Water Key to Success in North Dakota

Migration Alert: Oct. 12, 2016 – North Dakota

Photo © Michael Furtman

By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor

Heavy late-summer rains have created favorable hunting conditions in portions of North Dakota, providing hunters with good opportunities for decoying mallards, pintails, and other ducks. Avery pro-staffer Joe Fladeland, of Bismarck, says that he and several of his hunting partners have been able to make the most of the recent wet conditions.

The group set up in a wheat field, a portion of which was unharvested because of standing water. Fladeland says that the combination of water and food was too much for the ducks to resist. "The ducks had been feeding in the standing wheat for a while, and they came back for more," he says.  "The hunting was really, really good."

Fladeland was impressed by the numbers of ducks he saw while scouting prior to the hunt. He also noted that a large number of Sandhill cranes were already pushing into the state. What was most striking, however, was how varied the water conditions were from one area to the next.

"We split into two groups to scout last week, and we really weren't all that far apart," Fladeland explains. "In one area, we'd find dry wetlands or wetlands with large mudflats between the cover and the water's edge. Then just a township or so away, we'd be in the middle of all this sheet water. And where you found the water, you found the birds."

The impact of water conditions was largely anticipated, as the ducks quickly began to concentrate on areas that received the heavy moisture, says Randy Renner, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs in the Great Plains Region. "The northern tier of counties has some of the best wetland conditions, particularly the Devils Lake region, where you can find a lot of water on the landscape," Renner reports.  The farther south you go, however, the drier the conditions get, though there are still pockets of water here and there."

Renner adds that wetland conditions were considerably drier earlier this year, which led to a slight decrease in local duck production. However, duck numbers in the state should still offer plenty of hunting opportunities.

That's good news to Fladeland, who says that hunting pressure is already high in areas holding sheet water. "There are plenty of ducks—probably as many as I can remember for the opening of the season," he says. "And there are also plenty of people out trying to find a place to hunt."

The first significant cold front of the season swept through Saskatchewan last week, sending ducks, geese and Sandhill cranes into North Dakota. However, the bulk of the birds remain to the north. "Without question, had this snow and cold hit Saskatchewan a little later in October, I think those birds would have left. But as early as it is, they held up. So now we wait on the weather," says Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Management Supervisor with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Fladeland adds that when the birds do arrive, the water conditions across portions of the state could create even better hunting opportunities, building on what has already been a tremendous start to the season. "Mallards and pintails over the decoys in a flooded wheat field—that's about as much as a guy can ask for during the opening weeks of the season," he says.

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.