Waterfowl seasons have come and gone in the Mississippi Flyway. The Spring Conservation Order, aka Spring Snow Goose Season, started on February 1 in parts of the flyway, but it will be another month, at least, before I head down to central Missouri to spend a few days shooting snows with the guys at Habitat Flats (habitatflats.com). This year I’ll take my wife, Julia Carol; she hasn’t seen the Spring spectacle, and really needs to experience it at least once.
But first, let’s review: I never set a duck decoy in my home state of Iowa this season, a first for me. I killed eight Canadas by pass-shooting, including a banded bird, so I put enough geese in the freezer for a good mess of jerky. As far as ducks go, some Mississippit Flyway hunters did well, particularly the guys gunning the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Most of the rest didn’t fare so hot. Geese, on the other hand, were as thick as crows on a gutpile this season; everyone I spoke with this fall all throughout the Upper Midwest did very well, if not exceptionally well on Canadas. Travis Mueller and Matt Pence, both with the Avery Team here in Iowa, reported excellent hunts during December and into early January. Mark Brendemuehl out of Minnesota, also with Avery, wrote of good goose hunting and some pretty decent early duck outings, despite extremely low water conditions that made getting to and from select locations quite the challenge.
From Waconia, Minnesota, young Eric Wolf, a Greenhead Gear pro-staffer, described the season in terms of duck numbers as comparable to years past. “I saw no major migrations, but we still had a decent year overall, though it was really hit or miss.” Richard Shamla, another Avery-man from Clara City, Minnesota, agreed: “Duck numbers remained about the same,” he said, “but they were much more concentrated this year. We did seem to have more ducks after the season closed due, I would imagine, to the milder weather. I had better success this year, but overall I think the harvest was down.”
San Sasse, a Greenhead Gear staffer from Midland, Michigan, reported “average to slightly above average duck numbers this season. The biggest migration I saw this year was the week of Hurricane Sandy. Ducks were just pouring into the local refuge by the hundreds of thousands. It was something I’ll never forget.” Sasse’s group, he said, did exceptionally well on field mallards during the latter portions of the season. “We shot mallards throughout November and did very well during the four-day split at the end of December,” he said.
Avery’s Brandon Geweke of Lake Villa, Illinois, put some miles behind him in order to pull out a reasonably good season. “Duck numbers here,” he said, “were definitely down, but we still were able to harvest about the same number of birds as we did in 2011. We just had to work harder and travel a bit more. But we did what we had to do.”
At the southernmost end of the flyway, Avery members John Gordon (Mississippi), Jay Hayter (Arkansas), and Shaun Housend (Louisiana) all used the words “fair,” “hit or miss,” and “slow” often during the course of the season. “The middle of November until late December saw the major portion of our migration this year,” Gordon said. “January is typically our best migration month, but it was poor. I went on a few great hunts and a few poor ones; everything else was average at best.” Hayter, from El Dorado, Arkansas, says his group saw “an early push in November, but not much after that. We had great mallard shooting from opening day until New Years, but it was really poor during the month of January.” Housend agreed, saying “I saw very low numbers in my area; not much in the way of grey ducks, teal, or ringnecks. Few mallards. If you hunted at all, you had better have packed a lunch, because you were gonna be there for a while. Definitely hit or miss. You either had birds or you didn’t.”
There’s always next year, fellas.
Next on the agenda: Spring snows. The season has opened already in Missouri and parts of Illinois and Iowa, but it’s still early. Tony Vandemore in Sumner, Missouri, (habitatflats.com) isn’t seeing much yet. That can change quickly, though, with some good southerly breezes. Tony’s first group comes in on February 5, he told me, and he’ll have a solid house until early April, I reckon. Myself, I’ll head down Sumner way about mid-March, just in time to catch the tail end of the adult migration and the leading edge of the juvenile snows’ advance. We’ll laugh and move hundreds upon hundreds of decoys in between lying in the mud and watching the temperatures fluctuate from 15 to 65–all in the course of a morning.
We’ll kill some white geese, don’t get me wrong, but for me, it’s more a way to make the slack time pass by so that turkey season can get here sooner.