Kentucky's Thanksgiving Day Ducks & Geese

Our waterfowl seasons for widgeons, mallards, geese and more start just around the time when most folks are bellying-up to a plate full of turkey. (November 2009)

It's almost that annual bird day again. That means Thanksgiving Day, and for most folks, it conjures up thoughts of pilgrims in funny hats, a house full of family and friends, and a luxurious feast of carved turkey with all the trimmings. However, for many others across Kentucky it puts images of other birds in mind, for Thanksgiving Day is the annual opening day of the state's regular duck season. Soon thereafter is the opening of goose season. Can't you feel the excitement?

The harvest results from last season are still being tallied, but early indications are that there was a lot of variation across the state. Some hunters had an excellent year, while others felt somewhat stymied by conditions and bird movement. The drought earlier in the year played a large part in hunters' success.

Many areas where good waterfowl hunting normally occurs had water levels that were much lower than usual. In some cases, this concentrated birds in available water sources and led to great shooting for area hunters. In other areas, the birds simply were not present in good numbers, so hunters there generally fared poorly.

Early indications this year were that the resident goose population might be down some. If we get a good push of migrants, that might not be an issue. However, since resident birds make up a good percentage of our annual harvest, hunting success could be down some this fall. Duck numbers continue to be good, so if we have good water levels and a kiss from Mother Nature, this season should yield some good days for waterfowlers.

Although there are plenty of places across the state for waterfowling, it's hard to know which one will be hot at a particular time. To help out, though, here's a look at three spots to consider this season for ducks and geese.

DOUG TRAVIS WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA

Over in the western end of the state is a gem of a property called the Doug Travis Wildlife Management Areas (WMA). There are over 4,000 acres here. Add the natural attraction of the Mississippi River corridor and surrounding wetlands, plus the extensive management to attract and hold migrating waterfowl -- and you have a real polished stone of a place to consider. Hunters can usually expect to find good numbers of both ducks and geese at Doug Travis WMA.

Tim Kreher is a public lands biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). He says a wide mix of waterfowl visits the property. Mallards and woodies make up the majority of the duck species, but there is also a good mix of other kinds of ducks, including pintails, gadwalls, shovelers, widgeons and teal. Diving ducks also show up at times, but the property is not well suited for hunting these birds. Geese are also there in good numbers. Canada geese are generally harvested the most, but snows and white-fronted geese are also prevalent.

The WMA does not require harvest reporting, so they don't track the exact numbers of birds taken there each year. Kreher said the estimated harvest is between 1,000 and 2,000 birds annually. Harvest is dramatically affected by the river level and can be as much as four or five times greater in a good year over a poor year.

The best hunting occurs when the river is up. Kreher said hunters should watch the river level as recorded by the gauge at Cairo, Illinois. When the river reaches 38 feet and higher, he said there is "some pretty high-quality freelance hunting."

Kreher said there are approximately 500 acres of the property that is tenant-farmed. They flood a significant amount of this property, which is left either in standing row crops or as harvested fields. Area workers can also flood moist soil areas and portions set aside as waterfowl rest areas. In total, Kreher said they have the ability to manage water on approximately 400 acres.

Two separate waterfowl resting areas hold a good number of birds. The two areas are divided on the property and birds often fly between the two areas, which then exposes them to hunters. Kreher stressed the need for hunters to understand that even when the river backs up, the rest areas still remain rest areas and are off-limits to hunting. These areas are marked with signs and buoys.

Much of the property is open under statewide regulations. About 10 blind sites are made available through a pre-season drawing. These sites are allotted to the drawn hunters for the entire season, but on days when the blind owner does not show, the blinds are available to others on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information on hunting here, stop by in person or contact the WMA at (270) 488-3233.

DALE HOLLOW LAKE

Dale Hollow Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake in south-central Kentucky, is a bit of sleeper for ducks. At least that's the opinion of state waterfowl biologist Rocky Pritchert who said he always sees good numbers of birds when he does flyovers, and very few hunters. "I hardly ever see many hunters there," said Pritchert. "Maybe they've all limited out and gone home by the time I get there," he chuckled.

Dale Hollow Lake attracts a few geese here and there, but most of the hunting will be for ducks. Hunters will find good numbers of mallards and black ducks, along with other puddle ducks mixed in. Diving ducks such as scaup, ringnecks and buffleheads also frequent the lake.

Hunting on the lake can be a bit daunting because of its size. However, it's the size that makes it such a good choice because there is ample room to find a spot and get away from the crowds at other waters. By getting back in the coves and pockets, or hunting near one of the many islands, waterfowlers can usually have some excellent fun and see plenty of wingshooting action.

Numerous flats around the islands attract puddle ducks, and divers might be found anywhere. In the coves, there are also numerous shallow-water areas that attract dabblers, too. Look for any remaining emergent vegetation left from the summer growing period and mark it as a potential hotspot.

Dale Hollow Lake is mostly located in Tennessee with a portion of the lake spilling over into Cumberland and Clinton counties in Kentucky. There is plenty of area within the Kentucky boundaries for hunting, but Pritchert recommends that hunters get licensed for both states. There is a reciprocal agreement between Kentucky and Tennessee for fishing at Dale Hollow, but no such agreement exists for hunting. It's much better to be licensed for both states than to inadvertently cross the boundary and incur a violation.

To find out more about hunting the Kentucky portion of

Dale Hollow Lake, contact the WMA at (270) 465-5039. For information on Tennessee licensing or regulations, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency may be reached at (615) 781-6500 or found online at www.state.tn.us/twra. The Corps may be reached at (931) 243-3136.

SOUTH SHORE WMA

Our last property to look at is much tougher to get into, but well worth knowing about because of its great location and potential. The South Shore WMA is small at only 98 acres, but it typically attracts a good number of waterfowl through the hunting season. Located in Greenup County on the Ohio River, the property consists of great bottomland wetlands and habitat.

According to Richard Mauro, the public lands biologist for the Northeastern Region, there are two wetlands positioned side by side on the property. When full they provide about 18 acres of water. There are three blinds located on the wetlands.

Hunters must be drawn to hunt at South Shore between the dates of Nov. 15 and Jan. 15 each season. However, the application and drawing period is later than for some of our other quota hunts and is usually timed for late October or early November. When a group is drawn to hunt, they have the entire WMA to themselves for the day. Information on the drawing is available in the annual waterfowl guide or on the KDFWR's Web site.

Mauro said there are a lot of wood ducks early, but they give way to about equal numbers of mallards and black ducks later on. A mixture of widgeons, gadwalls, pintails and others will trickle through during the season. Most of the geese seen at the WMA are resident birds pushed down from Ohio. Last year, the goose hunting was not so hot, but hunters fared much better the year before, according to Mauro.

Mauro said there is some very good waterfowl hunting here when conditions are right. However, the wetlands can freeze up very easily and make hunting tough. In dry years, the wetlands may be only partially full, which can also decrease success. Hunters really need to monitor conditions and come prepared for different hunting scenarios.

More information on hunting at South Shore WMA is available by calling Mauro at (606) 474-8535.

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