Think your area is crowded? Check out these hunter-heavy titans
While waiting at a crowded boat launch or paddling into a marsh filled with headlamps, you might grumble about the number of duck hunters in your state.
Maybe you're right. However, statistics from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service paint a clearer picture of heavily pressured hotspots throughout the country. Some are obvious, but others might surprise you.
Disclaimer: These numbers, published in the FWS' Migratory Bird Hunting Activity and Harvest During the 2017-'18 and 2018-'19 Hunting Seasons, are preliminary estimates. Further, they can't measure or predict hunting pressure at your local wildlife area or timber hole. But in the spirit of fun, let's look at the states with the most active waterfowlers this past season.
10: Michigan, 35,300
Really? Absolutely. Have you been to the Upper Midwest? Hunting is a lifestyle, and that extends beyond whitetails. Surrounded by Great Lakes and featuring uncountable bogs, marshes, rivers and creeks between — and don't forget about Lake St. Clair — Michigan is an excellent waterfowl production state and migration stopover.
9: North Dakota, 36,400
No jaw-dropper here. North Dakota's prairie potholes produce and attract phenomenal numbers of waterfowl. And with early seasons and tons of public land, the state attracts hunters from throughout the country. Some go early to shoot brown ducks. Others wait to shiver in cornfields while waiting for fat greenheads and light geese. Either way, it's a can't-miss trip for many folks.
8: Louisiana, 37,100
Perhaps only one other Southern state rivals Louisiana's duck hunting culture. With about 8,000 square miles of water, from coastal marshes to flooded grain fields, the state was almost designed for waterfowl. Oh, and it's home to America's No. 1 duck hunting family, the Robertsons.
7: Missouri, 38,900
This might surprise some folks, but it shouldn't. Missouri hunters consistently harvest high numbers of geese and ducks — especially mallards. If you've been near Squaw Creek in early spring or the Bootheel region in December or January, you know waterfowl hunting thrives in the Show-Me State.
6: North Carolina, 41,400
Finally, an Atlantic Flyway state is on the board, and it's easy to see why. Duck hunters have great options in North Carolina, from Pamlico Sound to uncountable wood duck-rich sloughs and beaver ponds inland. Oh, and don't forget tundra swans.
5: California, 53,500
I'll admit to mild surprise here. California is immense and consistently posts astronomical waterfowl harvests, so I naively expect it to have ridiculously high hunter numbers. Nope. Sure, 50,000-plus is a lot, but it pales when compared to the top four states. But if you're wondering, Golden State duck hunters are probably pretty happy, as they averaged 21.1 ducks per hunter this past season.
4: Minnesota, 59,000
It's funny that Minnesota doesn't receive much recognition as a waterfowling state. The Land of 10,000 Lakes is tailor-made for raising ducks and attracting migrants, with acres of big water, small wild-rice lakes and other habitat throughout. And Minnesotans love to hunt. Perhaps the state is overshadowed by its neighbors to the west and, surprisingly, east.
3: Wisconsin, 61,000
This surprised me, and I've lived and hunted in Wisconsin my entire life. Then again, have you been to Horicon Marsh opening day or Pool 9 of the Mississippi River in November? The Badger State, known far more for deer and turkeys, has a thriving waterfowl scene. If you eschew crowds, you can always ply open water for divers, jump-shoot creeks for woodies or hunt Sunday afternoons, when even many hardcore fowlers are watching the Packers.
2: Arkansas, 61,900
The Natural State is almost synonymous with duck hunting, and it annually attracts throngs of waterfowlers eager to experience the thrills of a rice field or flooded timber. That publicity might cause some grumbling among locals who have to compete for holes or engage in Arkansas boat races many nights. However, with more than 1 million ducks and almost 500,000 mallards harvested in 2018-'19, it's easy to see why Arkansas remains a bucket-list destination.
1: Texas, 99,900
Yawn. Yep, Texas wins again. Hey, at 268,596 square miles, it's about 39 percent larger than California. Plus, it has a fanatical hunting culture and loads of great wintering waterfowl habitat, from the Gulf Coast to inland reservoirs and stock ponds.
I've never hunted ducks in Texas, but I wonder if the state's tremendous size lets hunters spread out and enjoy quality experiences. There's only one way to find out. Start packing the truck. I'll pick you up after Christmas.