Severe drought dampens waterfowl outlook for some west-central MDC areas

News from the region
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KANSAS CITY Mo -- Drought will crimp duck hunting opportunities this fall at some Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) wildlife areas in the state’s west-central counties.

MDC wetlands will be open for hunting and some areas with sources for pumping water will be in good to excellent condition. But where water sources are not available, severe drought has left wetlands with reduced acreage. In some cases they are dry.

“In western Missouri, conditions are going to be dramatically different than in the last couple of years,” said MDC Waterfowl Biologist Andy Raedeke.

Raedeke add that many areas have a plentiful food supply for waterfowl, but standing water is limited. Both are needed to attract ducks and to provide plentiful shooting positions for hunters.

Duck hunting season opens Oct. 29 for the North Zone, which is north of Interstate 70 on the state’s western side. Many of the areas hardest hit by dry conditions are in the Middle Zone, south of I-70, where the season opens Nov. 5.

The Four Rivers Conservation Area in Vernon and Bates counties in the Middle Zone is one of the largest public wetlands open to hunting. But dry conditions have left marshes low and wet-weather wetlands dusty. Diminished flow in rivers has limited pumping capabilities.

"Conditions are so dry that water was being absorbed into the ground or evaporating quickly during limited pumping earlier this fall," said MDC Area manager Chris Daniel.

Daniel added that only 10 to 12 shooting positions for parties of up to four hunters each will be available in the morning draw for the area’s Units 1 and 2, compared to the usual 22 positions in wet years.

The biggest loss is at the area’s Units 3 and 4, which have more than 3,000 acres of wetlands in wetter years. They often accommodate 300 or more hunters on opening day. But these units rely on rains or flooding for water.

“This year there is no water in them,” Daniel said. “They are bone dry.”

Settles Ford Conservation Area in Cass and Bates counties has about 2,500 acres of wetlands utilized by hunters on a walk-in basis in wet autumns. But those wetlands are almost completely dry now and almost no duck hunting opportunities will be available unless it rains. One waterfowl blind reserved for disabled hunters will be available.

Conditions at the Montrose Conservation Area in Henry County are extremely dry. A lake at the area utilized by a power plant is below the level that allows managers to pump water from it into wetlands. Only three of 16 blinds have enough water in front of them to be suitable for hunting. The rest are fronted by mud flats.

The outlook is brighter for hunters at areas where water can be pumped.

The Schell-Osage Conservation Area in Vernon and St. Clair counties received some timely rains in July, and water is available for pumping from lakes on the area and the Osage River. Food plots and moist-soil vegetation such as smartweed and millet are in good to excellent condition. Water in all but one wetland pool open to hunting is expected to be at normal levels for the Middle Zone opening day. The area will offer 38 hunting positions, including two for disabled hunters.

Another bright spot for hunters is the Grand Pass Conservation Area in Saline County in the North Zone. Water is pumped from the Missouri River for that area and conditions for waterfowl are expected to be good.

In northwest Missouri, water is low but adequate for hunting in the pools at the Nodaway Valley Conservation Area in Holt County. The area will have only one less shooting position than it did during last year’s opener. The Bob Brown Conservation Area is open, but damage from summer flooding is expected to limit waterfowl use.

Water conditions are expected to be low but still offer hunting at the Fountain Grove Conservation Area in Livingston and Linn counties in the North Zone.

Long term forecasts call for continued drought in the region. Wildlife managers, however, are hoping weather patterns change and major rains arrive.

“We’re still hoping for that,” said MDC Waterfowl Biologist Doreen Mengel. “But it’s going to take a lot of rain to have an impact.”