Like many diehard waterfowlers around the country, hunters across much of Ohio have been staring at empty skies for weeks, hoping for a push of fresh birds from the north. Thankfully, as colder temperatures freeze marshes and smaller bodies of water throughout the Upper Great Lakes region, reports indicate some migrant ducks and geese are finally on the move.
Many of these hardy birds make relatively short flights from the expansive marshes along the Michigan and Ontario shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, where bird numbers are dropping considerably as ice locks marshes and wetlands.
The plentiful waterfowl habitat located along Lake Erie’s western basin in Ohio is a regular stopping point for migrating birds, and public and private parcels managed specifically for waterfowl are known to hold large numbers of ducks throughout much of the season. But even in areas with perfect habitat and plenty of ducks, the mundane weather has not prompted much movement during hunting hours.
“There are really good numbers of mallards in the area and hunters have been doing well when the conditions are right,” says Fred Zink, founder of Zink Calls and cohost of Ducks Unlimited TV. “But with the mild weather we’ve been experiencing, these smart ducks haven’t been flying during daylight hours for the most part.”
On Thursday, December 17, Zink, who focuses his efforts in the Sandusky Bay area, reported excellent numbers of birds and full game straps. He remains optimistic for the Lake Erie Marsh Zone closer on Sunday.
“Most of the smaller puddle duck species have migrated through the area, but we are loaded with mallards and black ducks,” Zink says. “The weather this week will shake things up for sure as temperatures drop below freezing. There is already some hard water, so hunters who can adapt and find the right spot should have great shooting to close the season out this weekend.”
Waterfowlers focused on the excellent diver hunting on Lake Erie have been enjoying some success, but hunters in the interior of the state are still anxiously awaiting the arrival of late-season ducks and geese.
“I wish I could sugarcoat this season, but for the most part it has been a bust for many waterfowl hunters. The weather just has not been favorable to waterfowl movement, so hunting has been very tough for the most part,” reports Scott Butterworth of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “I guess the one bright spot is that bird survival should be high, so hopefully that means lots of breeders come spring.”
Duck season runs to December 27 in the North Zone and January 24 in the South Zone, so there is still plenty of potential for Buckeye State waterfowlers. Hunters who continue to put their time in are reporting migrating birds this week, so it’s highly advisable to get out and scout new arrivals. Don’t give up! You’ll never know unless you give it a try.