Date: Jan. 11, 2018
Location: Southern portions of the Central Flyway
It’s a new year. And it’s still duck season in some zones and units in the middle and southern portions of the Central Flyway. If you live in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas, you know the opportunities available. If you’re hankering for a road trip and some duck action even though it’s the throes of winter far to the north, here’s the scoop on Central Flyway waterfowling, early 2018 style.
South Dakota: High Plains Duck (includes Missouri River corridor) open to Jan. 18.
Nebraska: Duck open through Jan. 28 on High Plains; goose seasons are generally open to Feb. 11.
Kansas: High Plains Duck open Jan. 20 through 28. Low Plains Duck late season open Jan. 20 through 28. Southeast Zone Duck late season open through Jan. 28 Goose seasons are generally open until Feb. 28.
Colorado: Central Flyway portion open until Jan. 29.
Oklahoma: Zone 1 open to Jan. 21. Zone 2 open to Jan. 28. Geese seasons are generally open to Feb. 18.
New Mexico: Central Flyway portion open until Jan. 31.
Texas: Second duck season split goes through Jan. 21 in the South Zone.
Major Weather Trends
The last week of December saw a mass of arctic high pressure sink down the Central Flyway, freezing up pothole waters from Nebraska through Kansas, and south into Oklahoma and then Texas.
Although a thaw was expected, it still looks like large rivers and big water might be the ticket in the central plains — certainly for water hunts but especially to get into a region that still has a few ducks flying.
“We have definitely been cold in Oklahoma,” said Josh Richardson, migratory game-bird biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “We’ve been below freezing for three or four days. That has iced up a lot of small water.
“Very cold weather to the north had ducks bunching up, and we’re seeing decent numbers of birds in Oklahoma. With the mild weather coming — we’re supposed to have temperatures in the 50s coming — some of the frozen water might open back up. Larger bodies of water and rivers are open and holding ducks right now. They will remain good.”
Kevin Kraii, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department waterfowl program leader, reported a similar situation in the Lone Star State.
“We’ve just had hard freezes across Texas,” he said. “All of Texas. That’s rare. From the Red River in the north all the way to the south, small water and sheet water has locked up. The good part of that is, the cold has brought birds into the state.”
Water and Habitat Conditions
Much of the North Platte River in Nebraska has frozen. Only small portions remain open. There is some hope that the 4 to 5 inches of snow across the central part of the state might melt with the coming milder temperatures. That might help field hunting.
In Oklahoma, snow is not a factor.
“That’s both a good thing and a bad thing,” Richardson said. “On one hand, it keeps fields open for birds to feed in, and it means more water is probably going to be open. On the other hand, we have been in a drought since October, and we need some moisture long-term for our duck habitat.”
“The majority of the birds in Texas are on bigger water now that hasn’t frozen, as well as rivers,” Kraii said. “But it looks like we’ll really get a moderation of temperatures here in the next week or so. Some of that smaller water may open back up. But for now, it’s a big-waters and moving-rivers play.”
Species and Numbers
Goose hunting has heated up in Nebraska, with the cold weather condensing birds into larger flocks. That can make hunting tougher (more eyes to bust you, fewer places with geese), but it sure is exciting.
The arctic blast really pushed ducks farther south in the flyway.
Southern Oklahoma and northern Texas are producing very good mixed-bag reports. Gadwall, pintails, wigeon, shovelers, wood ducks and green-winged teal are showing up in ample numbers where hunters are having success. But mallards are starting to push in.
“As normal, we saw an increase in mallards in Oklahoma throughout December,” Richardson said. “I expect to see them become the mainstay of duck straps as January goes on. The cold weather just pushes them our way.”
“We’re finally getting good numbers of mallards in Texas,” Kraii said. “All fall, we just didn’t seem to be getting the greenheads in. With the cold moving them, mallards are here now, especially in the northern and central parts of the state.”
Farther south in Texas, the divers have arrived.
“Yes, we have had a good push of divers in,” Kraii said. “Scaup are really moving toward the Gulf Coast. Redheads are staging on their coastal wintering grounds.”
Ringneck and bluebill success has been noted from Austin to the San Antonio and Houston.
Hunting Reports and Advice
It’s a big-water play for now throughout the southern Central Flyway. The arctic blast is to thank for that. As weather warms up (and forecasts say it will trend that way), the situation could change.
“Seek big water in central Texas,” Kraii said. “That’s where we have our better public duck hunting access anyway.
“Plus, we have been very, very dry since the hurricane. Small water and sheet water is lacking, even when what’s left of it thaws a little.”
Boat Ramp Chatter
“Geese are definitely here in Oklahoma, from what I am hearing from hunters,” Richardson said. “Geese always start coming in before the mallards, and this year was different. We’re in a winter goose pattern for sure, right now.”
Kansans and Midwesterners from surrounding states are looking forward to a pretty good hunt along state rivers (especially the Kansas, or Kaw, as it is known) when the Jayhawk state’s late nine-day high plains and low-plains hunts open Jan. 20. There should be more open water and snow-free fields by then.
In Texas, Kraii just keeps it simple.
“Get out now,” he said. “The push has happened. Greenheads are in state. There will be some good shooting.”