Hunters Finding Good Action in Unseasonably Cold Mississippi Flyway

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The migration is on big-time, but some worry about an early freeze-up

Mississippi

Date: Nov. 7

Location: northern and middle portions of the flyway

Major Weather Trends

Frequent fronts, early snowfall and unseasonably cold weather has ducks and geese on the move, and hunters are enjoying steady action as a result. However, many worry that the swift shift to winter will end seasons prematurely in northern parts of the flyway.

“Stuff is freezing fast up here,” said Realtree.com waterfowl contributor Joe Shead, who hunts northern Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota. “We’re mostly down to mallards, mergies, buffies and goldies inland. A lot of people are giving pretty dim reports. It’s already gotten to the find-any-open-water game, and it’s early November.”

Jeremy Dersham, owner of Ridge and River Running Outfitters, who guides on Pool 9 of the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin, said he doubted if hunting would remain viable through the season’s end in early December.

“I’m guessing Nov. 17 or 18 — somewhere in there,” he said. “The water is really cold. It’s looking a lot like 2014, when we lost almost the final two weeks.”

And it will get colder. Forecasts call for lows in the mid- to low teens throughout much of the Upper Midwest the next week. Harbors, sloughs and other small waters will freeze, leaving hunters to find springs, creeks, rivers or large waters that still hold waterfowl. No major snowfalls have been predicted, so hardy mallards, Canada geese and black ducks will likely stay put and feed heavily in ag fields.

Water/Habitat Conditions

Some portions of Wisconsin and other Northern states received several inches of pre-Halloween snow, most of which melted and added to already ridiculously high water levels in rivers, flowages and even the Great Lakes. Dersham estimated that the Mississippi River is about 4 feet higher than normal for this time of year. That has made waterfowling difficult, as hunters cannot wade. Even many islands remain under water, and backwaters are inundated.

Crop harvests are in high gear in dry areas throughout Northern states. Many low bean- and cornfields remain flooded and will soon freeze.

Kent Woodrow, owner of Illinois Whitetail and Waterfowl, in Wayne and White counties, in southeastern Illinois, said his area has been fairly wet.

“Everything looks awesome,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of ducks for this time of year.”

Diver hunters in the Upper Midwest have experienced good action, but many worry their favorite waters will soon be covered with ice. Photo © Bill Konway

As Shead noted, smaller lakes and rivers in his area are holding mostly hardy late-season diving ducks, mallards and geese. However, he and two friends recently enjoyed a great mixed-bag hunt on bluebills, buffleheads and goldeneyes on Chequamegon Bay. Much of the action occurred after one of his buddies, a police officer, left to respond to an emergency.

"So we used his decoys and layout boat to bag nine birds in his absence," Shead said. "I only got three. I had my three bills, and there I sat with bills decoying at 15 yards, waiting for something else. Personally, I think this was all a ploy on (my friend’s) part. Some guys will do anything to get out of picking up decoys."

Dersham said the canvasback migration is in full force on the Mississippi, and he’s also seeing strong numbers of buffleheads and other divers. Puddle ducks there remain scattered because of abundant water.

Inland, diver hunters have noted a shift from many peak-season migrants, such as bluebills, to late-season birds, including goldeneyes and mergansers. Mallard and honker numbers remain strong throughout the Upper Midwest, especially in flooded crop fields and moist-soil spots.

Woodrow said he’s seen lots of mallards, shovelers, blue-winged teal and green-winged teal in southern Illinois.

Personal Hunting Report

After a weeklong sojourn in the Central Flyway, I resumed hunting Wisconsin on Nov. 2. I noted fair mallard numbers and even a stray wood duck or two on small waters. Large lakes held excellent numbers of bluebills and buffleheads, although goldeneyes seemed to be more prevalent as colder weather neared. I hunted Pool 9 of the Mississippi with Dersham on Nov. 4, and we enjoyed a decent bufflehead shoot. Cans, however, proved elusive.

My first open-water hunt of the season was fairly slow, with only a few buffleheads and goldeneyes in the boat. We scored a bonus drake longtail, however — something of a rarity on an inland lake.

Boat Ramp Chatter/Upcoming Patterns/Hotspots

If the frigid forecast holds true, many Northern hunters might soon be singing the blues. Waterfowlers in Illinois, Missouri and other mid-flyway destinations are anxious for seasons to start, however. Barring a major warm-up — and that’s not predicted — it seems action in the Mississippi Flyway will shift southward rapidly. Northern hunters, meanwhile, will have to add another layer of clothing and search for remaining open water or hot fields.

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