Hunters Report Good Action but Await Colder Weather
In typical Atlantic Flyway fashion, every hunter from New York to Florida has been praying for a cold front to bring in a fresh wave of birds. So far, that hasn't happened — at least not like it has in previous seasons. So far, the action has been good to fair for hunters up and down the flyway. A few places are holding good numbers of ducks and geese, but the general consensus is that bird numbers and hunter success haven't changed much in several weeks.
Cold weather has settled across much of New England and other Northern regions, but it hasn't been cold enough to lock up the larger waters in southern New England and New York. Weather patterns in much of New York have been fairly stable, with daytime highs in the mid- to upper 30s and nighttime temperatures in the mid-20s.
I don't see any storms forecast for our area, and I think we will pretty much have the same patterns for the next couple of weeks, said Jeremy Bedette, a Hard Core pro-staffer from Palmyra, New York.
The mid-Atlantic is in for a typical weather pattern for mid-December: daytime highs in the 40s and low 50s, with nighttime temperatures dipping into the low 30s and high 20s. It isn't enough to change the water conditions much, although some smaller ponds and swamps will likely remain frozen or partially frozen for some time.
The southern parts of the Atlantic Flyway are expecting relatively stable and predictable weather, too.
Bedette said some corn and beans remain standing in New York, thanks to a wet fall that prevented farmers from harvesting the grain, but some farmers are cutting that remaining corn now.
The beans are shot, he said. If the farmers haven't gotten it out yet, they aren't going to.
Smaller waters are locked up in the northern Atlantic Flyway states, and ponds are freezing as far south as central Virginia. Ice is also forming on the bays of larger lakes in New York, according to Pennsylvania resident and Avery Outdoors pro-staffer Kevin Addy.
There was a little snow on the ground where we hunted around the Finger Lakes and then around Oneida, but it wasn't enough to push the birds out, he said. It was pretty cold when I was up there, and I was seeing a lot of ice on smaller waters.
Bedette agreed. He hunted Lake Ontario and only saw ice in the coves.
Parts of the flyway are still inundated with water, thanks to Winter Storm Diego, which dumped an inch or more of rain across parts of the Carolinas and Georgia. Southern Virginia and northern North Carolina received a foot or more of snow from the same system, too. When it melts, it will run straight into already-high rivers and streams or settle into swamps, which have been overflowing for much of fall. That means inland duck hunters will still be coping with too much water and scattered birds.
Florida lakes could use some of that water. According to Hard Core pro-staffer Eric McHugh, Lake Okeechobee is extremely low, making for some tough boating conditions.
It got real high last year, and that killed a lot of the vegetation, and now it is real low, he said. We are having some serious algae problems.
Species and Numbers
Despite the tough habitat conditions, McHugh there are a decent number of birds in Florida.
We always have some mottled ducks and some whistlers around, but I've been seeing good numbers of teal, he said. Ringneck ducks are slim in southern Florida, but I heard they are doing pretty well on them in northern Florida, so we should see them showing up pretty soon. Same with divers. There aren't many in southern Florida, but I've been hearing some good reports farther north. The stormwater treatment areas have been hunting good, from what I've heard.
Connecticut hunter Justin Besade has been seeing lots of black ducks and mallards along the coastal marshes of his home state, and goose numbers are also strong. In addition, sea duck numbers are high.
It's just starting to get good, he said.
Avery pro-staffer and Maryland resident Sean Fritzges said hunters are seeing high numbers of birds on the Susquehanna Flats, despite prolonged periods of high water coming from the Susquehanna River. Hunters are doing especially well on canvasbacks and bluebills, and Canada goose numbers are high.
Puddle duck numbers have been decent on the Flats, but we really haven't had any cold weather yet, so I think numbers will get even better when it gets cold to the north, he said.
Things aren't quite as good on the Eastern Shore, Fritzges added. Duck numbers are fair — mostly back ducks and mallards — but he has heard of good numbers of sea ducks in the Chesapeake Bay. Geese are a different story.
We have a load of geese on the Eastern Shore, he said. It is going to be a very good season.
Duck numbers are fair and goose numbers are high around the Finger Lakes region of New York, Bedette said.
There is probably 5,000 to 10,000 snow geese around the Finger Lakes, he said. There are also a ton of Canadas. They are piling into any fresh-cut cornfield they can find. As soon as a farmer cuts his corn, geese are all over it.
That could be why things are just ho-hum in Pennsylvania, Addy said. An average number of ducks and geese are in southeastern Pennsylvania, but it has been that way for weeks. Mallards and black ducks make up the bulk of the ducks in his area, and he is seeing a few snow geese.
There are enough birds to hunt, but it certainly isn't anything to write home about, he said.
That's unlikely to change soon. Just like duck hunters everywhere else, Addy and his fellow Atlantic Flyway hunters are always praying for a cold spell to the north. There is no indication one is coming soon. That means hunters will have to cope with stale ducks for the next few weeks, although some fresh birds always show up somewhere.