Your top chances by flyway for a drake can in 2020
No matter where he hunts, every waterfowler wants to score a prime bull canvasback.
That can prove challenging, however, as cans are notoriously finicky about where they migrate, stage, and winter. Further, there just aren’t that many canvasbacks in North America, with a breeding population estimate of about 651,000 in 2019. That pales when compared with 9.4 million mallards or even species of relative concern, such as scaup (3.59 million in 2019) or pintails (2.27 million).
So an obvious question arises: Where can you kill a bull can? We compiled a list in 2018, but recent harvest data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates things have changed.
Disclaimer: These harvest statistics are estimates and only reflect annual trends. And migration patterns and hunter success vary from year to year, so it’s impossible to say that State X represents the absolute best chance for success. But if 2020 is anything like the previous couple of seasons, these states — broken down by flyway — should top your can list.
Best bet: Maryland. Full disclosure: Atlantic Flyway hunters didn’t shoot many canvasbacks in 2019-20 — only about 1,579 compared with about 20,733 in 2018-19. Still, Maryland emerged as the top choice, as hunters there took about 789 cans in 2019 and 13,012 in 2018.
Honorable mention: Virginia. This traditionally strong canvasback state fell off in 2019, as hunters there only shot about 149 cans. But they took about 2,716 in 2018, putting Virginia squarely in second place in terms of a two-year average.
Sleeper: New York. Like Virginia, New York hunters apparently had a dismal 2019 can season, taking only about 120 birds. But they shot about 1,351 in 2018, making it a viable option in an otherwise can-poor flyway.
Best bet: Wisconsin. The mighty Mississippi is the canvasback champion, and the Badger State reemerged in 2019 as its top bet. That’s no surprise to anyone who’s watched tens of thousands of cans pour into Pool 9 of the Mississippi River in early November. Wisconsin hunters took a whopping 9,507 cans in 2019, good for third most in the country but far outdistancing its flyway rivals.
Honorable mention: Minnesota. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin’s western neighbor also fared well with cans, as hunters there shot about 4,661 in 2019. That was down somewhat from the 6,148 they took in 2018 but still solidly second in the flyway.
Sleeper: Harvest statistics and common sense would award third place to Louisiana. After all, Lake Catahoula is a famous canvasback wintering hotspot, and Louisiana hunters took about 3,622 cans during 2019. If we’re naming a true sleeper, though, how about Illinois? Hunters there shot about 3,606 canvasbacks in 2019.
Best bet: North Dakota. This isn’t a surprise, as North Dakota seems to excel on every waterfowl hunting list. Still, hunters there had an exceptional 2019 season, taking about 10,339 cans. The only caveat is that those birds might not have been as colored out as drakes taken in the Central Flyway’s No. 2 state.
Honorable mention: Texas. Again, no surprises. Lone Star State duck hunters always post big numbers, and the state is forging a well-earned reputation as a can hotspot. Hunters there shot about 3,934 canvasbacks in 2019.
Sleeper: South Dakota. Why not? The eastern portion of South Dakota features fantastic duck habitat, including great opportunities for big-slough cans. Hunters there took about 2,894 canvasbacks in 2019.
Best bet: California. Yawn. In 2019, Golden State hunters again topped the country’s canvasback charts by taking 12,390 birds. If it makes nonresidents feel better, that figure was actually down from the 14,958 California hunters took in 2018.
Honorable mention: Washington. Although its can numbers pale when compared with those from California, Washington is a solid bet. In 2019, hunters there shot about 3,162 birds, good for a second-place Pacific Flyway ranking.
Sleeper: Utah. What? Don’t forget about Great Salt Lake, folks. In a state known for big-game hunting, waterfowlers shot about 2,833 canvasbacks in 2019.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.