Home of the Duck Factory, the Central Flyway offers some of the finest waterfowl hunting in North America. Even better, this region has a wealth of public hunting opportunities, especially on the sparsely populated Great Plains. Following are some of the most productive areas for freelance waterfowlers in the Central Flyway
The wetlands and grasslands of Canada's Prairie Pothole Region are of vital importance to breeding waterfowl, and conserving these habitats is a top priority for Ducks Unlimited Canada. DU projects in this region not only help produce healthy fall flights of ducks year after year, but many are also open for public waterfowl hunting.
The province of Saskatchewan lies in the northern tier of the Central Flyway and boasts some of the region's best duck and goose hunting. DU Canada has completed a number of conservation projects in the Allan and Dana Hills region, located just south and east of Saskatoon, making this area an ideal destination for freelance waterfowlers.
"Ducks Unlimited has targeted this area because of its high density of wetlands, which make for excellent waterfowl breeding habitat in the spring and summer," says Dr. Scott Stephens, director of conservation programs for DU Canada. "Those same wetlands can provide good waterfowl hunting opportunities in the fall, and in many areas you may be able to find sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge in the surrounding uplands."
Visit www.waterfowling.com for more information about hunting waterfowl on DU projects north of the border.
Like other parts of the Prairie Pothole Region, north-central Montana's landscape of mixed-grass prairie and wetlands is subject to wet and dry weather cycles. During times of plentiful precipitation, when the region's temporary and seasonal wetland basins are full, the area supports large numbers of breeding waterfowl.
On average, the Montana "Hi-Line" region is wet only two or three years out of 10, says Todd Boonstra from the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/bowdoin) near Malta, and during those years, the region provides abundant hunting opportunities on public land. "There are approximately 13,000 acres of satellite refuges and federal waterfowl production areas within the Bowdoin Wetland Management District," Boonstra says. "And hunters may also utilize designated areas on the Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge."
The 31,700-acre Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/medicinelake
) near the North Dakota
border also offers good public hunting opportunities on designated areas, and Boonstra says that hunters should review refuge regulations and boundaries before making the trip.
"The region also has numerous wildlife management areas as well as block management areas, which are private lands open to the public through a program managed by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks," Boonstra says. "Most hunters traveling to this area often harvest a mixed bag of birds."
For more information about hunting waterfowl and upland birds in Montana's Hi-Line region, visit fwp.mt.gov/hunting.
Northeastern South Dakota
When fall arrives, South Dakota's chief waterfowl biologist, Rocco Murano, is likely to be out chasing ducks and geese as much as time allows. More often than not, he'll be hunting on one of the state's many public waterfowl hunting areas.
"With a busy work schedule, I find myself hunting public ground quite a bit, just from a convenience standpoint," Murano says. "There are good opportunities throughout the fall to shoot both ducks and geese, and after the opening weeks of the season have passed, the pressure on these public areas subsides considerably."
Hunters in South Dakota have several choices when it comes to public hunting areas, including federal-owned waterfowl production areas, state-owned game production areas, and walk-in areas (private land leased for public access). The northeast corner of South Dakota has an especially high density of public hunting land—and waterfowl. In this area, freelancers can hunt divers on big water, dabblers on small wetlands, and even geese on harvested grainfields.
"The hunting on our public areas is especially good after a strong breeding season," Murano says. "Teal, mallards, and even pintails—they're all birds that you'll find on public land."
Nonresident waterfowl hunters who wish to hunt ducks in South Dakota must apply for a limited number of permits chosen by lottery prior to the season. Check with the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Department (www.gfp.sd.gov) for details.
Located near the city of Great Bend in central Kansas, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area has become synonymous with waterfowl hunting, and as one of the largest inland marshes in the United States, this 20,000-acre wetland complex provides a variety of hunting opportunities for freelancers waterfowlers.
"Mud motors and boat blinds, walk-in hunting, concrete permanent blinds, even pass shooting—there's something for everyone," says Tom Bidrowski, migratory game bird manager with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. "It's one of the reasons Cheyenne Bottoms has become a destination for so many hunters."
Waterfowlers who would like to avoid the crowds can try one of the state's many other public hunting areas, Bidrowski says, including Jamestown Wildlife Area in north-central Kansas and nearby McPherson Wildlife Area. Both areas were restored in partnership with Ducks Unlimited, providing prime habitat for waterfowl and great public hunting opportunities.
"My other recommendation is to check our website for weekly updates on water depths and the migration before traveling here to hunt," Bidrowski says. "Especially in a year like this where we are very dry, you'll want to check the latest reports so you can make informed decisions on where and when to hunt."
For more information about public hunting opportunities on Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and other public lands in Kansas, visit kdwpt.state.ks.us/hunting.
With several large reservoirs surrounded by extensive agricultural fields, eastern Oklahoma has long been a magnet for migrating and wintering waterfowl, and the restoration of several new wetland complexes on state land has helped create excellent public hunting opportunities, particularly for ducks. Habitats range from moist-soil impoundments to greentree reservoirs, all of which are flooded in the fall to attract mallards and other ducks.
"Roughly 97 percent of the land in Oklahoma is held by private landowners," says Micah Holmes with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, "but we're pretty proud of what we've been able to do on the remaining 3 percent."
Timing is essential for success on many of the state's public hunting areas, Holmes says, particularly when rainfall impacts water levels on reservoirs and wetlands.
"New water creates new food sources, and the birds are quick to adapt," Holmes says. "Hunters have to adapt as well, and scouting is key. The hunting opportunities are going to vary from area to area based on water levels."
For more information about public waterfowl hunting in Oklahoma, visit www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Learn about destinations in the other flyways: