Like so many midlatitude states in the Central Flyway, Kansas received a significant migration of ducks in late October, when a severe winter storm brought cold temperatures and heavy snow to portions of North Dakota and South Dakota. While the migration event set the stage for a strong start to the season, the hunting action has slowed down considerably in the weeks since.
“It’s been the same song and dance just about everywhere you go—hunting is just really tough right now,” says Travis Ratliff, assistant manager of the Neosho Wildlife Area, located near St. Paul in southeastern Kansas. “We haven’t seen a significant migration of birds since that first push, and the weather just has not been friendly for harvesting ducks.”
According to waterfowl surveys conducted by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, the Neosho Wildlife Area is holding roughly 30,000 ducks (primarily mallards) and roughly the same number of white-fronted, snow and Canada geese. However, harvest figures for the area are extremely low, averaging less than one bird per hunter, as the ducks are moving primarily at night.
“We are averaging around 56 hunters each day utilizing roughly 1,000 acres of huntable water,” says Ratliff. “With those kinds of numbers, it did not take very long for the birds to figure out the game.”
It is a similar story out west at Cheyenne Bottoms, where area manager Jason Wagner says around 150 hunters are hitting the area’s shallow wetlands on a daily basis. In a typical year, that number might be closer to 10 or 15.
“The noticeably higher-than-normal hunting pressure combined with warmer temperatures has made hunting conditions pretty tough,” Wagner says.
Cheyenne Bottoms is holding roughly 25,000 ducks, including strong numbers of green-winged teal, pintails and northern shovelers.
“What’s interesting is that these birds basically disappeared during the day as hunting pressure mounted, but the day we entered our season split they were back on the hunting pools. They are so acutely aware of hunting pressure,” Wagner says. The season reopens in Kansas on Dec. 19.
Wagner says that habitat conditions remain the good news at this point.
“We had a few mallards trickle in a couple of weeks ago on the full moon, but overall our numbers have remained pretty consistent, even with the hunting pressure because our habitat conditions are that good,” says Wagner. “We have the food and water for them. We need a bit of weather and a new push of birds, and the hunting would really improve.”