By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
Duck numbers in northern Missouri are at or near peak levels, which is boosting hunter optimism as the 2018 duck season heads into its final weeks in this part of the state. A look at some of the more traditional migration stopping points across the northern tier of Missouri produces some pretty impressive numbers.
Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), in the extreme northwest corner of the state, is holding 50,000 mallards according to the refuge’s most recent waterfowl counts, while Clarence Cannon NWR along the state’s eastern border north of St. Louis is holding nearly 160,000 mallards, according to this week’s survey. Nearby Ted Shanks Conservation Area reports nearly 120,000 mallards.
Other state-managed wetland complexes are also boasting sizable populations of mallards, including Fountain Grove Conservation Area in north-central Missouri, where an estimated 115,000 mallards have stopped on their way south. Roughly 15 miles down the road, Swan Lake NWR is holding over 60,000 mallards.
Finally, the most recent survey at Grand Pass Conservation Area along the Missouri River reports 216,000 mallards. Add all of the different reports together and there are in excess of 1 million ducks using publically managed properties in Missouri at this time, with 90 percent of them being mallards.
“We certainly are at or near peak levels,” reports Andy Raedeke, a waterfowl biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. “While the numbers are impressive, it’s almost equally remarkable that the ducks are still here, considering what we’ve had for weather.”
The month of November was colder than normal across much of Missouri, with the northern part of the state receiving the brunt of winter’s early arrival. Most significantly, this part of the state was hammered by a winter storm in late November that brought blizzard conditions and dropped as much as 10 inches of snow in some areas. Nevertheless, the weather didn’t have a significant impact on the number of mallards in this part of the state.
“The weather warmed a bit after, and actually we’ve had enough rain and snowmelt to cause some flooding in northern Missouri, which has caused the ducks to spread out a bit and make the hunting more difficult,” Raedeke says. “Scouting is key to success at this point in the season.”
Tony Vandemore at Habitat Flats near Sumner agrees, noting that some of the best hunting came in early November, when the Dakotas and Canada received a significant blast of cold air and snow, and again on the heels of northern Missouri’s own winter storm, which forced the ducks into a more dependable pattern of movement during shooting hours.
“We had a spell there during the full moon that was tough, but overall the hunting has been really good,” Vandemore says. “We’ve been working on these birds for a while, though, so what we could use is another round of weather to stir things up and maybe bring in a push of fresh birds from the north.”
A pattern of dynamic weather is exactly what’s needed to keep the impressive number of ducks in northern Missouri from “going stale” during the final weeks of the season, says Raedeke, but an extended period of freezing temperatures would likely push ducks south.
“With the bird numbers we have now, there are going to be good hunting opportunities,” Raedeke says. “Mother Nature will dictate how long they last.”
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John Pollmann is a freelance writer from Dell Rapids, South Dakota, who is an avid waterfowler and conservationist. Pollmann will provide hunting and habitat reports for the Central and Mississippi Flyways throughout the 2018-2019 waterfowl season.