by Steve McCadams
For the lion’s share of duck hunters in this region a long and tough season is about to come to an end. The curtain falls on Tennessee’s 60-day season at sunset on Sunday yet many have already thrown in the towel, picking up decoys last week and calling it quits. Seems the lack of ducks brought a premature ending for some waterfowlers who endured all they could take.
Many hunters across the middle and west Tennessee area are calling it one of the slowest seasons in years.
It was an unusual year with long periods of flooding to our north, warm weather and no wind that teamed up to produce empty skies.
For my personal observation after 34 years of sunrises it was a season that got off to a good start with somewhat above average shooting early. However, by mid-December mild weather arrived and lingered for over a month, slowing down activity that never seemed to recover when heavy rains arrived around Christmas and flooded areas to our northwest that remain backed even now. It has been a season where cold weather and north winds were rare.
I think it's one of the more unusual seasons of my career as the long stretch of mild weather delivered mornings where no wind was present and duck activity was stagnant. I cannot recall a season like this one where mild weather lingered so long and duck numbers here diminished after an early December peak.
Normally, we see increased activity throughout late December and January but that was not the case this year here or elsewhere across the region. Today (Jan 25) saw a cool spell and north wind show up which improved activity compared to the last several days and Sunday's forecast could be a good day as it sounds ducky. Most hunters sure deserve to go out on a good note after a rather grim season.
Helping understand the dilemma and putting waterfowl picture in perspective is the recent waterfowl survey taken here at the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge along Kentucky Lake. Aerial surveys taken last Friday (Jan 19th) indicate dramatic declines in duck numbers from the previous survey taken over two weeks ago. Furthermore, comparisons made to last year at this time and also to the five and ten-year average really paint a poor waterfowl picture.
Last week’s observation showed a total of 91,842 ducks and a mere 4,403 geese. The duck total is 24% below last year at this time but what really opens the eye are the 5-year and 10-year average comparisons. The present duck count is 33% below the 5-year and 37 percent below the 10-year average for this time of year!
Locally, the Big Sandy unit was holding only 13,826 ducks out of the total survey. In times past total duck numbers would peak in mid to late January but this year have experienced a steady decline since mid-December. No wonder area duck hunters are singing the blues. Ducks have been leaving the area ever since the peak count of 139,000 was taken back on December 8th.
Since that time a rash of warm weather and heavy rains kept ducks to our north and west. The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, along with many west Tennessee tributary rivers have been inundated with water that backed up into thousands of acres of grain fields and swamps. The warm and wet winter have given ducks way too many places to go. As a result, ducks moved to the northwest in big numbers and cold weather never drove them back.
If the ducks just knew how much we spend, how early we rise, how hard we work, and how far we drive they would be more appreciative! Ducks don’t care. The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield would have made a fine duck hunter. His “I don’t get no respect” slogan would have worked fine here this year as ducks did a good job of dodging blinds.
And wouldn’t you know it. Cold weather is in the forecast for Sunday and throughout next week as an Alberta Clipper is expected to roll in and escort the season finale. Unfortunately, for most duck hunters in the area is will be too little too late to salvage the season.
Below are survey dates by USFWS on TN Nat'l Wildlife Refuge and total duck count with comparisons to last year at the same time in parenthesis).
SURVEY DATE TOTAL DUCK COUNT
October 26th 23,194 (+177% Last Yr)
November 3rd 32,632 (+11% Last Yr)
November 20th 49,492 (-15% Last Yr)
December 8th 138,174 (+80% Last Yr)
December 18th 131,731 (-14 Last Yr)
January 8th 129,957 (-8% Last Yr)
January 19th 91,842 (-24% Last Yr, -33% 5-Yr, -37% 10-Yr)