The moderate drought conditions across Kentucky brought baked, cracked yards, dust, fires and streams as low as any time in recent memory. This would seem a negative for the upcoming waterfowl season, but the summer’s ample rains provided a cushion against the fall dry spell.
“We had a good summer growing season across Kentucky,” said Wes Little, migratory bird biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The habitat looks wonderful. There is lots of food available for ducks and geese to use. The nesting habitat conditions and reproduction were good this year. Things look promising for the upcoming waterfowl seasons. We just need the weather to cooperate.”
Unusually hot air settled over the Midwest and Ohio Valley in the last month, setting several records for high temperatures. This warm air mass remaining parked over Kentucky could impact opening weekend of waterfowl season, which begins Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24.
Duck species harvested heavily in Kentucky such as mallard, gadwall, northern shoveler and green-winged teal, are well above the long-term average of the species as calculated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 1955.
“We need cold weather,” Little said. “It’s been so warm. The predicted upcoming cold weather should push birds down to us from the north that have the potential to be here opening day.”
The crops on our wildlife management areas came in well overall. “The plantings of some of our crops on our wildlife management areas were delayed due to wet weather,” Little said. “We were able to sow millet and other small grains where the corn was spotty on our wildlife management areas. The moist soil plants are booming. They should provide excellent hunting opportunity this year.”
Scouting is important for hunting success during any segment of the season, but vital for the early portion of the season. “You have to know where the birds are or where they want to be,” Little said. “That may be anywhere from a farm pond to a late harvested cornfield. You have to be where they want to be.”
If birds are not using a place you are scouting prior to opening day, they likely won’t be there opening day either.
“For Thanksgiving, don’t overlook wood ducks on the creeks and rivers,” Little said. “There is a good chance this year there will be quite a few wood ducks still in Kentucky on Thanksgiving weekend.”
As the days shorten with the sun lower in the sky by Christmas, the best hunting of the year beckons. “Later, when farm ponds freeze over, the birds congregate in huge numbers,” Little explained. “This is when the hunting gets good. It seems over the last several years, the later season seems to be the best hunting with the warmer winters we’ve had.”
The late season will be a boon for goose hunters as they now have roughly two more weeks to hunt. For the coming season, the closing date moved to Feb. 15, 2017 for Canada goose, white-fronted goose, snow goose and brant.
Waterbodies that don’t freeze are important in the later segments of the season. “The Ohio River, reservoirs and spring fed farm ponds are all good for the late season,” Little said. “The birds also use the harvested corn fields near these bigger, open waters.”
The first segment of duck season opens Nov. 24 and closes Nov. 27. The second segment opens Dec. 5, 2016 and closes Jan. 29, 2017. Goose season opens the same day as the duck season, Nov. 24 and closes Feb. 15, 2017.
Waterfowl hunters must have a valid Kentucky hunting license, a Kentucky migratory game bird – waterfowl permit along with a Federal Duck Stamp. Federal Duck Stamps are available at post offices across Kentucky.
If not obtained already, waterfowl hunters must have their Harvest Information Program (H.I.P.) confirmation number recorded on either their Kentucky hunting license or on their Kentucky migratory game bird – waterfowl permit. To get your H.I.P. number, visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at www.fw.ky.gov and click on the “My Profile” tab. Answer a few questions about last season’s harvest of migratory birds to receive your confirmation number. The process takes less than 5 minutes.
The colder mornings and chances of frost in the coming week mean waterfowl season is nearly here. Crouching behind a blind beside a farm pond in the pre-dawn is a great way to spend a winter morning.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.