Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

OUTDOORS: Duck Hunting Season That Started with High Hopes Has Become Turbulent for Southern Hunters

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

OUTDOORS: Duck Hunting Season That Started with High Hopes Has Become Turbulent for Southern Hunters

Article excerpt

The year began with great promise for duck hunters.

"The expectations were high for sure," said Chris Jennings, who works with Ducks Unlimited in Memphis as digital editor of the organization's magazine. "That's because there were so many birds in the fall flight."

The year began with record numbers of surviving breeding pairs in the breeding grounds and it appeared that would translate into record numbers of ducks migrating south from Canada and the Great Plains.

"Then you throw weather into the mix," Jenning said. "It was so warm. It was 70 degrees in South Dakota in December."

Last year, much of the Midwest down into northern Missouri was frozen over by mid-October.

It pushed millions of birds south. Dry conditions helped concentrate ducks in limited water.

This year things couldn't be more different. Rain followed the soupy, warm weather.

"Everyone got rain and lots of it," Jennings said. "When that happens in northern Missouri and Ohio, you wind up with massive flooding. And then we get it down here about a week later."

The Mississippi River spilled over its banks and levees. Its muddy waters filled croplands and empty fields that normally aren't flooded. Record numbers of birds in the fall flight really don't matter when they have millions of flooded acres to feed and rest in. Natural vegetation that hadn't been flooded for years was covered in water creating a virtual banquet for ducks.

"These rivers are blown out," Jennings said. "So these birds are in non-traditional areas. They're so spread out."

The rice fields and flooded timber that are normally the only places ducks have to go are now competing with abundant habitat. The waters are starting to recede very slowly. But with the Mississippi still swollen, its tributaries can't drop.

Jennings hunts in northern Mississippi and his lease has been sporadic. Some days the ducks pack the field. The next day, he might be able to count them on one hand. There is so much water, the ducks can go just about anywhere and find the food they need.

That doesn't mean optimistic estimates were wrong, he said. Surveys taken from the air indicate that numbers are about what were expected, Jennings said. …

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