Migration Alert: Strong Local Duck Production Drives Success in Montana

Oct. 10 – Central Flyway

By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Editor

Reports of successful waterfowl hunts have been trickling in to Bob Sanders, Ducks Unlimited manager of conservation programs for Montana, from all over the state since the season started on September 28, but things have turned sour in recent days, and it has nothing to do with the ducks.

"Most of what I have been hearing lately from the field is frustration over the closure of national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas due to the federal government shutdown," Sanders says. "Those federal areas are vitally important for both local and migrating waterfowl, but they also provide quality hunting opportunities for many hunters.

"What's happening now is that those lands managed by the state of Montana, which are not affected by the shutdown, are receiving increased public pressure due to the lack of access to federal lands. These are areas that, under normal circumstances, already receive a fair amount of hunting pressure."

It has been the lone disappointment in what has otherwise been a positive start to the season, Sanders says, with hunters benefiting from a good year of duck production in Big Sky Country.

"Habitat conditions in northeastern Montana were above average this summer and local duck production appears to have been very good," he reports. "We also received some timely precipitation that helped our wetlands hold water into fall and kept ducks in the state, and hunters have been doing very well with these local birds, particularly pintails and wigeon."

Montana has yet to witness a major waterfowl migration, but that will change once Alberta and Saskatchewan begin receiving colder weather. When those icy winds do blow from across the border, Sanders expects that hunters in Montana will be pleased with what they see.

"There was some tremendous duck production in parts of prairie Canada this summer," he explains. "When the push does come, I think we're set to see some very good numbers coming through."

Jim Hansen with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks hopes that the big push of waterfowl from the north is more of a steady trickle.

"I'm OK with ducks and geese making their way down here in small bunches," Hansen says. "But one big push with a lot of snow and cold, and those birds won't stick around here long.

"We have some good wetland conditions this year, that, if we don't get a big blast of cold weather, we could enjoy some pretty good hunting throughout the entire season."

This could mean another three months of quality hunting in Montana, where waterfowl seasons extend into early January in the eastern half of the state and mid-January in the western half.

Sanders is hopeful that, given the right circumstances, Montana's quality habitat may carry over into next year's breeding season.

"The precipitation we received this summer has the grass looking the best we've ever seen it up in the northeastern corner of the state, where the majority of our nesting habitat is found," Sanders says. "With an adequate snowpack this winter to recharge those wetlands, and rainfall next spring, I think that we could be looking at another fantastic year of duck production in Montana."


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 Flyway throughout the 2013-2014 waterfowl season.