3 September Season Picks For Ducks & Geese

3 September Season Picks For Ducks & Geese

Whether you're after teal, wood ducks or Canada geese, here are three places that offer shots at one, two or all three of these waterfowl species right now. (September 2007)

Photo by R.E. Ilg.

Fall hunting seasons are in full swing, and waterfowlers are soon to have their turn. Among the seasons for squirrels, doves, and deer, waterfowl hunters will shortly get their first opportunity to bag ducks and geese. Here in Kentucky, we are fortunate to have opportunities that most other states do not.

Last year, we had a pretty average season. Commonwealth hunters usually do quite well during the early season. Not having to keep track of snow and frozen hunting sites is one of the great things about the September season.

During last year's early season, there were generally good wet conditions. We had a lot of water compared to the same time the previous year. There was good wood duck production, and we were lucky to have a good movement of teal through the state during the season. Hunter comments were generally positive, according to Rocky Pritchert, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFWR) waterfowl biologist.

Wood duck hunting is very popular here in the Bluegrass State, and with good reason. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida are the only states that offer a special early season for wood ducks. Hard work and great conservation efforts have helped us keep the season intact.

Some 20 years ago, these three states took part in an experiment to see if an early season was feasible. Kentucky, along with the other two states, proved the early season had a negligible impact on the waterfowl population, since the harvest was made up primarily of local birds. Kentucky was willing to invest quite a lot of money to substantiate the data. After 20 years of these "experimental" seasons, the early wood duck season was finally made permanent.

Our wood duck population is stable or even slightly increasing, according to trend information from the breeding bird and stream surveys.

There has been no significant change for the last 30 years, and this year should be no different.

The trend for resident geese is also up. Last season, the bird numbers were up, and we've had three years in a row of good reproduction.

It's estimated there are over 40,000 breeding birds in the spring population statewide. This should mean plenty of birds right now!

Teal are a lot more variable, and whether or not we have an early teal season depends on whether the bird population is estimated to be above 3,000,000 birds, If so, then you can shoot teal. If it's below that figure, you can't.

The male teal generally move first. Here in Kentucky, we usually see the first birds move through in late August. These birds are blue-winged teal, and the greatest number of birds through the state usually occurs around mid-September.

The peak of this movement is usually over by late September, but we'll still see birds into October. Green-winged teal move through Kentucky, too, but later in the year than the blue-winged.

Kentuckians have lots of opportunity this month. There are numerous places to target these early ducks and geese, although finding all three species in one location is sometimes difficult. Here are three suggestions for targeting September waterfowl on public land.

KENTUCKY & BARKLEY LAKES

This western hotspot, known as Kentucky and Barkley lakes, has the all the makings of the perfect area. It's large enough to accommodate lots of hunters and lots of waterfowl. It also has all the habitats to attract the birds.

For teal, the trick is to find some of the shallow flats in the backs of bays and tributaries. Teal will often visit most any place on the lakes where there's shallow water. But motoring into these very shallow areas in a boat can sometimes be difficult.

The Blood River area of Kentucky Lake is a good location to find wood ducks. Also, the southern end of Lake Barkley seems to be a little better than the rest. Look for wood ducks in some of the very thickly wooded areas, and also around some of the islands.

A pretty fair contingent of resident geese makes its home around the twin lakes, too. However, getting on them during hunting season can be a bit difficult at times. They move a lot and will move even more once the shooting begins.

Pre-hunt scouting at the twin lakes is important for any of these species. With such a huge expanse of water, ducks and geese can move, feed and roost at will. You can easily waste a lot of time looking for birds in unproductive spots. So the savvy sportsman gets out there early to do his homework. Scout numerous locations, and have back-up plans in case other hunters get to these locations first. Be prepared to move around as the season progresses.

Not all areas of these lakes are open to hunting. Most hunting is done by boat, but limited walk-in hunting is also available. Prior to hunting, you should familiarize yourself with those regulations specific to Kentucky and Barkley lakes.

YATESVILLE LAKE

Over in the eastern part of the state, September waterfowlers may want to look to Yatesville Lake for some great action. This Lawrence County property provides lots of opportunity.

Regional biologist Rick says that a population of resident geese at Yatesville numbering around 80 to 100 birds. These birds are always in the area, but may not be constantly on the lake. Mauro says they may be present at Yatesville one day, and then be over at the Big Sandy the next.

These birds use Yatesville Lake primarily as a resting and roosting site. During the daytime, they will often fly off to feed in the surrounding agricultural areas and then wing back in the evening to roost.

Hunters can target these flight paths and intercept moving birds. Obviously, learning these flight habits by scouting prior to hunting is vitally important to success.

Mauro says there's also a fair number of wood ducks at Yatesville. These birds can be found in the upper portion in shallow embayments and where various creeks feed into the lakes. Wood ducks can even be found up the creeks in the more secluded locations.

Blue-winged teal visit the lake, too, but they are much more sporadic and hard to predict. The upper portion of the lake north of Blaine seems to be the best for teal, but they may be found

anywhere on the lake at certain times. Teal prefer areas of the lake that are not wooded and have very shallow water. The backs of bays are prime areas to target.

Some parts of Yatesville Lake are closed all year to waterfowl hunting. Primarily, this means the area around the state park and the marina, but you should check current regulations for any other closures. More information on hunting at Yatesville Lake may be obtained by phoning Rick Mauro at (606) 686-3312.

OHIO RIVER

The entire northern stretch of Kentucky is bordered by the Ohio River. Waterfowlers across the state have learned that the river can be a tremendous location for targeting ducks and geese. In September, resident geese are especially numerous along the river corridor.

Resident geese might be found anywhere along the river. They especially like to associate with some of the power plant areas, and are often seen flying back and forth across the river from Kentucky and Indiana.

Geese really take to the river, offering hunters a lot of opportunity. But again, scouting is very important. The birds often develop travel patterns to area fields to feed, then returning to the river later in the day. They will sometimes stay on the same pattern for several days unless hunting pressure or other circumstances push them away. Learning these flight patterns is critical for success.

There are a lot of embayments and flooded areas along the Ohio River, many of which may attract September wood ducks and teal. For teal, hunters should again look for areas that are not wooded, but have lots of shallow water. Of course, wood ducks prefer much more heavily wooded and secluded areas.

Near the river, there are a lot of these types of areas that also attract waterfowl. Sometimes these backwater areas are more productive than the river itself. Some WMAs and other public lands are in close by the river, and can be real hotspots at times.

If one of these areas is near you, trying phoning the WMA office and ask about opportunities for early-season waterfowl.

The early season can be a great time for waterfowlers. But not all areas of public land are open during the early season. Some WMAs and lakes also have closed areas and special hunting regulations. Always know all the legalities of the area before going hunting.

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