Migration Alert: Tennessee Waterfowl Numbers Strong, Hunters Optimistic

Dec. 4, 2019 – Mississippi Flyway – Tennessee

© Michael Furtman

By Paul Davis, WF360 Mississippi Alluvial Valley Migration Editor

A year ago, Tennessee duck hunters were facing one of the toughest seasons in memory. Fast forward 12 months, and the situation, at least currently, is looking much better going into the second season opener on Saturday.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency biologist Patrick Lemons says duck numbers are currently strong in Region 1. “We had a huge duck movement on Sunday,” he reports. “Recent weather events have pushed significant numbers of mallards, gadwalls, and green-winged teal into the region. The Obion River and parts of the Forked Deer River received a lot of new birds.”

As an example, the Hop-In Refuge, near Obion River and Gooch Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), is now holding 24,300 ducks.

One complicating factor for hunters, however, is an abundance of water on the landscape. “Water remains higher than desired on most WMAs,” Lemons notes, “and recent rainfall is causing river flooding throughout the region.”

Henry County game warden Greg Barker reports that there is a lot of water in the bottoms along the Obion, Forked Deer, and Tennessee Rivers. He says chutes and backwaters along these tributaries should provide good hunting opportunities. Wood ducks, he says, are especially numerous right now.

Farther south, Tipton County game warden Jake Yoes reports, “We’ve picked up quite a few ducks in the past week or so. We’re excited about the number of birds we have this early.”

Yoes says Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and lower Hatchie River NWR are holding impressive numbers of ducks. The most recent survey at Chickasaw showed nearly 50,000 ducks, while 20,000 ducks were surveyed on Lower Hatchie.

In the Reelfoot Lake zone, which will open two days earlier than the rest of the state, outfitter Ben Parker says, “We have a lot of ducks on the lake. In fact, there are a lot of birds in the whole area.”

The latest survey on Reelfoot and Lake Isom NWRs totaled nearly 34,600 ducks, but refuge manager Drew Wirwa believes that doesn’t accurately reflect duck numbers on those areas.

“There were a lot of birds in the timber that we couldn’t count,” Wirwa says, “and from what I’ve seen, we’ve had a big increase since the survey.”

Not far away, Black Bayou Refuge is holding 40,000 ducks, while White Lake and Horns Bluff are holding approximately 48,000 and 5,300 ducks, respectively.

Just like everywhere else, hunters on Reelfoot should expect high water levels. Parker advises hunters to “look for ducks in areas that you don’t normally hunt, because there are a lot of places for birds to rest out there.”

Despite the high water, Lemons is optimistic for the second opener. “Hopefully, the recent success will continue throughout much of the season,” he says.

“It’s got to be better than last year,” Yoes adds. “If the ducks trickle down a little at a time, it should be a great year.”