Habitat conditions are generally favorable across the south Atlantic Flyway this fall according to experts in the field. As always, hunting success, especially into November and beyond, will depend heavily on getting the right weather to encourage ducks and geese to wing their way southward.
Georgia experienced a good early teal season, reports DU regional biologist Ethan Massey, with Altamaha Wildlife Management Area (WMA) providing ideal shallow-water conditions in a couple of their units. Many moist-soil units had good production of seed-producing plants this summer and will have an abundance of food available for arriving waterfowl.
Molly R. Kneece, waterfowl biologist at South Carolina’s Samworth WMA, reports that the Palmetto State had excellent growing season conditions this year.
“Our coastal management areas have produced abundant crops of submerged aquatic vegetation such as widgeon grass and muskgrass,” Kneece says. “These areas also produced plentiful crops of smartweed, panic grasses and various wild millets in higher elevation areas of brackish impoundments and in moist-soil areas. Our inland waterfowl areas have good production of agricultural crops such as Chiwapa, golden, and Japanese millet; some corn; and a few small areas of rice. All inland waterfowl areas are also reporting excellent diversity of natural moist-soil plants in planted and unplanted areas. Before the opening of duck season, we will have the table set to provide a variety of food and excellent loafing areas to attract waterfowl to managed public lands in South Carolina.”
Massey adds that South Carolina’s Santee Cooper Lakes also had good grass production in most areas. “Most coastal impoundment managers I’ve been out with on state and private property had good production of submerged aquatic vegetation this summer, and I expect there will be plenty of quality habitat available in the impoundments,” he says.
Still, Massey notes, “I would expect hunting may be a little tougher this year due to the poor waterfowl production much of the breeding grounds saw this summer due to drought. Low production means fewer juveniles and more adult birds. A high ratio of adults typically means warier birds. I think this will be more reason to hunt the fronts and take advantage of birds being in a new area and a little more susceptible to harvest.”
Peninsular Florida has seen above-average rainfall this summer, filling temporary pasture ponds and raising water levels in lakes, according to the Florida Wildlife Commission’s Tammy Sapp. The panhandle has also seen above-average precipitation, but lake levels remain normal to low after a very dry May and June.
Resident mottled ducks, wood ducks and whistling ducks are expected to provide good hunting opportunities, Sapp says. “Statewide success for migratory birds hinges on teal and ring-necked duck numbers. Of course, weather patterns have the potential to drive birds down and set up a better season than what we’ve seen these last few years,” she says.
Jeff Beal, DU regional biologist in Florida, offers some location-specific observations. “The Guana River recently had a few hundred teal on the lake and numbers have been strong for several weeks. In Central Florida, birds showed up in good numbers in the wake of Hurricane Ida,” he says.
T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area manager Jon Webb expects an average to above-average season. “The storms in nearby states might affect migrations, but cold fronts are always the greatest driver. Milder winters have allowed birds to remain further north in recent years,” Webb says.
Webb says a cold, dry winter might push more birds into Florida. Wetlands make up 31 percent or Florida’s geography, he points out, meaning hunters need to focus on scouting to locate concentrations of birds. Sapp says hunters can find more information about hunting ducks and other migratory gamebirds in Florida at https://myfwc.com/hunting/waterfowl/hunt-guide.