Today's newspaper column

Good outlook for late ducks


In the midst of a seemingly endless deer season, someone quietly opened a duck season.

For the Indiana duck hunters who got their waders wet a month ago and never cared about antlers and venison, it has been a slow start.

Experts say good news is just behind the next winter storm, however, when the first big push of ducks finally moves down from the north. When that happens, hunters in the right spots should be able to replace a slow November with lots of shooting in December.

Indiana is in the Mississippi Flyway and is dependant on ducks from Michigan and Ontario. The news from those two places isn’t great, but it isn’t bad either.

“In Michigan, mallard numbers in 2015 were similar to the previous year’s estimate, but remained below their long-term average,” said Dr. John Coluccy, Director of Conservation Planning in Ducks Unlimited’s Great Lakes/Atlantic region.

The news was better from southern Ontario.

“Pond numbers recorded during breeding waterfowl surveys were down from last year, but late-spring and early-summer precipitation substantially improved wetalnd conditions for the crucial brood-rearing period,” he added.

As a result, hens and broods in both Michigan and southern Ontario encountered average to good wetland conditions last spring.

It is also important to note that across the rest of the Mississippi Flyway there were two million ducks surveyed by Ducks Unlimited in 2015, which was slightly below 2014, but 29 percent above the long-term average.

Depending on where Hoosiers hunt, they most certainly could see ducks from Minnesota and Wisconsin that were part of that survey.

The goose population outlook in the Mississippi Flyway is mixed, according to Ducks Unlimited. All of the flights in the flyway are predicted to be average.

Those estimates do not account for local geese, which don’t often migrate and are generally increasing in numbers.

Regardless of how many ducks were born last spring, Indiana’s flight depends on cold, snowy and windy weather up north to push birds our way. That is why the best day to hunt is always one that follows a winter storm both here and in Michigan.

Bad weather makes new birds fly through and they are far more likely to decoy in.

Birds that have been hanging around local refuges for a month are educated and are the most frustrating birds in the sky. They either never leave the refuge, return before dawn or fly too high to shoot.

But even if new birds start pushing through tomorrow, they are still not always easy to kill.

Late season migratory ducks often still know where they are going and are difficult to convince otherwise. That means the goal is to be where they want to be, and ideally also be a spot where there hasn’t been constant shooting.

This is why even migrating birds are tougher to decoy in on established blinds. Call it a sixth sense, but out of town birds quickly learn to avoid old blinds even if they haven’t seen them this year.

Instead of draw blinds and old private spots, late season duck hunters should try and take advantage of the December flight by setting up in places no one else does.

Big rivers are usually under hunted due to access and the logistics of hunting current. Shots are often at passing birds as well, which is difficult, but passing birds are better than no birds at all.

Large manmade reservoirs are also often covered with birds until they freeze. These spots require a lot of preparation and some thick skin, however.

Bordering homeowners will invariably call the police when they hear the first shots, but many of the reservoirs still have spots that can be legally hunted.

Talk to the local polices and conservation officer before hunting these spots to determine where to sit, and let them know you will be there. If they are forewarned, they will simply tell the caller you are legal and not interrupt your hunt.

Regardless of the legality of a hunting spot, reservoir hunters should still be courteous and watch where they are shooting.

Indiana’s current north zone duck season runs through Dec. 13, and again Dec. 19-27.

Indiana’s central zone duck season runs through Jan. 10. The south zone season runs through Jan. 17.

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Dad and I fishing the old-fashioned way.