A timely weather system in late October set the stage for a strong start to the duck season in northwest Missouri, and hunters in the region are now hoping for another round of help from Mother Nature as the second half of the season rolls along.
Duck numbers in northern Missouri spiked at the end of October, when a significant cold front on the northern breeding grounds prompted a migration of ducks into the state. At the start of the season in the North Zone on Nov. 2, hunters found ample opportunities for mallards, gadwalls and other puddle ducks. By Veterans Day, a series of cold fronts had sent most of the early migrants south, while in recent weeks, mallard numbers have also decreased.
According to the most recent waterfowl and habitat survey published by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the current statewide duck total on public managed wetlands sits at roughly 539,000 birds, about 90 percent of which are mallards.
Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge, near Mound City, is currently reporting around 21,000 mallards. Just to the southeast, Nodaway Valley Conservation Area (CA) is holding an estimated 31,500 ducks, while Fountain Grove CA is reporting around 31,500 mallards. Grand Pass Conservation Area, an historic stopping point for migrating mallards in north-central Missouri that sits just outside the north zone, is reporting roughly 39,000 ducks.
Hunters at these publicly managed areas are still enjoying some success. On Wednesday of this week, hunters at Nodaway Valley averaged just over 2.5 birds per hunter, while at Grand Pass hunters had slightly better success.
That success drops off, however, when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate.
“For the past three years it seems we battle this kind of pattern toward the end of November and into the start of December, when the weather moderates and things really slow down,” says Tony Vandemore, guide and co-owner of Habitat Flats near Sumner. “The birds tend to sit tight throughout the day. You might catch some birds early or just before sundown, but the hunting gets pretty tough. We need a change in the weather to get things moving again, and it looks like we may see something like that in the next few days.”
A cold front early next week is expected to plunge across the Dakotas, where pockets of snow geese, Canada geese and mallards can still be found in significant numbers. The weather system will bring a blast of Arctic air that will send daytime high temperatures into the single digits and nighttime lows below zero on the northern plains. Snow is also in the forecast for portions of the region.
“We should see a little shakeup in our weather, which will have the birds on the move,” Vandemore says. “Any change at this point would be good.”
Frank Nelson, with the Missouri Department of Conservation, has a similar assessment. “It doesn’t look like we can expect a big push of new birds, but we will have to make do with what we have and capitalize on how birds respond to weather and local habitat availability,” Nelson says. “There are still days in the field to make the most of, enjoy the outdoors, and make some memories.”