5 Big-Time Picks For January Ducks And Geese

5 Big-Time Picks For January Ducks And Geese

The season for waterfowl is still going strong on select fish and wildlife areas. Here are five of the very best to try right now! (January 2006)

Photo by Kenny Bahr

During December, Indiana waterfowl hunters should consider heading for the South and the Ohio River zones to experience some of our state's finest hunting. At this time of the year, the other two zones -- namely the North and Saint James Bay Population zones -- are winding down and will be closed before you know it.

Typically, the North Zone closes during the third week of December, and by comparison, the South and Ohio River zones are open into the second and third weeks of January, respectively. (Please be sure to check all season dates, as they could change.)

The Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) makes available thousands of copies of the rules and season dates. They are available at many outdoor sports stores, at all fish and wildlife areas, and on the DFW's Web site at

www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/.

Fortunately, there are several major picks on public land for waterfowlers to take advantage of in the South and Ohio River zones. So don't put away those waders and duck calls just yet!

As you might guess, the starting dates for the primary waterfowl-hunting season in the South and Ohio River zones are scheduled later in the year than the North Zone. The reason for this is to time the season dates with the migration patterns of the waterfowl as they move through Indiana (from north to south).

As mentioned, the waterfowl-hunting season in the South and Ohio River zones typically closes in mid-January. This gives those waterfowlers in Indiana, who want to keep on hunting, the opportunity to do so.

From a geographical perspective, the South Zone encompasses the area from the North Zone's southern border almost all the way to the south end of the state. The South Zone takes up about two-thirds of the state and it is twice as big as the North Zone. It is by far the biggest of all the four zones.

The Ohio River Zone is made up of the Indiana counties whose southern borders are defined by the mighty Ohio River. In some cases, parts of these counties have their northern section in the South Zone and their southern section in the Ohio River Zone.

Let's now take a look at five public-land waterfowl hotspots that are still going strong in December and January.

HOVEY LAKE FISH AND WILDLIFE AREA

Hovey Lake Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA) is about 7,000 acres in size, and includes its namesake: Hovey Lake, a 1,400-acre oxbow lake. This FWA waterfowl magnet is in the southwest corner of Indiana in Posey County. It is in the Ohio River Zone.

Mark Pochon is the property manager at Hovey Lake. Here is what he had to say about ducks and geese on this property.

"If you look at where we're at, we're in the traditional flyway at the confluence of the Wabash and Ohio rivers," Pochon said. In fact, Hovey Lake's southern end nearly touches the Ohio River.

To give you some geographical viewpoint of where Hovey Lake FWA is situated, a person could stand on Indiana soil on this large FWA and look across the Wabash River into Illinois and across the Ohio River into Kentucky.

Moreover, swamps and lowlands that waterfowl are attracted to characterize the southwest tip of Indiana, which includes Hovey Lake FWA. If you take a look at a topographic map of this area, you'll soon realize it's the kind of place that makes a waterfowl hunter get excited. You can go to the Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) Web site for a map of Hovey Lake.

Hovey Lake has adopted a new program for the 2005-2006 waterfowl-hunting season. Instead of choosing blinds, hunters will now pick a zone on the lake to hunt.

"This will solve a lot of problems for us that we've had in the past with high water (negatively) affecting our floating blinds," Pochon said. In years past, flooding would "drag up the cables" and wreak havoc on the placement of the blinds, Pochon noted.

Starting this year, the floating blinds are gone, and those wishing to hunt on Hovey Lake FWA must bring their own watercraft to hunt from. However, Pochon did say there are alternatives to hunting (afloat) on the lake.

"We have field hunting and a few blinds in the controlled lake. There is also hunting from the bank," he said. The field hunting sounds especially good, because of the tenant farming that is conducted on about 30 percent of the FWA's property.

"We have about 2,500 acres in soybeans or corn," Pochon said. A lot of this acreage is used for field hunting. Field hunting for waterfowl has gained a lot of popularity in recent years because of the advancements made in blind technology and decoys.

There are also some satellite blinds at Wabash Lowlands, which is located right on the Wabash River. Pochon said there is a big field at this location that is used for waterfowl hunting as well.

As always, waterfowl hunting on the lake is a good bet at Hovey Lake FWA. Pochon feels that by zoning Hovey Lake off into sections, hunters could be more resourceful -- and successful -- in terms of their hunting efforts.

"This will be a higher quality hunting experience because hunters will have more latitude to move around. The hunting experience won't be dictated by luck alone," Pochon said.

This is true because in the relatively large zones that will be used, hunters won't be locked into staying in one place. Waterfowlers "can play the wind" and group decoys together to bag more birds, according to Pochon.

The main species of ducks at Hovey Lake is the mallard, and the property is also a migratory stopover for Canada geese. Additionally, Pochon notes there are wood ducks on the property. Hovey Lake FWA has about 30 sites to hunt at each day. Please call (812) 838-2927 for draw and scheduling information on waterfowl hunting at Hovey Lake.

PATOKA RIVER NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

As its name implies, the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is located to the north of Oakland City, in Pike and Gibson counties. The Patoka NWR is formed along the Patoka River, and as the crow flies, it is about 20 miles in length from east to west.

Patoka NWR's western edge i

s about 16 miles from the Wabash River, and it is in the South Zone. Not insignificantly, it is in the north-south flyway of the Wabash River Basin, and it is strategically located to provide essential resting, feeding and nesting habitat for migratory waterfowl.

Bill McCoy is the refuge manager and he notes that in terms of blinds, it is a bring-your-own affair. "We do not have blinds; it's strictly walk in, or boat in. There aren't any blinds and there is no permitting system in place," he said.

McCoy said that in a typical year the opportunity for good waterfowl hunting is dependent on how well the river floods.

"We're a river-bottom refuge. The lower Patoka River flows within the refuge. The lower west end of it, in the area called Oatsville Bottoms, will typically flood three miles wide. If we have floodwaters, it will present a lot of opportunity. It floods every year, but it depends on when it starts flooding," McCoy said.

McCoy emphasizes the importance of the river flooding, and additionally he said that if cold weather freezes the flooded areas, it can, "severely" impede waterfowl hunting.

There are about 30 miles of river in the 20-mile refuge. There are 22,000 acres along the river, which are acquisition acres. "We only own 5,300 acres; it's a patchwork," McCoy said.

McCoy notes that it would be wise for prospective hunters to get a map of the refuge from the refuge office. McCoy said that waterfowl hunters can call the office and they will send a map to you. To obtain a map, call (812) 749-3199. Because the refuge is so expansive, McCoy also recommends that persons visiting the area get a county road map.

Last season at Patoka River NWR wasn't too good. McCoy said that he counts waterfowl at the Gibson Power Plant, which is immediately west of the refuge. It is located on the Wabash River. There is a 3,000-acre cooling lake there and McCoy said that in good years he has counted as many as 40,000 ducks.

"Last year, the highest count we got was 7,000. They use that cooling plant as a refuge, and then go out and feed in the Patoka Bottom Refuge," he said. In the good years, these ducks will head for the refuge in larger numbers.

Hunters utilizing the refuge are advised to call for the latest flooding conditions, to see what flood stage the river is in for safety reasons as well.

The Patoka River NWR is certainly worth looking into for those who would like another public-land waterfowl hunting prospect.

BLUE GRASS FWA

Blue Grass FWA opened up in 2000, and it has become very popular. The property is named after Blue Grass Creek. Consisting of 28 pits and lakes, this 2,532-acre public-land property has some good potential for waterfowl. Blue Grass is located in Warrick County very near Evansville.

Nate Levitte is the property manager at Blue Grass, and he said that Blue Grass uses a waterfowl-resting area to improve hunting.

"Close to 50 percent of the property is closed to waterfowl hunting in an attempt to try and hold some birds. The whole of the property south of Boonville-New Harmony Road, north of Kansas Road, east of Klipped Road and west of 1100 West is closed," Levitte said.

There are no permanent blinds at Blue Grass. Levitte said waterfowl hunters would have two choices in terms of blinds, "bring your own boat, or build your own blind."

There are no draw hunts at Blue Grass FWA. "It is a first-come, first- served system; waterfowl hunting is only allowed on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, essentially every other day. We have small-game hunting on the alternate days," Levitte said. This system is used to let the birds rest because Blue Grass gets a lot of hunting pressure, especially since it is so close to Evansville.

Because of the type of lakes and ponds at Bluegrass, waterfowl hunters should be cautious on account of the sudden dropoffs that can be present at the water's edge. Levitte said it is highly recommended to use a boat to set one's decoys. "If a hunter stepped out there to throw out a decoy, he might have to swim back in," Levitte said. "Not all the pits are that way, but hunters must be cautious," he added.

A variety of ducks are taken at Bluegrass each year. "It's a real mixed bag, but probably mostly mallards. When the flights are in, it's a real mixed bag, and when the flights are in, it's a pretty good place to hunt," Levitte reiterated.

For more information on Bluegrass FWA, call (812) 789-2724.

WILBUR WRIGHT FWA

Located along the Blue River, and immediately north of New Castle in Henry County, Wilbur Wright probably won't make the "who's who" of duck-hunting places to go, but it does offer it. Since it is in the South Zone, it will be open to hunting into January.

As FWAs go, Wilbur Wright is comparatively small at 1,200 acres. However, in terms of waterfowl-hunting prospects, about one-third of the property is in the floodplain of the Blue River. When this FWA floods, the resulting pools and backwaters can be duck and geese magnets.

Ken Hanauer, the property manager at Wilbur Wright, said there are no permanent blinds at the FWA. "We're a walk-in facility for waterfowl hunting."

Additionally, there is no draw system in place. For those who would like to try a less pressured FWA, Wilbur Wright is just the ticket. This smaller FWA, on the east side of the state might offer some decent shooting, especially if freeze-up has occurred in the northern part of the state.

Besides hunting on the Blue River from watercraft or temporary blinds, Hanauer said there are a couple of other options. "Province Pond is 60 acres, and it can hold ducks, especially wood ducks.

"We have a lot of wood ducks on the property, but a lot of these get taken in the early part of the season, but there are usually still wood ducks around later in the season," Hanauer said.

Wilbur Wright also manages a wildlife management area in Randolph County, and Hanauer notes this property has some prospects for waterfowl hunting as well.

"There's a mile of riverfront on the Mississinewa River that has some possibilities," Hanauer noted. Hanauer said this wildlife management area is lesser developed than his FWA, but still has potential.

For more information on Wilbur Wright, call (765) 529-9581.

GLENDALE FWA

Rounding out our choices that are in the historical north-south flyway of the Wabash River Basin is Glendale FWA. Glendale is a large public-land property that encompasses over 8,000 acres. It is in Daviess County.

Glendale probably won't come on anyone's radar as a premier waterfowl-hunting location, but it doe

s offer good waterfowl hunting.

"We try to get them to come in, and we try to make it attractive for Waterfowlers," said Rob Sullender, who is the property manager at Glendale.

Glendale has a section of its property on the East Fork of the White River called Himsel Bottoms Marsh that is open to waterfowl hunting (it is designated as N-3 on this FWA's property map). Himsel Bottoms Marsh is hunted on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only.

Sullender mentioned that the biggest problem they have is freeze-up. "If we freeze up, we won't get many ducks," Sullender said.

There is waterfowl hunting on Dogwood Lake, which is a 1,400-acre water. "We have blinds on the west and east side of the lake," said assistant property manager Scott McCormick.

Glendale has about 40 blinds on its property. For more information, call (812) 644-7711.

Waterfowl hunters are respectfully reminded that they must register with the National Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP) before they hunt coots, doves, ducks, mergansers, gallinules, geese, snipe, sora rails or woodcocks. You can register by calling 1-800-WETLAND or go online at www.wildlife.IN.gov. The process is pretty painless and it will help natural resources managers better manage waterfowl. Only non-toxic shot can be used for waterfowl hunting in Indiana.

Before you go, it is always a good idea to call the property office of the FWA or other facility where you're planning to hunt. Getting a heads up on draws, hunting days and times can better prepare you for a successful waterfowl-hunting experience. As always, good hunting!

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