A silver lining was found in the cloudy prediction of a poor season for hunters in the Pacific Northwest. Despite continued dry conditions rains are beginning to fall and those who find water are finding ducks — and lots of them. Teal, widgeon, pintail and mallards comprised the bulk of mixed bags from Washington into Montana. The recent cold front brought skim ice and a few early migrants into Oregon making for a chilly but productive opener. Goose numbers are building throughout the flyway and teal and speckle-belly goose numbers continue to rise in California. Current scouting reports from California indicate that good conditions and numbers for this weekend’s opener.
The first sizable groups of Mid-Continental Snow Geese have begun to move into northern portions of the prairie. The bulk of puddle ducks remain north of the border in Canada, though hunter success remains high throughout North Dakota. As birds trickle south, hunting pressure remains the primary migratory force. Hunter success in South Dakota and Nebraska is rallied around those willing to scout and those keen on gray ducks — wigeon and gadwall. Pintail are infrequent, scattered and willing to fly north or south as pressure dictates. Woodducks are pushing south into Kansas and while pockets of hardy teal remain north, the bulk of bluewings are already south of the border.
With a lack of weather and little influx of new birds, the “big lull” is on for those states that are a few weeks into the season. Hunting pressure has driven the locals off and action has slowed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Michigan. Minnesota is virtually void of woodducks and numbers in Wisconsin have been declining. Scouting reports indicate high levels of woodducks throughout Illinois. Hardy pockets of greenwing and some bluewing teal are scattered throughout the north. While teal appear abundant in Arkansas, poor water conditions have birds concentrated in localized areas creating a false perception of huge numbers. Reports continue to confirm the bulk of bluewings are well to the south and scouting will remain the ticket for success in the dwindling days of early southern seasons.
With seasons underway, woodducks, the primary local nesting bird, provided the best local action of opening day in both New York and Pennsylvania. Teal numbers are reported low overall to the north with the largest concentrations in Delaware. With the first season underway in North Carolina woodducks and local mallards completed the primary bag and teal are scarce all the way through Georgia and into Florida. As hunters in the east wait on the first big-duck arrivals from the north, low teal numbers throughout the flyway continue to support theories that El Nino\’s lateral jet-stream played a large role in pushing prairie teal into the Atlantic Flyway. With closer to normal weather patterns this season it is likely teal numbers will remain lower this season compared to the previous three years