Across Nebraska, the early days of the regular waterfowl season delivered some of the best results that hunters have seen in the Cornhusker State in many years. That fast start has cooled in the weeks since, and hunters are now looking for a change in conditions to pump some life into their season.
From the Missouri River along the state’s northeastern border to the Platte River and nearly all points in between, ducks were present in big numbers across Nebraska beginning in mid-October, courtesy of a major winter storm that slammed portions of North Dakota and South Dakota. The early blast of cold and snow spurred a migration of mallards, green-winged teal, gadwalls and other puddle ducks into the state that had hunters chomping at the bit.
“It was some of the best opening-weekend duck hunting that I’ve ever seen,” says Ross Juelfs, guide at the Cheyenne Ridge North Platte Outpost near Scottsbluff. “We had the cold weather and snow to our north to get the birds here, and it was just fast and furious for the first week.”
In the weeks since, Juelfs says that the hunting has become increasingly more difficult as a pattern of mild weather has descended on the area, and the mallards have become virtually untouchable.
“There is still an incredible number of ducks in the area as well as good numbers of lesser Canada geese and snow geese, but they are now concentrated on large lakes and only feeding right at sunset,” Juelfs explains. “There just aren’t many birds using the river at this point, and there won’t be until we get another blast of cold weather to freeze the lakes and push the birds to the Platte.”
In the Rainwater Basin, the main storyline continues to be the dry conditions that plagued the region heading into fall. What little moisture this part of south-central Nebraska has received in the past month has not been enough to recharge the area’s natural wetlands, which serve as vital migration habitat for ducks and geese.
Brad Krohn, project leader for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District, reports that the region’s unfavorable wetland conditions are partly to blame for the low number of ducks and geese currently staging in the basin. Heavy hunting pressure at the beginning of the season also caused birds to shift to protected areas.
“The hunting pressure has decreased but there are still a few people out there trying. Conditions are just really tough right now,” Krohn says. “We still have some small ducks and a few mallards have started to trickle in along with some Canada geese, but really not enough to get anyone too excited. The hunting is going to stay tough until we have some weather up north and new birds arrive.”