The Mass Exodus!
by Chris McLelandWe like to go into every activity with a plan of attack. Whether its coaching football, helping my wife with Holiday shopping on black Friday, or waterfowling, I always have a plan. This year, the plan I devised for the 2014-15 waterfowl season consisted as follows: Be selective on my hunting opportunities early in the season. Here in Central Missouri we typically start seeing larger migration events right around the second week of November, peaking just about Thanksgiving. I wanted to make sure that I maximized my opportunities and take advantage of the fronts. My plan culminated in hunting everyday beginning the week of Thanksgiving, running all the way through till freeze up, at which time I would change tactics and begin hunting big water or the river.
Like I said….That was MY plan. Mother Nature on the other hand, hand a plan of her own. Thanks to Tropical Storm Nuri, the Mid-West has begun to endure one of the largest arctic blasts in recorded history. Here in Central Missouri, we went from 77 degrees on Monday, to 17 degrees yesterday, with ice forming by the hour. The areas in South Dakota that I pheasant hunted two weeks ago are now covered by 8-10 inches of fresh snow. All of these factors add up to one of the biggest waterfowl migrations that I have ever seen.
I managed to hit the marsh on November 10th, the day before the front was supposed to arrive here in Central Missouri. At that time, the area that I was hunting was holding right around 30,000 ducks of which most were early season migrants. The high that day topped out at 77 degrees! Needless to say, hunting was just a little slow. I was hoping that we might catch some birds moving into that area on the front edge of the weather, but that didn’t happen.
Flash forward 24 hours to November 11th, Veterans Day and it’s a different story all together. Temperatures were in the mid 30’s and falling by 5 a.m. The wind was northwest at 25 with gusts up to 35 mph. As a waterfowler, you know what those ingredients add up to! Beginning Tuesday, November 11th and still continuing as of today, we have seen waterfowl populations skyrocket to close to 200,000 in the area! We have also seen the beginnings of an early freeze which have some Hard Core duck hunters breaking out the ice eaters in preparations.
We have been fortunate enough to take advantage of the increase in bird numbers, and get out burn through some steel shot these last few days. With the new birds, massive amounts of food available and open water, hunting has been outstanding.
Earlier in the week, the gusty winds played into our favor by aiding in keeping the unprotected areas of our wetlands open, while the protected areas where icing up by the day. That has all started to change some over the last 24 hours. As we knew it would, the wind has subsided and the temperatures continue to fall, with a low of 9 degrees predicted for Monday night. These cold temperatures along with the snow events predicted for the mid-west in the next 24 hours in a little concerning, however, the good news is there is plenty of food available to keep these birds fat and happy. The river along with lakes close by should remain open, and if we can keep the majority of these birds in the area through next week it appears that a warming trend is in our future. If we do in fact receive a blessing from Mother Nature in the form of a thaw event, it will be GAME ON. Migration reports that I have seen still show large numbers of waterfowl in South Dakota, which are currently utilizing the open water on the large water bodies so there are still birds yet to come.
At the moment, we are holding a lot of birds, and it’s up in the air as to how many will stick around through next week and how many will push on southward. At this point, hunting smart and being well prepared for the conditions will help make all the difference. Try to remember that waterfowl have two main priorities at the moment, keeping open water and eating. Birds will hold extremely tight during these cold conditions in order keep open water. They will typically not fly until the warmest part of the day.
On days like these, we will not be in too big of a hurry to get out to the marsh. When hunting in frozen conditions, it is always beneficial to wait until you can see what you’re getting into. Another benefit of waiting until sunrise to head out is that you can easily identify any open water, being kept open by the birds. Nothing is more frustrating than chopping your way out to a spot that you think the birds “should” be, breaking a hole, setting up only see the birds diving into a hole 200 yards away that they have kept open all night. So take your time. Often times, it may seem like the birds of packed up headed south when really they are still there, so continue to scout and be diligent. Trust in your equipment. The Hard Core full body mallards and Canada geese are perfect for these types of situations, and will have those birds committing on the first pass. Keep grinding, and going Hard Core, you might be surprised just much fun you can have with 3 inches and a little frost on the pumpkin!
Chris McLeland is a professional waterfowl and wetlands biologist from central Missouri. Chris is an avid waterfowler, and has recently been added as an expert contributor to HardCore-Brands.com. Look for more of Chris’s articles every month!