It’s been a rough week of waterfowl hunting in central parts of the Mississippi Flyway. Blake took off with the Muddy Dog Outdoors crew for Reelfoot Lake on Tuesday and Chris and Kevin were schedule to join on Firday. Despite local reports of a lack of a meaningful waterfowl migration, we had the trip planned for two months based on this timeframe being the peak of their waterfowl numbers the last couple years. The lack of cold and snow through parts of the north has prevented many ducks from making it that far south. We hunted with our buddy Jeff Huff of Huff’s Guide Service on the lake and the reports of few birds held true. We managed to scratch out 8 birds over the course of the three days we were down there. We saw a decent amount of birds, but for Reelfoot, the number was minimal. Most of the ducks we saw were divers with a few Pintails and Mallards. It was eye opening to see the different techniques used to take birds. The High Ball is king on the lake and spreads of 1000+ decoys are the norm. We had a great time and enjoyed getting to take some birds in a new location and hope to be head back when the birds finally do arrive. The plan was to stay through the weekend, but with the lack of activity, we elected to head back home in hopes of having better luck.
The reports we received from Thursday were the birds were on the move through southern Illinois. Large numbers of big ducks were taken all across the south central and southern Illinois waterfowl zones due to large flocks of flight birds headed south with the arrival of the latest cold front. Unfortunately, it was a one day thing. Where they went, we have no idea! Friday, everything seemed to raft up with moderate temps and sunny skies. Saturday was more of the same. We hunted the club and only saw a few groups of ducks, with none showing interest. We did see large flocks of snows and specks migrating in from the north. With the lack of success and low number of birds moving, we elected to spend some time with the families today and hope for better luck this week with a couple weather systems in the forecast.
Many have been asking “Where is the waterfowl migration?”. From what we’ve seen, we had a fair number of ducks last weekend, but the full moon prevented them from moving much until last afternoon and through the night. With the flight day this past week, they’ve moved on and it doesn’t seem like many have moved south to take their place. Last week’s Illinois aerial waterfowl surveys show large numbers of ducks staged just north of our location along the central Mississippi River and lower end of the Illinois River. The counts for Southern Illinois have dropped significantly from the prior week and are well behind their 10 year averages. This is probably due to a gap in the hardy birds who are reluctant to leave the north with the lack of snow and ice and the younger birds who move with run of the mill weather systems and the calendar. It also has to do with the abundance of high backwater and sheetwater sitting in fields through Southern Illinois. Birds are scattered and have access to food in many locations other than state wetland areas and refuges. The north zone in Illinois is closed and the central will soon close this coming week. Many hunters have expressed their frustration with the DNR on their dates for the season. It’s not their fault! They determine the seasons based upon historical data collected via hunter surveys. Last year at this time, snow and ice dominated the north and even central parts of Illinois. The majority of the ducks had moved into the southern part of the state.
Illinois River Aerial Waterfowl Survey: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/waterfowl/surveys/Documents/MR12Dec2011.pdf
Mississippi River Aerial Waterfowl Survey: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/waterfowl/surveys/Documents/IR12Dec2011.pdf
Southern Illinois Aerial Waterfowl Survey: http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/waterfowl/surveys/Documents/SI.12Dec2011.pdf
*Illinois Aerial Waterfowl Surveys courtesy of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources
This year has been totally different, both weather wise and numbers wise. The following link shows the snow cover difference on the same date in 2010 and 2011: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150479974409617&set=a.399158974616.161780.32904934616&type=1&theater
You can drive to Canada and not see snow cover!
Digging a little deeper into the lack of cold and snow shows large numbers of birds hanging out way north of us. Wisconsin had started to freeze and get some snow, only to warm back up and lose both. Open water and food means ducks and geese will continue to hang out. http://heartlandoutdoors.com/index.php/heartland/story/very_little_ice_in_wisconsin
For even more evidence, let’s take a look at South Dakota. Over 270,000 ducks remain up there. http://gfp.sd.gov/hunting/waterfowl/counts/week06.aspx Bottom line: We need snow and an extended period of cold up north to finally get the masses of Mallards into our parts of the Mississippi Flyway. With the large number of ducks still to the north, you know the honkers are up there too. We’ve seen very, very little number of honkers other than the locals. At this point last year, we were killing geese and had huntable numbers in many locations. The way things are going, it could be a fast and furious goose season. We have 6 weeks left, and no cold and snow in sight. If/when that finally does happen, the geese will make their move south and the honker hunting will finally get hot. If it doesn’t happen soon, our hopes of filling straps with greenheads will be gone.
We’ve scoured the area in search of ducks with very little success. Many miles have been driven and it’s been nothing but a waste of time. This is the point of the season where it really gets tough. We look forward to this time of year for months. Now that it’s here, we are in a holding pattern. The best we can do is continue to watch to the north and spend time with the families while the hunting is slow. The Fowled Reality waterfowl season “Grind” has come to a halt, but we’re one weather system away from things heating back up and sending the waterfowl migration south!
For the latest migration updates keep checking “The Grind” as well as the Fowled Reality Migration page.