By Paul Davis, WF360 Mid-South Migration Editor
There’s good news and some not so good news for duck hunters in Southeast Missouri: the region has good numbers of ducks on managed wetlands, but many hunters report that the birds aren’t cooperating.
“In the Southeast Region, I would say duck numbers are decent and pretty close to where they typically are for this time of year,” says Dr. Andy Raedeke, migratory game bird coordinator with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “Typically, by [mid-December], most of the early migrants have gone south, and we have mainly mallards left. In Southeast Missouri, that’s pretty much where we’re at, except at places like Otter Slough and Duck Creek, where it’s not uncommon to hold other species through the season.”
Duck numbers are “really good,” says MDC biologist Nicky Walker at the Duck Creek Conservation Area. “Our species composition is largely mallards and gadwalls, but we have quite a few ringnecks as well.”
Overall, Duck Creek was holding 21,646 ducks on Monday, including 7,500 mallards and almost 9,400 gadwalls.
At the adjacent Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, biologist Brad Pendley says an estimated 41,809 ducks were surveyed on Monday, including 21,200 mallards. “We have been holding steady in this range for the last month. Our timber is now flooded, and birds are moving into those areas,” he reports.
Limited timber hunting is available at Mingo’s wade-and-shoot Pool 8, administered through Duck Creek, where a small number of hunting positions were offered last week.
At Otter Slough Conservation Area, biologist Luke Wehmhoff says the area was holding 38,000 ducks earlier this week, including a good mix of mallards, pintails, and “a boat load” of ringnecks and ruddy ducks.
With the state going to an online-only drawing system, Wehmhoff notes that only about 50 percent of Otter Slough’s pools are being hunted each day, so success has been pretty good. “I don’t think hunters in many units are getting skunked,” he says.
With more than 53,000 birds surveyed on Monday, Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in Mississippi County is holding the largest concentration of ducks in the region, reports biologist Keith Cordell. “We’ve definitely picked up more pintails than usual, and we’re holding almost 30,000 mallards,” he says.
While duck numbers are strong, hunting success has been a struggle for many waterfowlers. “We’ve got ducks, but they’re completely nocturnal,” says JD Driskill, owner of Dirty Rice Outfitters in the southern tip of the Bootheel.
Raedeke says he’s heard similar accounts from other hunters. “It doesn’t surprise me given the fact that these birds have been around a long time,” he says. “With hunting pressure and mild weather conditions, there’s not a lot of reason for them to leave the refuges, and if it’s dry, why would they go out and explore if the landscape is the same as it was before.”
“What hunters really need right now is rain and some more dramatic changes in the weather to get ducks out of their routine and provide better hunting,” Raedeke adds. “Even small fronts get birds up and moving, and we saw that last weekend.”
Raedeke remains optimistic that more birds will push into Southeast Missouri over the coming weeks. “From a statewide perspective I would say we’re probably at peak,” he says. “Northern Missouri probably will lose birds, but I would say in Southeast Missouri there should be more birds coming.”