Hunters Also Report Good Numbers of Geese, Teal
Date: Oct. 19
Location: Flyway wide, with focus on the northern-tier states
Major Weather Trends
Late-August and early-September rain offered some hope of filling swamps throughout much of the mid-Atlantic, but that hope faded as almost no rain fell during September. As such, smaller rivers dwindled to a trickle, and reliable early-season swamps dried up throughout much of the region.
The northern sections of the flyway have been wet enough, but unseasonably warm weather is stalling the migration of big ducks. Warmer-than-average temperatures are expected to continue for at least a few more weeks for almost all of the Atlantic Flyway.
Water and Habitat Conditions
Farmers are starting to cut corn fields in New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, so migrating geese will find abundant food. Deer hunters in Virginia, North Carolina and New York are reporting an excellent to fair acorn crop, which translates to outstanding duck hunting for those that find fertile oaks hanging over water.
I've got a spot on a river with a couple of willow oaks hanging over the water that are dropping tons of acorns, Virginia hunter Jason Watts said. Woodies were piling into it at first light during the early split. We even killed two mallards, which we didn't expect.
Many reservoirs in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast are several feet below normal pool. Unless significant rains fall before the next split, some hunters will find mud flats where they previously tossed out decoy spreads. That's especially true in the upper ends of larger reservoirs.
Rivers in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina are also well below normal flow. That can help concentrate birds, but it also will put more river-bound hunters into smaller areas.
Low water has not been a problem in the northern parts of the flyway. Lakes are full or almost full in New York and most of New England, providing ample opportunities in weed-filled sloughs, beaver ponds and other marsh habitats.
Things are looking good for Chesapeake Bay hunters, too. Submerged aquatic vegetation, an important food source for various diving and puddle ducks, has increased for five consecutive years, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Almost 57,000 acres cover the shallows of Maryland's portion of the Bay. Grasses in the Virginia portion are up, and although levels are far from historic highs, aquatic vegetation is inching back in places such as Currituck Sound and other Carolina estuaries.
Species and Numbers
Despite the dry conditions, or perhaps because of them, hunters throughout the Atlantic Flyway did exceptionally well on wood ducks. Reports from Maine south to Georgia showed quick three-bird limits and an abundance of ducks in swamps, rivers and tidal creeks. Those local woodies are likely to remain unless a dramatic cold front sweeps down from Canada. That might spell an end to wood ducks up north, but it will actually help Southern hunters.
Watts and his friends limited out on wood ducks three consecutive days at two spots in central Virginia.
We couldn't reload fast enough, he said. If you can find water that isn't being hunted, then you'll find lots of wood ducks.
Canada goose numbers are starting to build in western New York, said state Ducks Unlimited chairman Paul Brady. Hunters in other parts of the state are also reporting increasing numbers of migrators. So are hunters as far south as North Carolina, although numbers are still low, as expected. Pennsylvania goose numbers are steadily increasing, and the first flocks of northern birds are showing up on the Eastern Shore.
Hunters in North Carolina are still seeing plenty of teal, and a few big ducks are showing up on major reservoirs and along the coastal estuaries. Reports of a few of big ducks are also filtering in from some places to the north, but not in any significant numbers.
What To Expect Next
As usual, Atlantic Flyway hunters are at the mercy of the weather — more so than any other flyway. Until some significant changes occur, wood ducks and the occasional early migrator will make up most daily bags. Some hunters have seen a few black ducks along the coast in New York and New Jersey, but reports are slim so far.
The good news is that second splits are still almost a month away in Virginia and the Carolinas and parts of Pennsylvania. Although there are no major weather patterns expected for at least a few weeks, some birds always head south, even if it's warm.
The bad news? Abundant teal that hung around coastal marshes and impoundments in eastern North and South Carolina will likely be gone when those splits reopen.
Goose hunters, however, should have good hunts in the northern parts of the flyway in early November where seasons are open.