By Paul Davis, Mid-South Migration Editor
With less than two weeks to go in Missouri’s South Zone duck season, hunting remains tough, and waterfowl managers are looking for a change in the weather to spark improvement.
“To me, it’s amazing how we essentially have had no change since November, and that’s where we’re at today,” says Dr. Andy Raedeke, migratory game bird coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). “I can’t believe we’ve had three years in a row with these kind of weather conditions. It’s the same song, different year.”
Recent surveys show fair numbers of ducks on Southeast Missouri’s public lands, Raedeke says, but the birds just aren’t moving much, except at night and when the weather changes significantly.
“The last survey showed our numbers were about like the 20-year average, but below the five-year average,” Raedeke says. “I think the biggest difference this year is our overall peak numbers were a fair amount below the peaks we’ve had in previous years.”
Like the last couple seasons, this year’s largest migration occurred in late October and early November, Raedeke says.
The largest concentration of ducks in the South Zone is at the Ten Mile Pond Conservation Area in Mississippi County, where biologist Keith Cordell reports “a little over 53,000 birds,” a count which has been the same for several weeks.
“We haven’t seen a really noticeable migration,” Cordell says. “It’s been pretty static the last month and a half.”
Hunters have been having some success there, Cordell says, mostly because less than half of the pools are being hunted daily.
“Ducks are utilizing some of the pools that haven’t been hunted, then hunters will show up there,” Cordell says. “They’re just kind of hop-scotching the birds around between pools that aren’t hunted.”
About half of Ten Mile Pond’s ducks are mallards, which is a smaller percentage than normal for this time of year, Cordell reports.
“We’re heavy on gadwalls, and we still have a lot of pintails and some green-winged teal and shovelers,” Cordell says.
Cordell also manages the Little River Conservation Area near Kennett and reports only around 5,100 ducks on the area, primarily shovelers, gadwalls and other dabblers.
On Coon Island Conservation Area in Butler County, biologist Luke Wehmhoff reports about 12,000 ducks, 80 percent of which are mallards. Conservation Agent Mark Skelton reports limited success by hunters at Coon Island.
What each MDC biologist continues to report is minimal daylight bird movement.
“I’ve heard a lot of reports where the ducks are nocturnal, or you get them to about 80 yards and they won’t finish,” Raedeke says. “It’s so dang tough when you’re hunting the same ducks almost the entire season.”
At Ten Mile Pond, Cordell says he’s “definitely seeing more afternoon and evening activity” than during the morning hunt hours.
A dramatic change in the weather, either with colder or warmer temperatures, Raedeke says, is needed to get ducks moving.
“That’s it in a nutshell. Without any major changes in the weather one way or another, you’re still going to be hunting those same birds that are really locked into their routines” and not moving much, Raedeke says.
While he says there are still “pretty good numbers” of ducks to the north, Raedeke says new birds could also arrive on warmer, south wind days.
“Typically, when you get to mid-January in Southeast Missouri, you’re about as likely to have birds coming up from the south as coming down from the north, and I think that’s where we are right now,” Raedeke says.
The long-range weather forecast for northern Missouri, Raedeke says, is for much colder temperatures, so the southeastern portion of the state could still pick up some northern birds before the season closes on January 31.
“If we get really cold weather the last days of January, I would expect we could have some better hunting, simply because of the significant weather change,” he says.
If duck hunting continues as it has been, Cordell suggests hunters shift gears and try goose hunting.
The Little River Conservation Area, Cordell reports, has been holding “about 170,000-plus snow geese” in recent weeks. That’s more snow geese than we’ve ever seen down there.”