Wade Bourne, WF360 Mississippi Flyway Migration Editor
Recent warmer-than-average temperatures in Wisconsin may benefit waterfowl hunters across the Badger State. Because of the mild weather, many locally raised mallards and wood ducks are still hanging around. At the same time, hunters are seeing an uptick in ducks coming in from the north. These new birds are joining forces with the locals to drive up duck numbers and provide surprisingly good shooting across a broad portion of the state.
For instance, wildlife biologist Paul Samerdyke reports, "I'd say Horicon Marsh is close to peak numbers for ducks. We've had a decent migration on the last couple of cold fronts, and we've picked up quite a few new birds. We were holding mainly mallards and wood ducks, but now we also have a broad mixed bag of species, including pintails, wigeon, gadwalls, and some divers. Hunters I've talked to are doing pretty well."
Samerdyke continues, "The corn and soybean harvest around Horicon Marsh has been delayed because of wet weather, and farmers are still in the fields combining their crops, so there's plenty of food available to hold ducks in this area. Also, we've had no freeze-ups to push the birds south. It's been unseasonably warm here. Mosquitoes are still an issue around the marsh."
Jeff Pritzl is the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) district wildlife supervisor for northeast Wisconsin. He reports, "One of our biologists did an aerial survey on Wednesday morning and he spotted the first big raft of diving ducks out in Green Bay. Most likely they were lesser scaup. He said there were around 2,000, so this is good evidence that diving ducks are moving into the bay.
"Another DNR staff member checked a parking lot up on the western shore of Green Bay this morning and it was full of hunters' vehicles. This is pretty unusual for midweek, and it indicates that the hunters are having pretty good luck, or they wouldn't be there. We've also had two noticeable movements of Canada geese show up, so we've got a lot of honkers in this area. Based on these and other similar reports I've heard, I'd rate hunting as pretty good right now on the eastern side of the state."
Brian Peters is the property supervisor for Mead and McMillan Wildlife Areas near Marshfield. He says hunters on these areas are finding success—provided they put in the effort. "Our hunters are doing well, especially the ones who are scouting to find where ducks are concentrated," he says. "We've been holding a good number of mallards and wood ducks, and now we're picking up some pintails, ringnecks, wigeon, and blue-winged teal. The migration of northern birds into our area has definitely started."
Ducks Unlimited biologist Brian Glenzinski, based in Madison, has also received positive reports from hunters in the state. "I haven't been there yet, but I'm hearing that hunting is pretty good over on the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, especially in Pools 4, 5, and 6 (in the Winona District). The river has been high, and that has caused a decrease in food availability. But evidently the ducks are still using these pools in good numbers. I just heard of a wildlife officer doing bag checks in this area, and hunters were averaging 3 1/2 ducks each. That's pretty high for a public area."
From east to west, reports out of Wisconsin are optimistic that duck numbers will continue building with each new north wind. However, the long-term forecast for the state calls for a couple of weak cold fronts in the next 10 days.
Duck season is open in all three of Wisconsin's hunting zones. The season closes November 22 in the Northern Zone, December 4 in the Southern Zone, and December 6 in the Mississippi River Zone.
Wade Bourne is the Ducks Unlimited magazine editor-at-large, co-host of DU TV, avid waterfowler, and conservationist. Bourne will provide habitat and hunting reports for the Mississippi Flyway throughout the 2016–2017 season.