Late rains fuel hopes for improved duck hunting
This year's waterfowl outlook probably is brighter than habitat
surveys and nesting pair counts would lead hunters to believe.
JEFFERSON CITY-Duck hunters who only look at statistics from annual
breeding-pair and habitat surveys are apt to think hunting will be
lackluster this year. But the Missouri Department of Conservation's
waterfowl specialist says the picture is more complicated and brighter
than last year.
Resource Scientist Dave Graber said that although numbers of breeding
ducks counted early in the spring were similar to 2004 numbers, summer
rains improved nesting conditions significantly. That improvement may
not be adequately reflected in fall-flight projections.
Last year, waterfowl managers estimated North America's mallard fall
flight at 9.4 million birds. This year's estimate is 9.3 million.
"The number of young mallards flying south this year is likely to be
better than we expected based on early pond counts," said Graber.
"Early surveys showed that Canadian wetlands had increased compared
to 2004. Those in the U.S. had not. However, conditions improved in the
U.S. after the May survey, and they continued to improve in Canada."
As a result, ducks that lost their broods early in the year had
improved opportunities to renest. Graber said experts also think
expanding wetlands in the north will lead to better-than-expected
survival of young birds.
Hunters tend to focus on mallard numbers. This is partly because this
species is highly sought-after by hunters. Mallards also are the only
species for which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues fall flight
estimates. Graber noted, however, that all ducks benefited from the same
"I think there is good reason to hope for a somewhat larger fall
flight than initially predicted and better hunting this year."
Last year wasn't bad for duck hunting in Missouri. The average hunter
bagged 1.74 ducks at state-run wetland areas. That is down slightly from
1.94 per hunter in 2003, but it is close to the 10-year average of 1.76
ducks per hunter. The best year during the period was 2000, when hunters
bagged an average of 2.09 birds each. In 1990, hunters averaged fewer
than one bird per hunter.
Graber also noted that an increase in the proportion of young birds in
this year's fall flight is good news for hunters. Young birds are less
experienced and wary than older ones, so they are easier to hunt.
Missouri faced early water woes, too. A severe drought in July and
August made wetland-area managers wonder if they would be able to fill
wetland pools. The lack of rain also stunted corn and other row crops on
many areas. This is important to duck hunters, because flooded row crops
help attract and hold waterfowl.
Wetland managers hedge their bets by managing some areas for
seed-producing native plants, such as smartweed. These hardy natives
thrive under adverse conditions. Seeds available in such
"moist-soil" management units offset crop losses.
Graber said abundant rain starting late in August erased the water
shortage on many areas. At a few, flooding may actually have damaged
crops. This happened at Four Rivers Conservation Area (CA) in
For the second year in a row, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has
shortened the Missouri River navigation season. This means reduced water
flow earlier than usual in response to drought in the upper river basin.
Wetland areas that rely on river water to flood wetland pools could have
trouble pumping enough water again this year. Low river levels also
affect the water table, so even if pumping occurs the water-holding
capacity of some wetland areas will suffer. These areas include Bob
Brown, Grand Pass and Eagle Bluffs CAs.
Fountain Grove CA will have reduced hunting opportunities this year due
to ongoing renovations. Pools 1, 2 and 3 will be closed to hunting on
account of construction.
Areas reporting excellent row-crop food availability include Bob Brown,
Grand Pass and Ted Shanks CAs. Those with excellent food availability in
moist-soil units include Nodaway Valley, Grand Pass and Ten-Mile Pond
CAs. Good to excellent moist-soil food conditions exist at Ted Shanks,
B.K. Leach, Schell-Osage and Four Rivers CAs.
Graber said that in any given year, weather conditions during and
immediately before duck season can be more important to hunter success
than the number of birds in the fall flight. "We have been up and down
in the past couple of months in terms of water condition," he said.
"Right now things are getting dry, and we need some rain."
Changes in this year's duck hunting regulations include:
--The daily limit on scaup has been reduced to two.
--Pintails will be legal during the entire duck season, with a limit of
--The canvasback season will be later (Dec. 25-Jan. 23) in the South
--The daily limit on Canada geese has returned to two during the late
portion of the season in the North and Middle zones.
--The daily limit on white-fronted geese has been decreased to one.
For more information about waterfowl hunting seasons, bag limits and
conditions, visit http://www.mdc.mo.gov/hunt/wtrfowl/.