Birds Pushing South Out of the Ice-Covered Dakotas
Date: Nov. 9
Location: Flyway-wide, trending toward the middle portions of the flyway
Some years on the northern plains, autumn just drags on, and it seems like the ducks will never arrive. Other years, birds trickle and dribble their way down the northern part of the flyway. Either way, hunting seems to last forever, and a hunter never quite seems to know what's going on.
This is not such a year.
Barring any pushes northward bringing ducks back up the flyway, it looks like North Dakota and South Dakota might be largely done with their small-water duck seasons. All but the big water and moving water is locking up with an Arctic push this past week and another this mid-week, and that cold air is going to harden even some of the big water — especially when the winds lay low.
North Dakota was beginning to freeze up this past week.
We shot decent numbers of mallards along with gadwalls, as well as divers, including some canvasbacks, said duck hunter Anthony Hauck, the public relations director for Pheasants Forever. He was hunting in central North Dakota.
There was a good final push, he said. Goldeneyes and buffleheads were flying. The water was closing up fast.
I pushed across central and northeastern South Dakota and observed similar happenings: Ponds, puddles and potholes are done, and even the bays of the bigger waters — even the big stuff around Lake Waubay — were starting to ice up a bit.
* Head to the big water.
* Head to the rivers.
* Hit harvested fields.
* Head south to Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.
Major Weather Trends
Late October and early November have been far below normal temperature-wise on the Great Plains — anywhere from 7 to 10 degrees colder than average, depending on the spot. That's significant. Cold in the single digits and teens has locked up small water, and the liquid is not likely to come back.
North Dakota is heading into the single digits this week for lows, and then the teens. Same for South Dakota. But then we'll see a mild trend, with highs in the 40s and 50s in South Dakota and 30s and 40s in North Dakota.
Nebraska and Kansas aren't freezing up. When the ducks are there — and they are — they are going to stay for a while, as conditions are good.
Water and Habitat Conditions
We are enjoying the result of the Dakotas' freeze-up, said Tom Bidrowski, waterfowl biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. This week saw a good influx of ducks of all kinds, snow geese and small Canada geese.
If we can stay snow and ice-free, and it looks like we will for a week or two at least (lows near freezing, highs in the mid-40s or better), Kansas could maintain some very good duck hunting through the first half or more of November.
If you're thinking about Kansas, it's probably time to hitch up the boat or tie on the canoe or kayak, and head out. There will still be good late hunting, but the push seems earlier this year, and birds are in the state.
It's November. It's Kansas. It's frozen good to the north. What more do you need to hear?
The corn harvest in Kansas and Nebraska is pushing 90 percent complete, and soybeans are 85 percent done. That's good news and bad news. Crops are out of the fields, but it also makes for endless places for the birds to be for field hunters.
We're definitely building up our duck numbers here in Oklahoma, said Josh Richardson, migratory game-bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. It's not peak yet, but there is significant movement of ducks into the state.
We have been in a weather yo-yo here — from good and cold weather, back up into the 60s and even 80s. Now we're getting a little colder, it seems, with some freezing temperatures, and that should help our duck hunting.
Species and Numbers
In the Dakotas, any remaining ducks will be hardy northern mallards, along with the last of the divers — buffleheads and goldeneyes.
Mallards are hitting Nebraska now.
We have a nice variety of ducks in Kansas right now, led by gadwalls, shovelers and blue-winged teal, Bidrowski said. The colder it gets to the north, the more we're seeing our mallard numbers notch up and grow.
The earlier migrators are probably peaking out or leaving Oklahoma right now, Richardson said. There are not many, if any, teal left. Our pintails and redheads seem to have moved through already.
Just a few mallards are starting to show up in Oklahoma. We'd be seeing more if it was peak migration. So that's good news — there are more ducks to come. Traditionally, our ducks come in two waves — early November (happening right now) and late November.
It's a typical year thus far on the Southern Plains, and that means Oklahoma should have some good November duck hunting.
Personal Hunting Report
Good hunting reports have been coming out of Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma during the past week.
I hunted geese on eastern South Dakota with good success. What remains to be seen is if there will be enough open water to hold birds around after this week's Arctic dip. The corn harvest is finally beginning to show signs of finishing in South Dakota, though 20 percent of the crop is probably still standing.
Boat Ramp Chatter
Eastern Nebraska is flush with ducks, and almost all reports out of the Missouri River corridor are good. There are lots mallards and divers, along with dark geese.
The duck hunting should last in eastern Nebraska and Kansas. This might be the time to head to the Middle Plains to find ducks, if you're stuck north and locked up in ice.
Geese are pulling up the rear of the migration.
Upcoming Patterns and Hotspots
Our Kansas Low Plains Southeast Zone opens this weekend (Nov. 11), and things should be loaded up for a strong hunt there, Bidrowski said.
But the whole state is really doing well for duck numbers. The Cheyenne Bottoms Area, a traditional waterfowl stronghold, is doing well. So are the north-central and northeastern reservoirs. It's hard to pick a region that's best right now.
This is prime hunting time, with our pheasant season opening this weekend, so it will be a good time for traveling hunters to sample some of Kansas's great waterfowling.
Oklahoma's Zone 1 (northwestern quadrant) season opened Oct. 28, the Panhandle season Oct. 14, and the Southeast opens this Saturday. Zone 2 — the southeast and most of the state — just opened Nov. 4. There's a lot of duck hunting to come in Oklahoma.
The duck hunting traditionally improves from northwest to southeast across the state as time goes on, Richardson said. The southeast is a little slow right now, but it's sure to pick up with what we're seeing in the northeast.
The snow geese and cranes are coming and holding. We have had some pretty good reports from southwestern Oklahoma. The northeast has had some good duck movement (during) the last week or so.