By John Pollmann, WF360 Central Flyway Migration Editor
Large numbers of ducks and geese are currently taking advantage of Nebraska’s improved water conditions and ample food resources, setting the stage for excellent hunting opportunities in the coming weeks for hunters in the Cornhusker State.
A winter storm impacted parts of Nebraska last weekend, but the weather system also ushered in a fresh migration of ducks and geese, according to Brad Krohn with the Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District in the south-central part of the state.
The colder temperatures did freeze some of the region’s smaller shallow wetlands, but Krohn reports that open water remains, particularly in the western portion of the basin.
“Ducks certainly have been pushing through, but there are good numbers of dark geese, some light geese, mallards and quite a few green-winged teal in this part of the state,” Krohn says. “The birds are primarily holding to the river systems and larger reservoirs at this time, but they seem to bounce back into the basin to feed when the conditions allow.”
While the region’s migration habitat and hunting opportunities were impacted by dry conditions last year, Krohn explains that the basin – and hunter success – have experienced a turn-around this year.
“We’re sitting on a lot of water right now, which is helping attract the birds. With the number of ducks and geese around right now, the conditions are right to have a pretty spectacular month of December,” he says.
At Cheyenne Ridge Outfitters on the Platte River near Scottsbluff, the hunting has slowed down since the state received a major influx of mallards and Canada geese in early November.
“We picked up a lot of birds that first week of November, and they’re still here, but in the week or so leading up to the last weather system our lakes and marshes thawed out, so the birds have scattered a bit,” says Cheyenne Ridge guide Ross Juelfs. “Ideally, we’d like to see just enough cold to force those birds back to the river.”
Juelfs reports that western Nebraska is holding an above-average number of little Canada geese and an unusually large number of snow geese, while the big Canada geese appear to be stalled out in Montana and the Dakotas.
“Overall, we’re sitting pretty good,” Juelfs says. “The birds have been really responsive to calling. The hunting has been really good. We need just a little colder weather.”
Nebraska’s head waterfowl biologist Mark Vrtiska agrees, adding that the state would benefit from a round of snow and cold to the north.
“Both North Dakota and South Dakota will need to get some snow before the ducks and geese completely clear out of those states,” says Vrtiska, who works for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “Without that kind of weather, we tend to see a trickle of birds into the state rather than that one big push that empties everything out to the north.”
The winter weather that hit parts of Nebraska over the Thanksgiving weekend helped shift waterfowl into their wintering areas, Vrtiska says, and hunters have adjusted to the change in behavior.
“Overall, it’s been a pretty good year for hunters; certainly better than last year when things were so dry,” Vrtiska says. “With some weather to our north, we could pick up some more birds from the Dakotas and Montana, but I think that hunters are fairly happy with how things have gone so far.”
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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.