Photo by Billie R. Cooper.
Late-season hunters are the hard-core guys of the waterfowling world. The likelihood of warm, sunshiny days has migrated south with September teal. Those hardy souls left to the cold, north winds welcome the harshest of winter conditions. Ice, sleet, snow and freezing temperatures add to eternal hopes that the flights will soon arrive on frosted horizons.
“Weather is everything to a waterfowl hunter’s success, especially late in the season,” said Dave Graber, a research scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, who is largely responsible for management of waterfowl populations residing in and migrating through the Show Me State. “Cells of cold, nasty weather push both ducks and geese from areas to the north. Watching weather patterns is a key to success for both duck and goose hunters.”
Last year brought record flood levels on many of the MDC-managed wetland areas. Damage occurred to water structures at several areas and food crop plantings fell well behind schedule.
“In spite of all the problems our area mangers experienced in 2008, hunters still enjoyed the second largest duck harvest on record,” Graber explained. “That came as a surprise because of the poor food production on the areas. Regardless, duck hunters harvested 613,000 ducks.”
As if asking forgiveness from both managers and waterfowl hunters, Mother Nature dished out perfect weather at key times to push birds down into Missouri. “A major ice storm up north, in early November, forced birds south,” Graber said. “And, luckily for us, another storm occurred in December, bringing even more flights. The real icing on the cake came when the birds hung up and stayed around for a while.”
Graber noted that the floods of 2009 have not been as bad as those of 2008. “Schell-Osage and Fountain Grove both had a lot of water, but elsewhere it has not been too bad thus far. However, floods in August can be real killers. Natural moist-soil plants need at least 60 days to mature.”
Duck numbers were down slightly in 2008, and they will be down again in 2009, according to Graber. “We saw poor recruitment in last year’s duck counts, so there will be fewer young ducks in the population this year.”
Goose hunters can expect fewer birds in 2009 as well. “Nesting conditions for the Eastern Prairie Population have been the worst in 30 years,” Graber reported. “In late spring, there was still snow in the Hudson Bay Area, which makes for poor nesting conditions.”
On the flip side of the coin, the local giant Canada goose population is in good shape. An estimated 80 percent of the annual goose harvest in Missouri is made up of giant Canadas. “Giant Canadas nest over such a large area in Missouri that their numbers remain good,” Graber said.
In late June, I spoke with wildlife biologists at several of the major MDC-managed waterfowl areas. All experienced another very wet spring and early summer. However, all were optimistic that food production would be good on each of their respective areas. Naturally, that depends on the mood of Mother Nature.
Let’s take a look at those areas and what they have in store for us this season.
TED SHANKS CA
Ted Shanks CA consists of 6,700 acres in Pike County. It’s not far above St. Louis, thus it is a major drawing card for St. Louis area waterfowlers. Here the nearby Mississippi River acts as a funnel for birds traveling the Mississippi Flyway Thousands annually stop off to feed, loaf and rest at Shanks before continuing their arduous journey south.
Shanks CA radiates a different feel than most waterfowl areas that are surrounded by lowlands. At Shanks, the Ozark hills, not far away, create a cozy, closed-in feeling.
Mike Flaspohler is the MDC wildlife biologist who manages Shanks. “We can flood up to 4,400 acres of the area,” he said. “There are about 500 acres of natural water in the form of old oxbows and sloughs on the south part of the area. Those become connected with some of our pools when we flood them.”
Early in the season, Flaspohler accommodates 14 to 22 parties depending on food and water availability. “That number may reach 28 parties by the end of the season,” he stated. “We gradually flood more areas as the season progresses to make more food available to ducks. That in turn gives us more area for hunters to use.”
Hopeful hunters face the morning draw at Shanks, as they do at most MDC-managed areas. Hunting ceases at 1 p.m. in designated areas. Check the latest regulations at headquarters before going out.
“We have six primary wade-and-shoot pools,” Flaspohler continued. “We see lots of low-profile and layout boats on the area. However, some guys come very prepared. They not only bring a layout boat, but they also tow a bigger boat, just in case they don’t get drawn, for one of the nearby, easy-to-get-to wade-and-shoot spots. Some of our more remote spots require a maximum three-mile boat ride. Bigger boats and motors are handy for that situation.”
Flaspohler has tentative plans for eight new blinds on the area for this season. “Weather can be a factor, but if all goes as planned, we will have the pit blinds ready for use this season. Each concrete blind will have 6-feet by 12-feet inside dimensions and be buried in a long linear mound of dirt tied to some type of cove so hunters can hide their boats. Too, the blinds will be designed so that hunters can shoot in any direction and not have to worry about hoping to draw a blind that fits the wind direction.”
Most blinds will have some type of food plots near them. A few will have corn, while plots of Japanese millet, buckwheat or winter wheat will surround others.
Ted Shanks CA is in the north zone and usually closes down around Christmas. Mallards begin to pour into the area around Thanksgiving. “The last two years we have had hard freeze-ups around the first of December,” Flaspohler said. “Most of our ducks left. However, the hardcore guys still found some success, but they had to work at it.”
Flashpohler noted a bonus for waterfowl hunters visiting the area. “The last couple of years we have had a push of late-season green-winged teal. They often serve as bonus ducks for guys who have their mallards.”
A few Canada geese are harvested on the area each season. “There are a lot of geese in the vicinity of Shanks, but not a lot of them use the CA,” Flaspohler said. “Goose hunters are better off to concentrate their efforts farther south on the river near Calumet Creek or even on the Illinois side of the river.”
In closing, Flaspohler noted that he will have 42 to 45 hunting spots by the end of the season with 10 blind sites. Natural foods looked great in June; crews had worked hard fighting the mud to get crops in. He offered a final tip as well. “Duck numbers go up as the weather gets bad. And duck hunter numbers often go down. That greatly improves your odds in the morning draw.”
When the shallow pools of Ted Shanks freeze up, and they have by the first of December the last two years, hardy hunters can shift their attention to the Mississippi River. Access can become a problem, according to Flaspohler. It seems the Mississippi can freeze in one night as well. However, there are pockets of water that stay open. Look to the Conservation Atlas to find areas in the Upper Mississippi Conservation Area south of the Ted Shanks area. Islands, chutes and slack water areas may be found there. For more information about Ted Shanks and the surrounding area, call (573) 248-2530.
Another possibility lies across the state to the west. Snow geese often use Smithville Lake. And surrounding farms provide a source of food for Canada geese in the form of waste grain. Don’t wait until the last minute to line up a place to hunt. Asking permission early may be productive.
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