Michael Furtman


Much to the delight of Nebraska waterfowlers, the Thanksgiving holiday was served with a side of freezing temperatures and blustery winds out of the northwest. This change in the weather came on the heels of weeks of unseasonably mild conditions, and the shake-up delivered a migration of new waterfowl into the state.

“Starting late last week, we saw a good push of birds, including a nice flight of Canada geese into western Nebraska,” says veteran waterfowl hunter and professional photographer Doug Steinke. Small waters are starting to freeze over, Steinke adds, which tends to improve opportunities on rivers and reservoirs.

“I’m a bit concerned that the birds seem to be stopping for a day or two and then pushing further south, but the new birds are definitely an improvement over what we had before,” Steinke says.

Overnight lows in the single digits have put ice on smaller wetlands across the state, explains John McKinney, waterfowl program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. The changing conditions have helped push many puddle duck species out of the state, but hardy mallards and Canada geese remain.

“From the reports I’m hearing, the field hunting has really heated up near the rivers and reservoirs,” McKinney says.

Overall, the 2023-24 waterfowl season in Nebraska appears to be an improvement over last year’s, McKinney adds. After struggling through a multi-year drought, wetland conditions in portions of western Nebraska and the Sandhills received some relief this year with late-summer and early-fall precipitation. The improved water levels boosted early-season waterfowl hunting success in those regions, but dry conditions continue to persist elsewhere.

Still, McKinney believes the stage is set for a strong finish to the season.

“Our mallard and Canada goose numbers would sure benefit from some snow up north in the Dakotas, but I expect favorable hunting opportunities for those who do their homework and have access to quality waterfowl habitat,” McKinney says.

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