Early December is often a time of peak duck numbers and tremendous hunting in northwest Missouri, but a persistent pattern of mild temperatures and sparse precipitation has hunters in this region clamoring for some help from Mother Nature to turn the season around before the end of the month.
The results of the most recent survey of waterfowl numbers and habitat conditions conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) estimates that there are roughly 760,000 ducks in the state, including just over 540,000 mallards. Greenheads were the predominant species observed on a trio of historical migration stopovers for waterfowl in the northwest corner of the state: Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (96,625 mallards), Fountain Grove Conservation Area (54,400), and Grand Pass Conservation Area (40,950). Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, another important area for migrating waterfowl in this region, was estimated to be holding just over 15,000 mallards.
According to Dr. Andy Raedeke, resource scientist with the MDC, the figures from the survey conducted earlier this month were below both the five-year and long-term averages, although mallard numbers have increased slightly in the past two weeks. Early-season migrants, like gadwalls and pintails, have largely pushed south out of the northwest portion of the state.
Raedeke says one bright spot in the survey was the number of white-fronted geese that remain in the state.
“We typically see a small number of whitefronts in Missouri during late October and early November and then do not see many more until January,” Raedeke says. “In recent years, it appears that more whitefronts are staying in Missouri for longer periods of time.”
And time is turning out to be a big factor for hunters in northwest Missouri, where the duck season is set to close in less than month.
“Mallard numbers are absolutely not the issue,” says Tony Vandemore, co-owner and operator of Habitat Flats near Sumner. “We had an absolute mountain of ducks here in late October, and we’ve had some move out since then, but there are still plenty around. The issue is we had a big warm-up along with the full moon at the end of October, and the ducks went nocturnal before our season even began. We have been able to pick away at singles and small bunches throughout the day, but the bigger groups of mallards really don’t start moving until the sun goes down.”
Vandemore is hopeful that weather patterns will change soon enough to be able to take advantage of birds that remain in the area.
“Typically, we need some sort of a precipitation event to kick them out of that pattern, but we just haven’t seen anything along those lines yet,” he says. “There’s still time though. We just need to mix things up a bit, and the hunting should improve.”