By Chris Jennings
A cold front sweeping down from the Arctic this weekend is poised to empty the Canadian prairies of waterfowl. The north-central U.S. could also lose birds next week as shallow wetlands and flooded croplands lock up tight.
“Driving home, I noticed most of the smaller bodies of water near Oak Hammock had a thin layer of ice,” says Dr. Scott Stephens, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s director of operations for the prairie and Boreal regions. “I would imagine this next front will send most of the ducks and geese south. There may still be some really big water open, but it won’t be long before that freezes as well.”
Stephens reports that frequent rainfall and an early snowstorm have rejuvenated many dry wetlands across his region. This spread out ducks and geese, which made for more challenging hunting this fall.
“We had as much as 24 inches of snow in parts of Manitoba, so we probably even lost some of our ducks a few weeks back,” Stephens says. “With the precipitation, the stage is set for improved habitat conditions next spring if we get good snowfall this winter.”
Stephens personally experienced tougher hunting conditions in Manitoba this fall. “Several hunters told me that areas which typically hold good numbers of canvasbacks and redheads didn’t have many birds,” he says. “That may be due to poor wetland conditions early in the season, which could have impacted other species as well.”
Kelly Rempel, head of habitat assessment management for DU Canada in Saskatchewan, reports that winter roared into the province with a vengeance this week. “Our temperatures were in the 60s less than a week ago, and we didn’t get above freezing today,” Rempel says. “Much of the province is covered with three to four inches of snow. While driving from Regina to Saskatoon today, the only waterfowl I saw were a few Canadas sitting on the ice. It’s winter.”
With even colder weather moving in this weekend, Rempel expects many remaining waterfowl to push southward. “We may hold some big Canadas and a few mallards, but the main migration will be gone,” he says.
Rempel adds that unusual weather and harvest conditions affected the waterfowl migration and hunting success across much of southern Saskatchewan this fall. “Waterfowl either moved through or didn’t stage in the typical areas. Above-average temperatures and a late harvest really impacted field-feeding ducks and geese,” he notes.
Rob Reynolds, owner of Ranchland Outfitters in Elk Point, Alberta, had better luck this fall. “We had a good season overall,” he says. “Specks were here in big numbers from September 15 to October 1. The only anomaly was that our snow geese arrived late, which was odd.”
In past years, Reynolds has guided waterfowl hunters as late as November 15, but he took his last group of the season out this past weekend. “We finished up just in time,” he says. “I’d say that 95 percent of our birds have left. I’m sure there are still some birds around in southern Alberta, but you’d have to really scratch around to have a good shoot now. We’ve moved on to deer hunting.”
Duck seasons in several midlatitude states will open this weekend, and with the migration in northern states in full swing, waterfowlers will be looking to the sky for a big push of ducks and geese from Canada. The timely arrival of colder weather and—hopefully—waterfowl from the north just might provide a memorable weekend for duck and goose hunters along the flyways.