This season has been a rollercoaster ride for Kansas waterfowlers, highlighted by an early migration of birds into the state and the lingering impacts of summer flooding on food supplies and wetland conditions.
In north-central Kansas, limited food availability and open water have created pockets of birds that are receiving substantial hunting pressure, says Matt Farmer, area assistant manager with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “The most successful hunters are putting lots of miles on their vehicles scouting and doing a lot of walking to find birds away from the crowds,” he says. “You simply can’t set up in a random spot and try to run traffic during a year like this.”
Colder weather in the forecast should concentrate birds even more, Farmer says, particularly on reservoirs and sand pits. “The bigger water bodies are already holding pretty good numbers of ducks, and I think those numbers are only going to build when we have more ice in shallow areas,” Farmer says. “I also wouldn’t be surprised to finally see ducks feeding in dry fields too.”
In central Kansas, low duck numbers at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Management Area have contributed to a tough stretch for waterfowlers on this popular public hunting area. High water levels this summer limited the staff’s ability to manage habitat, and what little food was planted is now largely gone.
“Our wetlands froze solid at the end of October, thawed, and then froze again around Veterans Day. We lost a lot of our ducks at that point and just haven’t recovered,” says area manager Jason Wagner. “One positive is there are really good numbers of snow geese around, but they are receiving heavy hunting pressure.”
Hunting conditions are also challenging in eastern Kansas. “The first couple weeks of November were good, but we’ve been struggling recently with mild weather and now a full moon,” says Jody Niccum, a pro-staffer with Mossy Oak, Power Calls and Higdon Outdoors, who hunts public land from Kansas City to the Oklahoma border. “It would help to get some new ducks, and from the sound of it, there are still good numbers to the north of us.”
Niccum says that summer flooding also limited waterfowl food supplies on the public areas that he hunts, but he is hopeful that conditions will improve in the days ahead. “We’re supposed to get some colder temperatures this weekend, which may help concentrate birds on bigger waters,” he says. “After the thaw, they should move back into shallow areas, and it will be like hunting new birds again.”