Wet conditions could challenge waterfowl hunters in N.D.
John Devney has driven through a good chunk of northern and central North Dakota and southwestern Manitoba in the past week. And as a die-hard waterfowl hunter, Devney, senior vice president of Delta Waterfowl in Bismarck, said the amount of wate...
John Devney has driven through a good chunk of northern and central North Dakota and southwestern Manitoba in the past week. And as a die-hard waterfowl hunter, Devney, senior vice president of Delta Waterfowl in Bismarck, said the amount of water on the landscape is "staggering."
It's wet as heck out there, thanks to a deluge of rain that's hit many areas since Labor Day. And chances are, Devney said, all that water is going to factor into waterfowl hunting plans this fall in North Dakota.
North Dakota's waterfowl season opens Saturday for residents and Oct. 2 for nonresidents.
"I was driving through that Rugby country, and there's still seasonal water out there," Devney said. "Wetland conditions even in September look as good as they would in a good year in April and May."
There's certainly cause for optimism going into the waterfowl opener. According to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the fall flight of ducks from the state should be up about 20 percent from last year. Production also was good; the Game and Fish Department's mid-July brood-count survey was up 14 percent from 2009 and 63 percent above the long-term average.
"Prospects for the continental duck flight are good, with North Dakota's contribution well above the long-term average," said Mike Johnson, game management section leader for Game and Fish in Bismarck. "Also, the continental estimates of May breeding duck numbers indicated that most species were in good shape going into the breeding season.
"The number of ducks that migrate through North Dakota should be above average."
According to Devney, all of the water out there could pose challenges for hunting those ducks.
"I think we're going to have a pretty good number of birds in the state when the season starts -- good to strong," Devney said. "The question I have is, 'What are the birds going to do?' There's so much water available and so much nontraditional water. Hunters may have to adapt a bit. There will be lots of opportunities for those birds to move around."
Cami Dixon, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Devils Lake, said the area never really dried out after a relatively dry April gave way to abundant rains in May and June. Duck production was excellent, she said, but the water definitely will present challenges.
"It's difficult to get around on the roads," she said. "A lot of roads are underwater, and the ducks will be pretty scattered out and not concentrated. There are pretty good numbers, but again they still seem to be a bit spread out."
Devney said he expects hunters likely will have to log more driving time to keep up with the birds.
"Just because you shot ducks in a place one day doesn't mean you will a couple days or a week later," he said. "I think the birds are going to be moving pretty remarkably unless there's a situation with lots of birds jammed into a small area with good food."
Weather holds key
Hunters who prefer geese also won't lack for opportunities. Dixon said local Canada geese are abundant and are beginning to group up in the Devils Lake area. Meanwhile, Johnson of the Game and Fish Department said snow goose and Canada goose populations remain high, and large numbers should migrate through the state this fall.
Weather, of course, is the wild card. Devney said his hunting opportunities last year never really bounced back from a hard freeze that occurred in early October.
"I was hard pressed to find a good mallard hunt after Columbus Day weekend," Devney said. "The flights of birds coming out of Canada didn't seem to stop; they seemed to go straight to northern South Dakota."
For more information on North Dakota waterfowl hunting, check out the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov or pick up a copy of the waterfowl regulations booklet at Game and Fish offices, sporting goods stores and other places where licenses are sold.
Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .