A stubborn pattern of warm weather and the slow trickle of birds into the state are proving to be a 1-2 punch for Oklahoma duck hunters in the midst of a challenging season.
Josh Richardson, senior migratory game bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, explains that the lingering effects of abundant summer moisture are compounding the season’s difficult hunting conditions.
“It is still pretty darn wet out there, so the birds we do have are spread out,” Richarson says, adding that habitat conditions on popular public reservoirs are suffering because the summer rains kept the department from conducting what is normally an extensive program of seeding millet along the perimeter of these water bodies. “It’s been a struggle.”
Hunters in Oklahoma benefited from a series of cold fronts in November that pushed mallards, pintails, gadwall and other puddle ducks into the state for the opening weeks of the season, but Richardson believes that there has been very little migration of new birds in the months since.
“The vast majority of the birds that hunters are scouting today are the same birds that we had on Veterans Day, which by this point have seen it all,” Richardson says. “With the end of the duck season coming up, we need something to change pretty quick to mix things up.”
That change could come by way of the massive winter storm forecasted to bring high winds, snow and cold temperatures to portions of South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas today and into this weekend.
That’s welcome news to Mossy Oak pro-staffer Ryder Keller, who has been using just about every trick in his bag to target mallards in northeastern Oklahoma.
“Lately, I’ve been keying in on really small pockets of birds using narrow slivers of water off of bigger lakes or rivers just to try something different. We may only see 20 ducks in a morning, but they work tight,” Keller says. “Bird numbers are down, the ducks that are here are stale, and there’s quite a bit of hunting pressure, so I’m just trying to be different.”
Keller says he’s hearing reports of somewhat better duck numbers in western Oklahoma, where hunters are having some success shooting mallards in fields of harvested milo. Overall, he believes that duck numbers across the state are down significantly, but with reports coming in of birds remaining in eastern Colorado and western Nebraska, there’s a chance that conditions could improve.
“I’m eyeing the weather this weekend with some optimism, hoping that it could give us even a little push of birds,” he says. “It would sure help salvage the second half of the season for us.”