Geese are on the move, but ducks are just starting to migrate
Date: Oct. 15
Location: entire Atlantic Flyway
Damned if you do, damned if you don't? 2018's theme was water, water everywhere. Endless rain raised reservoirs, blew out rivers and turned dry ground into duck habitat from Maine south to parts of Georgia. The birds were scattered, and finding them was the most challenging aspect of the season.
This year, drought seemed to be the story throughout much of the Atlantic Flyway. Record heat and a lack of rain have left swamps dry, streams and lakes low, and hunters wondering what might be in store for the season.
Weather Trends and Current Conditions
The good news is cooler weather has moved in, and some seasonal rains have fallen on parts of the flyway. However, the lingering conditions from summer played a role in many states' first-season splits. Those with access to water cleaned up. Those without stayed home.
Connecticut resident and Hard Core pro-staffer Justin Besade said his region has finally received some much-needed rain, and swamps are starting to fill back up. That's true in the mid-Atlantic, although the water deficit is so low it will take a major rain event to make a difference. That's not expected any time soon. The Carolinas have also been dry.
We've finally gotten some rain and the swamps are starting to get some water, but they are still real low, said South Carolina resident and Avery pro-staffer Josh Newsom. If things don't change before our opener, a lot of guys will be struggling. Those who have good water will probably do very well.
Much of Pennsylvania was spared the extended dry weather, and Kevin Addy expects a normal season.
The silage corn was cut real early this year, and we had some good resident goose hunts in September, he said. Now the farmers are cutting the rest of the corn crop, so there is lots of food on the ground now.
Species and Numbers
The timing couldn't have been better. Addy is seeing good numbers of migratory Canada geese in eastern Pennsylvania, a dramatic change from early October. Unfortunately, the season won't open until November, and the limit is just two birds. He expects good hunting, though.
He said wood duck numbers were above average in the state's northern zone and about average elsewhere, according to his and others' observations.
There are some resident mallards around and some scattered teal, but they are spread pretty thin, he said. It's still early for most ducks.
Resident wood ducks still dominate much of the Atlantic Flyway action during the early splits, but a few migratory mallards are showing up around the Chesapeake Bay, said Avery pro-staffer and Maryland resident Kenny Gray. Surprisingly, he's already seeing a lot of migratory Canada geese, too.
We have a ton of geese, he said. They just showed up, but we can't hunt them until December, and then we only have a 30-day season and a one-bird limit. There's no telling what will happen between now and then. I'm sure we will have plenty around, but it's going to be an interesting season.
The mallards are concentrated near flooded impoundments, Gray said. Much of Maryland has experienced abnormally dry conditions, leaving ponds and swamps well below normal levels or even dry.
The guys that started pumping water early will probably have a really good season unless we get a lot of rain soon, he said. I heard someone say this year was the driest he's seen in 25 years.
The divers and sea ducks that winter on the Chesapeake are still far to the north. Most puddle duck species have also yet to arrive, and teal numbers are low.
That's similar to the report from New England. Besade says a few geese have shown up, but not many.
We are just waiting on a good front to move some birds in, he said. Wood duck numbers are pretty good, and there are a few green-winged teal around, but I haven't seen any mallards. There are some sea ducks off the coast, but it's still pretty early for them.
Newsom said migratory wood ducks are starting to arrive in central South Carolina, but teal have moved out.
I'm not seeing any mallards or gadwalls yet, and there aren't any divers on the ponds and lakes that usually have them later in the season, he said. The resident geese have moved back to their summer patterns. The corn was cut a while ago, and I guess there isn't anything left in the fields.
Virginia hunter Kyle Hart limited on wood ducks the three days he hunted during the state's four-day first split. So did his partners. They saw hundreds of birds, likely a result of dry swamps and low rivers in his region. His group did not see any other duck species. Action was spotty elsewhere. Hunters were covered up in birds or had none.
Boat Ramp Chatter/Upcoming Hotspots and Patterns
Predicting the season a month is advance is a fool's errand in the Atlantic Flyway, but one thing is certain: Unless some areas receive significant rain, good water will be hard to find. That means hunters with access to flooded impoundments or natural swamps that still have water will have a banner season — that is, if some strong cold fronts push ducks south.