The 2013 waterfowl forecast has a drastically different look than last year. The weather conditions across much of the country have been a total reversal from last year. Rather than hot and dry, the conditions in 2013 have been below normal temperatures and normal to above normal rainfall in most of the plains and midwest. There are areas that have really dried out recently, but the wet start to the year has kept ponds and lakes still with plenty of water. Bag limits and possession limits have also been increased in many locations. Couple this with the 2nd highest duck survey on record and the ingredients are in place for a great season, but the 2013 waterfowl forecast is most dependent on one thing: the weather.
Many of the crops across the plains and midwest were planted late or not at all due to the wet spring. Thousands of bottom land acres had initial plantings flooded out. The fields that have been planted will be harvested later than normal. Soybean and corn fields could still be standing as seasons begin to open. If winter starts early, some crops may not even get harvested. This will not only effect locations hunters have to hunt, but also available food sources for migrating waterfowl. If a limited number of fields have been cut, they could be loaded with waterfowl, but large numbers will likely exhaust the food source quickly.
The wet spring and early summer has also limited the moist soil vegetation bloom in flooded impoundments and banks of water sources. Unlike last year, when water levels recceeded quickly in the spring to allow moist soil vegetation to germinate, weekly rains kept water levels high and never exposed the soil this summer. This could also contribute to a lack of food sources for migrating waterfowl, but birds are resourceful and will find areas to feed in. Find the food and you will find ducks and geese.
Rainfall and Water Levels
Another contributing factor to the 2013 waterfowl forecast is the availability of water. Without water, ducks and geese have nowhere to roost and loaf. Water levels in most areas across the middle of the country have greatly improved after the widespread drought of last year. In our trips to North Dakota and Sasketchewan last year we noticed numerous pot holes and ponds completely void of water. This is not the case this year! While not all locations have received above average rainfall, most have at least been near normal allowing water sources to recover. Where there’s water, there will be waterfowl and unlike last year, places that typically hold water should have it for this year’s migration.
After back-to-back warmer than average winters, one would have to think this year we will get one back from mother nature. It would be great to have a true to form winter that starts in December and eases up leading into February. Many of the long range forecasts are calling for an average winter. If this is the case, instead of large numbers of ducks and geese staging in areas as the season closes, they will be forced to follow the advancing ice and snow lines further south. The last two years, large numbers and Mallards and Canada Geese were left in the North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin as their seasons closed. Hunters in these areas were tortured with the site of thousands of birds in fields and a closed season while hunters to the south only heard stories of large numbers of birds. The seasons are set based off of long term reports and weather conditions. Throw a couple odd years of weather in the mix and the uproar over season dates begins. We can’t control the weather and the weather plays the biggest role in the waterfowl migration.
Most of the country is in far better shape than last year at this time. Areas that have food and water are in great shape leading into the 2013 waterfowl season. Most locations should have both, but the wild card is the crops being harvested. Early in the season food sources may be limited, but as the season progresses, more and more should come available. An early snow storm could leave a lot of crops standing in location across the northern part of the US, but would also get the migration started quickly. The unknown of the weather is what makes the 2013 waterfowl forecast difficult. It is the most important aspect of the migration and is the one that is the most uncontrollable for a waterfowl hunter.