Fresh AfieldMore posts

Greenhead Daydreams

Oct 21, 2013

By the middle of October, those of us who have been bitten by the duck-hunting bug have difficulty concentrating on work, or what our spouses might be saying to us at any given moment. Other motorists are in peril as we scan the skies for high-flying flocks or early signs of an arctic cold front.

It only gets worse after the season opens, as it will in the North Zone on Saturday. Opening day hardly ever finds large numbers of ducks in Missouri. Most years, the weather Saskatchewan and the Dakotas hasn’t gotten cold enough to push many birds south. But its’ a rare hunter who can resist hitting the marsh at the first opportunity, even if that means swatting mosquitoes and staring up into blue, empty skies.

It would be worse this year. The forecast for central Missouri calls for a hard freeze on Thursday night and partly cloudy skies for the opener on Saturday. The weather up north is less encouraging. Nighttime lows in Fargo, N.D., aren’t supposed to dip much below freezing for the next week, and with no snow predicted up there, not many ducks are going to feel the need to fly south any time soon.

I’m willing to go as far north as necessary in search of more encouraging news. Regina, Saskatchewan, is expecting a high temperature of 37 degrees and a wintry mix of rain and snow today. If that convinces a few green-wing teal, shovelers, gadwalls and pintails to vacate the northern prairies, there’s only about 1,250 miles between them and me.

Okay, that’s not that great. But by a week from today, Regina is expecting lows in the low 20s and high teens and west-northwest to north-northwest winds of 13 to 20 mph. I was pretty happy about this until a killjoy hunting partner said Missouri’s long-range forecast shows 50-degree temps hanging on into December. Thanks, John. Is there anything you’d like to tell me about Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny?

I’m afraid hunter reports from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and the Dakotas – where the season is already underway – aren’t much more encouraging. The swarms of blue-winged teal reported earlier seem to be evaporating like morning mist. “Nothing much going on here,” is the prevailing sentiment now.

The truth is, I don’t care if flocks of birds blot out the sun on opening day (though that would be nice!). I’ll be in the blind with my golden retriever Willa regardless, if for no other reason than to watch the sun come up over the marsh. If a few wood ducks or shovelers buzz us, that’ll be icing on the cake. And there’s the comforting knowledge that this year’s estimated mid-continent fall flight of 13 million mallards will get here eventually. When it does, Willa and I will be waiting for them, and the shivers we feel won’t be entirely on account of the cold.



A blacl Labrador retriever brings in a duck
Mallard Dreams 1
A good retriever is part of most duck hunters' mallard dreams.


Two mallard drakes lie in a hunting boat with duck calls.
Mallard Dreams 3
Mallard drakes are a prize worth working for.


A golden retriever stands in flooded corn.
Mallard Dreams 4
A staunch retriever is a duck hunter's best friend.


A greenwing teal drake lies in the water, waiting to be retrieved.
Mallard Dreams 5
Greenwing teal are challenging on the wing and great on the table.


Two hunters take aim at decoying ducks.
Mallard Dreams 6
Nothing beats the excitement of the moment when ducks cup their wings and settle into the decoys.


Jason: Contact Platte Falls C.A. manager Chris Blunk at 816/858-5718.

Just recently moved to Platte City, MO from Nebraska. I've been out wandering around the Platte Falls CA, however, I dont really know where to go out there to have the best luck for some ducks. If anyone would point me in the right direction I'd greatly appreciate it??????

Great read! Enjoy the explanation. Hopefully this winter storm happening up north will give them the bump we need. Happy hunting!

The only true solution to make everyone happy is for the Feds to give us another 10- 30 days like the Central and Pacific flyway get. This might not make many wives of duck hunters happy though!

Thanks for taking time to comment, James. I have a few observations that might shed light on how and why our seasons are set as they are. Factors that go into season timing include 1) information about the timing of duck migration in past years, 2) hunter preferences for hunting duck species that migrate at different times and that use different kinds of habitat, and, finally, 3) weather.Regarding No. 1, last year’s migration numbers provide an interesting insight. The aerial survey of duck numbers flown two days before the season opened showed that a cold front had pushed more than 200,000 new ducks into the Show-Me State., tripling the number available to hunters. It’s not a million, but it’s not nothing. The way things are shaping up right now, I’d guess we are going to get another push of ducks at almost exactly the same time. I don’t know about you, but I’m stoked!Regarding No. 2, a significant number of hunters like being able to shoot wood ducks, wigeon, teal and other early-migrating dabblers. They also like to hunt ponds and marshes, rather than the big reservoirs and rivers that hold ducks late in the season, after shallow-water habitat freezes over. The current season structure ensures that everyone gets some of what they like most, whether it’s shooting teal on seasonal wetlands to canvasbacks on big water. I love shooting greenheads, but some of my most memorable hunts have involved swarms of teal and amazing mixed bags during the first two weeks of the season, when mallards were few and far between.About No. 3, not everyone is equipped or physically able to hunt big water after freeze-up. We can all remember years when the big freeze came in early December, effectively ending the season for many hunters. We try to provide opportunities for everyone. You mentioned “mid-January, when those millions of mallards are finally here.” But you are forgetting the years when the mallards are down in Arkansas by mid-December.The formula we currently use to set seasons actually provides significant variety in season timing. Next year, the season will start as early as possible under the current formula – Oct 25 and Nov 1 in the North and South zones, respectively. The very next year, 2015, will see the latest opening dates, Oct 31 in the North Zone and Nov 7 in the Middle Zone. If you want to be out there in mid-January, you’ve got the whole South Zone, which is open through Jan. 26 this season. Having three zones means we get to hunt from late October through late January, which is darned handy in years when the birds arrive early or late.Is season timing perfect for every hunter’s preferences every year? Of course not. The dates are a compromise between those hunters who prefer earlier seasons and those who prefer late ones. And weather always makes season timing a crapshoot. But the current system gives us the best chance of hitting the sweet spot in any given year.I think we all can agree that Missouri duck hunting is a blast in years when winter comes early and when it comes late. Heck, duck hunting is just plain fun!

Great read there Jim...always like your stories. However, you mention that opening day usually finds us with not many birds...very true. It would be nice if the season were to open a week or two later to give the birds a chance to get here instead of wasting the first two weeks of November on mostly empty skies and marshes. When will the powers in charge let us hunt ducks in January in the middle and north zones? I'll be out there opening day, but would rather be out there in mid-January when those millions of mallards are finally here.

Recent Posts

ground squirrel

Stripes, Speed, and Super Fun

Sep 20, 2020

Thirteen-lined ground squirrels are the feature attraction in this week's Discover Nature Note. Watch them in action before they head underground for the winter.

Painted Rock Conservation Area

Top 5 Fall Hikes

Sep 13, 2020

Take a hike this fall and enjoy some spectacular Missouri scenery. Check out our top five trail picks in this week's Discover Nature Note.

Painted Lady Butterfly

Painted Ladies

Sep 06, 2020

Painted Lady butterflies span the globe, eat thistle, and have irruptive migrations seen around September wildflowers. See the fruits of their labor in this week's Discover Nature Note.