6 Top Picks In Indiana For Ducks & Geese
October 04, 2010
Here are your best bets for seeking canvasbacks, Canada geese, mallards and more this season in our state. Is one of these great places near you? Read on!
It's a cold, blustery winter day. The sky is cloudy and a mix of snow and freezing drizzle is falling. It's a terrible day to be outdoors, correct? Maybe for most folks, but not if you're a waterfowl hunter!
Bluebird skies may be good for couch potatoes to stare at through a window, but waterfowlers much prefer a little gloomy weather. Hunters who are looking to fill their bag limits with resident and migrant waterfowl relish wintry days that get the birds up and moving. Every waterfowl enthusiast in the Hoosier State wakes with a smile and plenty of anticipation when the perfect nasty day arrives.
No matter where you live in Indiana, there are many places to scatter some pellets skyward in pursuit of ducks and geese. Of course, not all areas of the state fall under the same season dates, regulations and zones.
Indiana is divided into three waterfowl zones. They are the North Zone, the South Zone and the Ohio River Zone. The zones are designed to give waterfowlers maximum hunting opportunity throughout the season.
Because Indiana is a long state running north and south, waterfowl migrate through the state throughout a wider interval. With only one zone statewide, hunters would have limited hunting opportunity in certain parts of the season. With the three-way division, each part of the state is allowed to offer hunting opportunities at peak migration times. Additionally, hunters willing to travel to different areas of the state can enjoy a more lengthened season than those who hunt only close to home.
There are different ways for zones to be determined. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) sets a framework for the season and then states can determine how their zones will fall within that framework. Indiana's zone breakdown actually falls outside of the typical USFWS framework, but it was grandfathered in and therefore gives us the maximum amount of flexibility within each season. Although there have been several attempts to change the Indiana zone system, doing so would cause us to lose the grandfather status and degrade the options we now have, so our system remains unchanged.
Another zone, the Southern James Bay Population (SJBP) Zone is a farther designation within the North Zone. The SJBP Zone applies to goose hunting and is designed to manage the number of migrant geese taken from the Southern James Bay Population of birds. The SJBP Zone includes Lagrange, Steuben, Starke, Elkhart, Jasper and LaPorte counties, and the Jasper-Pulaski FWA.
The Ohio River Zone is made up of counties or portions of counties that lie along the Ohio River. It includes that portion of the state south of a line extending east from the Illinois border along Interstate 64 to New Albany. Look in the latest regulations booklet for complete zone boundaries. The South Zone is basically the area of the state that is north of the Ohio River Zone and south of the North Zone. It is a large area and includes almost the entire southern two-thirds of the state.
Regardless of the zone being hunted, there are plenty of public access opportunities across the entire state. Here's a look at a half-dozen spots to try this year!
WILLOW SLOUGH FWA
Hunters had a pretty good season last year at the Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area (FWA). There were approximately 3,000 ducks and 1,000 geese harvested. Considering the restoration that has been done at the property, it's very encouraging to see harvest numbers increasing.
The 1,100-acre J.C. Murphy Lake was drained and renovated about five years ago. The lake is very shallow and offers much for passing waterfowl. During the renovation, much of the excellent vegetation had the opportunity for new growth. Some of this growth included smartweed, rushes, willows and cattails.
Additionally, there are several areas on the property that are normally planted in row crops, such as corn or sorghum. When there is adequate rainfall and subsequently sufficient water level in the lake, these areas are flooded in the fall, which is extremely attractive to waterfowl. These two areas, the Rookery and Salisbury, are very popular with duck hunters.
Most of the ducks visiting the area consist of teal and mallards. There are several types of ducks that visit the area, including a few ringnecks and scaup. Most of the geese taken at the area are resident birds, but some Mississippi Valley Population (MVP) birds and even a few SJBP geese are taken, too.
There are a few permanent blinds, as well as some floating blinds, on the property. Other hunting areas are marked with stakes and hunters are allowed to bring their own boats. Hunting blinds and stake locations can vary from year to year depending on water level and emergent vegetation.
Willow Slough has a drawing at 4:30 a.m. each day to select hunters and locations. During times when afternoon hunting is allowed, a second drawing will be held at midday. Other regulations apply.
For more information on hunting at Willow Slough, call (219) 285-2704.
If this season is anything like last year, waterfowl hunters may want to set their sights on Kankakee FWA. Last year, waterfowlers produced the third best harvest ever recorded there. A total harvest of 4,738 birds was taken at Kankakee, although the bulk of that number consisted of ducks. Waterfowlers took only 272 geese.
Still, if you like duck hunting, there is much to be said for Kankakee. Hunters took a mixed bag of ducks, with puddle ducks making up the majority of the harvest early in the season. Several species of diving ducks also made their way to the FWA as the season progressed.
The property contains 4,095 acres with plenty of water sources available in the form of open water, marshes, rivers and ditches. Additionally, crop fields are also flooded to provide better habitat for waterfowl and additional hunting opportunity.
These crop fields provide many food source opportunities for waterfowl. Other native food sources are also plentiful.
Kankakee FWA has reservation hunting, as well as daily drawings. The drawings are held each day at 4:30 a.m. Applicants must be in groups of two or three to participate in the drawings.
There are usually about 20 blinds available at the beginning of the season. These are located in a marsh area. Later in the season, up to 20 more hunting locations are available in flooded row crop fields.
Hunters must possess a daily hunt permit card to enter the area. Shooting stops at noon all year until the final four days of the season when hunters may hunt all day. Other regulations apply, so be sure to learn the rules before hunting.
More information on Kankakee FWA is available by calling (574) 896-3522.
GOOSE POND FWA
Although still a work in progress, the Goose Pond restoration is already paying dividends for waterfowl hunters. The area has always held a strong attraction for passing ducks and geese, but with the work being done there, it is expected to be off the charts in the near future.
Goose Pond FWA is in Greene County, about two miles south of Linton. It is an 8,000-acre property with much of it being set aside for permanent wetlands protection. The area was once a mecca for waterfowl and one of the greatest waterfowl use areas in the state. When finished, the property is expected to be one of the better waterfowling locations around.
Once the work is finished at Goose Pond, it will basically be one big marsh and open wetland area. There will be a main body of water and also up to 2,500 acres of moist soil units. Extensive management will make this spot a place ducks and geese can't resist.
The area already receives great usage by both ducks and geese. Early in the year, the area attracts both green-winged and blue-winged teal, as well as plenty of wood ducks. Later on, there's usually a huge influx of mallards, as well as numerous other species of ducks, including black ducks, gadwalls, pintails, American widgeon and ringnecks.
There is also an increasing population of resident geese in the area. It is expected that the number of migrant geese using Goose Pond will also be increasing over the next several years.
The Goose Pond FWA project is still a while from being completed, but waterfowl enthusiasts can already reap the benefits of hunting there. Hunting regulations can be a bit complex and are subject to change as the restoration continues. Always check for updated regulations well in advance of your intended hunt date.
HOVEY LAKE FWA
Hunters enjoyed much better success at Hovey Lake FWA last year than in the previous few years. The harvest figures were very good for ducks, but the geese were not a significant factor in the harvest. Only 41 geese were taken last season at Hovey. Impressively, though, some 2,921 ducks were bagged.
The Hovey Lake property amounts to about 6,963 acres. Within the property boundaries are a 1,400-acre oxbow lake and numerous marshes adding another 300 to 400 acres of wetlands. The marsh areas range in size from about 30 acres up to 150 acres.
Much of the wetlands area dries out during the summer months and is planted in food plots, as well as left alone to allow growth of natural vegetation, such as smartweed and ild millet. Much of this area is flooded in the fall, thereby becoming very good for attracting and holding large numbers of ducks.
One of the best things about Hovey Lake FWA is its location. Its proximity to the Ohio River makes it a natural stopping place for waterfowl following the river corridor. Additionally, across the river in Kentucky is the Sloughs Wildlife Management Area, which is a sprawling 10,600-acre waterfowl hotspot in the Bluegrass State. It is extensively managed for both ducks and geese and a portion is set aside as a waterfowl refuge with no hunting being allowed.
These two wildlife areas are separated by the river and both receive a tremendous amount of attention from resident and migrant waterfowl. These ducks and geese typically move freely from one state to the other, as well as up and down the river system and floodwaters.
Hunting is controlled by daily drawings and other freelance opportunities. Much of the property is not conducive to boats, so most people just wade or walk in for hunting.
More information on hunting at Hovey Lake FWA is available by calling (812) 838-2927.
It's really not known as best for waterfowl hunting, but there are still some good opportunities to bag some birds, especially ducks, at the Jasper-Pulaski FWA. The property totals around 8,062 acres and has a good mix of wetlands and other habitat.
There are a couple of lakes on the property, as well as Ryan Ditch. Marsh areas also exist.
Most of the ducks seen at the FWA are mallards, but there are also a good many wood ducks visiting the property early in the season. Last year, hunters took a total of 469 ducks and 25 geese, which is about an average harvest for the FWA. Mallards accounted for the biggest part of the harvest with 142 birds taken. Wood ducks and green-winged teal were not far behind with harvest figures at 127 birds and 102 birds, respectively.
Property manager Jim Bergens said there is no specific management on the property for waterfowl. The wetlands areas and natural cover and vegetation are the primary attractants for passing birds.
The FWA is open every day for hunting and there are no reservation hunts. All hunts are by drawing. With the property situated right along the time zone line, drawings are held daily at 4:30 a.m., Central Time.
There are four blinds available on the property and are located in the marsh areas. There are a total of about 20 to 25 other hunting locations available depending on water levels and conditions. The spots other than the aforementioned blinds are generally by hunters' choice. Shooting hours are typically on a schedule and depend on water levels and time of year.
For more information on waterfowl hunting at the Jasper-Pulaski FWA, contact Jim Bergens or other personnel at (219) 843-4841.
Geese especially like the river and surrounding area. There are a good number of resident geese that use the river regularly. Additionally, migrants from both the MVP and SJBP goose populations utilize the river while on their annual southerly journey.
These geese may be found anywhere along the river, but scouting is of the utmost importance. The birds often get in travel, feeding and roosting patterns that may last for a few days and then change depending on food sources, hunting pressure and other factors. The birds will often roost on the river, and then fly out to area crop fields to feed during the day, and then return to the river in the evening hours. Learning these flight paths allows hunters to position themselves to intercept traveling birds.
Not only is the river itself good, but flooded areas found on private and public lands nearby also offer excellent hunting opportunities. The river and any floodwaters are open for hunting by boat. However, hunters may not leave the boat and venture onto private land without obtaining landowner permission.
lthough the river offers excellent shooting, it is not without danger. The river during wintertime can be extremely hazardous. Hunters should always let someone know where they will be hunting, including an expected return time so help can be sent if needed. Staying warm and dry is very important to guard against frostbite, hypothermia or worse. Never venture onto the river in treacherous conditions or without personal flotation
devices, sturdy watercraft and a way to summons help.
Regulations vary from one area to another and are also subject to change. Know the area's regulations before hunting and always pay attention to closed hunting areas, waterfowl refuges or resting areas and other important signage. Consult the DNR's Web site, the annual hunting guide or the public hunting areas directly to learn about the latest regulations and opportunities.'‚'‚'‚