By Michael R. Shea, WF360 Atlantic Flyway Migration Editor
Grab your gun and head to Pamlico Sound. By all reports the start of the second duck split in the Tar Heel State has been excellent, with big numbers of teal, gadwalls, wigeon, bluebills, redheads, buffies, and sea ducks.
And it's only going to get better.
November cold fronts in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic have likely contributed to the early southward push of ducks, and meteorologists are now calling for blizzard conditions in northern New York and New England during the week of Thanksgiving.
Captain Froggy Thornton, of Capt. Froggy's Hunting & Fishing Guide Service, hunts the sound and has been in double-digit ducks with clients since last Saturday's opening day. "It's slowed up the last two days with clear skies," he says. "This full moon isn't helping us, but I'm not complaining. It's been a great start. We've probably seen 3,000 birds."
The supermoon has been so bright that Thornton has been setting decoys without boat lights or headlamps. All that visibility has almost certainly pushed birds into nighttime feeds, so many expect the darker night skies of Nov. 21–27 to produce bigger daytime flights of birds.
"We've seen quite a few pintails, but haven't gotten on them yet, and even saw 1,000 or so snow geese, which is a little shocking for early November," Thornton says.
Jay Boone, of B and B Waterfowl Guide Services, hunts the south end of Pamlico Sound, and reports that the birds are starting to come in thick this week. "The buffleheads are in Core Sound, and the redheads are starting to show up," he says. The sea duck hunting within 800 feet of shore has been so good that his clients limited out in 15 minutes on Thursday morning. "It was a fast shoot, but they were more than happy," he says.
Inland, Boone says, the wood ducks are still around in good numbers. Pintails and gadwalls are thick for anyone with private impoundments in and around the Outer Banks. Ring-necked ducks have been spotted on some freshwater ponds.
"Last year it was 78 degrees on Christmas Day. We didn't have a good diver hunt until the first week of January. So yes, this is a great start," Boone says. "The difference is the weather up north, and warm days and cold nights down here."
At Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, manager Pete Campbell explains that he's seen a steady increase in waterfowl numbers over the last few weeks. Refuge hunts begin the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. "Some Canadas are moving through, but not in any real numbers, and we have seen snow geese and a large variety of ducks," he says.
Success for refuge hunters typically hinges on water levels in the lake, Campbell says, and this year the water is high, with September and October storms that pounded the southeast coast. "The high water has definitely impacted the submersed aquatic vegetation," he continues. "We do have several impoundments with corn, along with moist-soil units, so it'll be very interesting to see how many birds arrive, and how long they'll stay."
For detailed information on the waterfowl hunting season dates and regulations in North Carolina, visit http://www.ncwildlife.org/Hunting/Seasons-Limits.
Michael R. Shea is a New York–based freelance writer who hunts waterfowl throughout the Atlantic Flyway. Shea will be providing habitat and hunting reports for the Atlantic Flyway during the 2016–2017 waterfowl season.