Migration Alert: Tough Conditions Greet Kansas Waterfowl Hunters

Dec. 15, 2022 – Central Flyway – Kansas

© Michael Furtman

Heading into the Kansas waterfowl season, the main storyline for hunters centered on the drought conditions gripping much of the state. Now, with a portion of the season in the rearview mirror, those same conditions continue to impact hunter success, access, and duck and goose concentrations.

An overall lack of water on the Kansas landscape is causing a number of headaches for waterfowl hunters, explains Chris Lecuyer, manager of the Glen Elder Wildlife Area in north-central Kansas. Among the challenges facing hunters looking to decoy the mallards, pintails, and other dabbling ducks in the area is simply being able to stay concealed.

“Water levels are extremely low across the state. What hunters are finding are these wide, exposed mud flats around the perimeter of a water body. There really isn’t anywhere to hide,” says Lecuyer. “So, hunters are either having to abandon their plan to hunt the water and concentrate solely on field hunting, or some are trying to use A-frames on the mud flats. If you can find a way to stay hidden, you have a chance at doing well with the birds that are here, but for a lot of hunters who maybe aren’t outfitted to do that, concealment is proving to be a challenge.”

According to the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), the most recent waterfowl report from Glen Elder shows an estimated 30,000 puddle ducks, which are mostly mallards, another 3,000 divers and around 100,000 snow geese. Those numbers are below average for this time of the season, Lecuyer says, and he’s hopeful that there are more to come.

“There are a few possible explanations for our numbers, and one of those is that the birds simply did not stop here because of the dry conditions,” he says. “I’d like to believe that we just haven’t seen the entire migration come through yet and there are birds still north of us.”

A review of recent waterfowl reports provided by the KDWP from across Kansas suggest that Lecuyer is not alone in terms of lower-than-expected duck and goose numbers, though puddle ducks, divers, Canada geese, white-fronted geese and snow geese are showing up in places that are enjoying slightly better-than-average habitat conditions, primarily in the extreme eastern part of the state.

There really is no corner of Kansas enjoying ideal water conditions, however, so those ducks and geese in the state are concentrated on what water is available, whether that is the small amount of moist soil units on private and public ground that have managed to be flooded, farm ponds, or reservoirs.

Matt Farmer, manager of the Jamestown Wildlife Area, says that the downside of a season of “have water, have birds” is that the hunting pressure also becomes concentrated.

“It’s been one of those years when we get a few birds in and the hunters find them pretty quick, and then the birds are gone,” says Farmer. “We’re holding around 40 percent of the water that we normally hold, and that lack of water puts a lot of pressure on those areas with water. That’s kind of been the name of the game this year.”

Still, Farmer says that the month of November included windows of opportunity for hunters that provided some “phenomenal” action for ducks and geese. Action has slowed considerably since Thanksgiving, however, and a pattern of freezing and thawing has birds frequently coming and going from the region. Like Lecuyer, Farmer remains hopeful that there are more ducks and geese to come.

“There’s a pretty big weather system hitting north of us now, so maybe we’ll catch a few new birds by the time our split comes back in on December 17,” says Farmer.