While a mid-November winter weather system spurred hopes of waterfowl leaving the northern plains en masse, hunters in midlatitude states continue to wait for a big push of ducks and geese. Relief may finally come next week when freezing temperatures should put a layer of ice on those larger water bodies where ducks and geese are currently staging.
Matthew Garrick, waterfowl program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, was among those in the field on Veterans Day, enduring the big northwest wind and cold temperatures that were supposed to push fresh waterfowl to the Platte River, but the birds simply did not appear.
“I think we shot one duck,” Garrick says. “It has been a sporadic migration, and hunters have had a pretty tough go of things for the last month.”
Wetlands in the Rainwater Basin have been freezing and thawing with fluctuating temperatures during the past month, Garrick says, which has been enough to send early migrating ducks out of the state.
“I think the same happened in the Sandhills, which had a pile of ducks heading into mid-November, but I suspect those have moved out too,” Garrick says.
While not the major migration event that hunters wanted, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks senior waterfowl biologist Rocco Murano says that the November storm did spur a little movement out of the state.
“We started to get mallard band recoveries further down the flyway in the week after that storm, so it did kick some ducks south,” Murano says.
However, this week’s survey of the eastern half of South Dakota indicates that there are more birds to come.
“Light goose numbers are at peak levels. We don’t have much for white-fronted geese anymore, but there are plenty of Canada geese,” Murano says. “Mallards are at peak or maybe just past peak numbers, but they are concentrated in some really big groups on larger lakes and acting a lot like snow geese. There are a lot of divers here, too.”
Murano says that larger water bodies like Lake Thompson in Kingsbury County are wide open heading into the weekend, but that will likely change next week.
“Our forecast calls for much colder temperatures that should lock those lakes up for good,” Murano says. “That should be enough to send a push of birds out of the state.”