska, so based on what the weather does in those states, we could see another nice push of birds coming south with this storm," he says. "But those areas in Oklahoma that are expected to get up to two inches of freezing rain, that could put enough ice on food sources that birds could shuffle around again in those areas."
The area near Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Oklahoma could receive as much as five inches of rain with the storm, says refuge wildlife biologist Jesse Burton. That much water would flood milo, millet and other moist-soil management areas that have remained dry throughout the waterfowl season.
"We've been pumping water on the refuge since October, so water levels on many of the wetlands are doing very well, but this rain would open up large areas of new food sources for those birds that are in the area," Burton says.
Burton says that duck numbers on the refuge are high, including an abundance of mallards, gadwalls, wigeon and some green-winged teal. Hunting pressure at the refuge is high as well, as water levels in the surrounding area more accurately reflect the prolonged drought the region has experienced.
"We don't have the water on the refuge that we normally do, but what we do have has attracted a good number of ducks," Burton says. "Hunters have had an average year, I'd say, but this next weather system could sure help improve things as we get close to the end of the season. The conditions are setting up for us to finish the year strong."
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 2016-2017 waterfowl season.