This season has been a bit of a grind for waterfowl hunters in Oklahoma, and despite a recent round of winter weather in the northern reaches of the Central Flyway, large numbers of mallards and other dabblers have failed to appear in anticipated numbers.
One look at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s statewide summary of waterfowl reports paints a pretty bleak picture for duck concentrations in the state, with most areas reporting “low” to “very low” numbers of ducks and geese.
“It has probably been one of my worst seasons ever,” says Troy Cunningham, guide and owner of Legend Waterfowl, who hunts in northwestern and central Oklahoma. “We saw a small push of birds in November, but they went back north just as soon as things warmed up a bit.”
Cunningham reports that large numbers of green-winged teal and pintails did move through the region, but mallards have been hard to find.
“We just haven’t seen that big push of mallards,” Cunningham says. “We have the water, and we have the food. We just don’t have the big ducks.”
Part of the explanation for the lack of mallards in Oklahoma might be explained by the band returns showing up in Rocco Murano’s office in South Dakota.
Murano, senior waterfowl biologist for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, says that a distinct pattern has emerged in January regarding the recovery locations of mallards banded in South Dakota.
“The lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV) seems to be the place where our ducks are wintering, at least based according to band recoveries from the past six to eight weeks,” Murano says.
Midwinter surveys of waterfowl in North Dakota and South Dakota were conducted in early January, and in both states the numbers of Canada geese and mallards were below average.
A winter storm in late December was credited with pushing waterfowl south out of the prairie states. And while the Platte River in western Nebraska and historical migration stopping points in Kansas picked up some birds during this migration event, traditional wintering areas in the MAV appear to have benefited the most.
“The report I received this week, the last week in January, had numerous band recoveries in Arkansas, a few in Mississippi, and one from Oklahoma,” Murano says. “There are some years where it seems things are completely the opposite, when we see the bulk of the band recoveries in Kansas and Oklahoma. This winter, however, it appears that the mallards banded in South Dakota are further east.”