By Paul Davis
After a long dry spell with tough hunting, the switch has flipped and duck hunters in Mississippi are starting to have much better success, thanks to a strong push of mallards into the state over the last week.
“We were in what we call the December lull,” says Darrin Hardesty, waterfowl program biologist for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP). “You don’t really have much of anything until you get a push of new birds, and it’s happening now.”
Hardesty and other MDWFP staff flew aerial surveys during the last several days and saw big increases in both duck numbers and the amount of water on the landscape.
“We’re seeing quite a few birds,” says Hardesty, who noted a recent cold spell and even some snow early this week has contributed greatly to moving birds into the state. “Right now, we’ve got a lot of mallards, and they are starting to make up a lot more of the bag limits on the Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs).”
Other duck species with good numbers in Mississippi, Hardesty says, include gadwalls and northern shovelers. While he didn’t offer any numbers because surveys were ongoing, Hardesty noted that “it looks like we’re going to be right near the long-term average, so things are looking pretty good.”
Waterfowl habitat in Mississippi is mixed, Hardesty says, following more than six inches of rain during the past week in parts of the Delta. “A lot more habitat is flooded now,” Hardesty says. Unfortunately, much of it, he says, is poor quality habitat on disked agricultural land.
“The people who have been the most successful are the ones who do the most for the ducks,” he says. “There are certain sections of the Delta where landowners practice intensive waterfowl management and do a lot for the birds. They have birds.”
On the western edge of the state, the Mississippi River has “gone up,” Hardesty says, “so some of its tributaries have gone up too. We talk to hunters every day, and we’re starting to hear some good reports up and down the river.”
The state’s WMAs are in good shape, Hardesty says. The top areas for hunters this season, he says, are Howard Miller WMA west of Rolling Fork and Mahannah WMA north of Vicksburg.
Interestingly, Hardesty says the majority of the mallards he’s seen remain in large groups. “We’re still seeing them fairly congregated, without much separation for pair bonds,” Hardesty says. “Usually, right now is when we start seeing them split up a little bit, but we’re still seeing pretty large concentrations.”
With more rain and colder weather in the forecast and good numbers of birds now in the state, Hardesty is optimistic about the remainder of Mississippi’s duck season, which runs through the end of the month.
“We try to stay optimistic,” he says, “and from here to the end of the season, we should be in pretty good shape.”