Migration Alert: Mid-Winter Thaw Benefits Colorado Waterfowlers

Jan. 17, 2014 – Central Flyway – Colorado
By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor

A mid-winter thaw is renewing hope for a strong end to the waterfowl season in Colorado. Canada geese arrived early along the Front Range north of Denver, says Avery pro-staffer Vance Stolz, but the bulk of the birds shifted to urban areas when the temperatures plummeted last month.

"Following the cold, the hunting was phenomenal for those who had access to fields along the edges of town, but things really slowed down in outlying fields," Stolz says. "We've had a period of warmer temperatures now and the geese are starting to spread out again. The hunting has been improving."

The duck season in Colorado runs until January 26, and Stolz says there are still good numbers of mallards in the state.

"But they are extremely hard to pattern right now," he adds.  "If you see them, you have to get on them right away, because they are not likely to stay in the same field for very long. They're here one day and gone the next."

Waterfowlers have until February 16 to hunt Canada geese, and Stolz says that if history is any indication, continued moderate temperatures will likely result in a solid finish to the season.

"If the weather pattern holds, a warm-up toward the end of January and the first week of February will bring a reverse migration of geese back from the south," he says. "The last two weeks of the season have always been the best, and we're banking on that again this year. It's ‘game on' along the Front Range those last two weeks."

Jim Gammonley, waterfowl biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, reports that the waterfowl season has been better than average overall. "We've seen good pushes of birds with each cold front, particularly at the end of November and early December," he says.

In addition, waterfowl habitat conditions have improved in some areas of state, Gammonley adds, in part due to a massive rain event that hit Colorado at the end of last summer.

"The South Platte drainage, in particular, was holding a lot of teal in September because of that big rain," he says. "Prior to that flooding, the entire state had been really dry, and there are parts of the state that are still recovering."

Water levels along the western slope of the Rocky Mountains have also been improving, says Grand Junction hunting guide Bill Schaefer of High Desert Waterfowl, but frequent fall precipitation wasn't necessarily a good thing for waterfowlers, at least not initially.

"October and November were wet and mild, which kept farmers out of the fields and left a lot of corn standing," Schaefer explains. "It made for one of the more difficult starts to the season that I can remember."

A round of heavy snow during the first week of December, followed by a period of bitterly cold temperatures, caused a migration of geese out of the area, Schaefer says, but hunting conditions improved around the end of the month and appear to be strong heading into February.

"The temperatures have warmed up and we've seen a lot of new geese arrive in the past three weeks," Schaefer says. "The hunting has been hot, and I think we're looking at a solid end of the season."

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 2013-2014 waterfowl season.