Michael Furtman


A significant change in the weather pattern is set to arrive later this week across the northern plains, bringing the season’s first measurable snowfall, freezing temperatures, and gusty northwest winds to the upper tier of the Central Flyway. Here’s a look at what this first blast of winter weather could mean for waterfowl hunters in Canada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and beyond.

Prairie Canada

The impending Arctic blast will come on the heels of a warm fall across large portions of the Canadian prairie provinces. Dry conditions in parts of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta have helped concentrate ducks and geese on available water, leaving some traditional staging areas void of waterfowl into mid-October. The approaching winter weather system is expected to bring freezing daytime and overnight temperatures, including single-digit lows, to places like Calgary, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg, which will put ice on a majority of the smaller water bodies. These freezing conditions will also be accompanied by snow and winds out of the northwest.

Given the extent of the change in the weather pattern, DU Canada’s Dr. Scott Stephens expects waterfowl will be on the move, but he remains optimistic about the hunting opportunities on the backside of the cold front.

“My experience tells me that ultimate freeze-up takes longer than we typically think,” says Stephens, who is director of conservation strategy and support for DU Canada. “I think I’ll still be able to hunt ducks this weekend, but time will tell. I suspect that the birds will be more concentrated and have moved to crops like corn where available.”

North Dakota

The initial round of measurable snow in central and north-central North Dakota will arrive during the middle of this week, with some areas set to receive six inches of snow or more. This blast of winter will be followed by a period of freezing temperatures that are almost certain to put ice on smaller bodies of water. Gusty northwest winds will also be a factor, but Mike Szymanski, migratory bird supervisor with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, says that the biggest impact will come if the wind lays low.

“We’re supposed to get some pretty cold temperatures overnight, 10 or 12 degrees, and temperatures like that at this time of the year almost certainly mean a calm, clear night, and that’s when we make ice,” says Szymanski. “The hunting this week should be good; we’ve got snow geese starting to arrive, but I’m worried that things are going to get locked up pretty hard by the weekend. It looks to be a game-changer for North Dakota.”

South Dakota

If the current forecast holds, South Dakota looks to escape the worst of the pending winter weather system, although freezing temperatures will impact wetland conditions in some areas. Waterfowl numbers in the state have been on the rise in recent weeks, with a noticeable push of wigeon and gadwalls arriving last week. Snow geese, white-fronted geese, lesser Canada geese, and mallards are also among the new arrivals.

Hunters in South Dakota could see another migration event later this week, courtesy of those birds leaving Canada and North Dakota, explains Rocco Murano with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.

“I’m sure there will be some ducks that move out of here, but I think we stand to gain more than we’ll lose,” Murano says. “We’ll have a few days of colder temperatures, but overall, I don’t think it is going to lock up all of our water. This system will probably be a good thing for hunters here in South Dakota.”

And it is likely to be a good thing for hunters in other states, too, as a weather system of this nature at this time of the season tends to shake up waterfowl distribution throughout the flyway. For those states early into their duck seasons – or with opening days approaching this weekend – the timing of this weather system could not be any better.

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