Buckeye State November Ducks
October 05, 2010
Changes are likely this waterfowling season because of poor spring weather conditions in the prairie pothole region, but Ohio duck hunters can expect good shooting on public marshes this month.
It may be old news now, but at press time the word was that a lack of snowmelt and rainfall in the prairie pothole regions to our north and west would likely result in a shortened waterfowl hunting season in Ohio this fall.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the stunted season may result in better duck hunting overall, according to Steve Barry, wetland project leader for the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) at the Crane Creek Research Station on Lake Erie.
"The prairies in Canada and the central United States are dry right now," Barry said earlier this summer. "Our duck hunting regulations are set based on the midcontinent mallard population, so there's a high likelihood we will have a shortened duck season this fall.
"We could go from a 60-day season (which we have enjoyed in recent years) to either a 45- or a 30-day season," Barry noted. "Under a 45-day season, there would be no change in bag limits. With the 30-day season, the bag would probably drop to three ducks per day."
Barry noted that even though Ohio's duck hunting seasons are based on mallard populations to our west and north, the majority of our ducks come from the Great Lakes nesting states like Michigan and Minnesota and Canadian provinces like southern Ontario and Quebec.
In those areas, he said, the water table has been more conducive to duck-rearing this year and more stable - and productive for mallards especially - from year to year.
"So, even though we may see a shorter season this year, there's a good likelihood that we'll see little change in duck numbers migrating through Ohio during the season," he explained. "When we have a shorter season in Ohio, we often have better hunting because the ducks tend to be less pressured in other states and here. The birds don't become as wary as quickly when the season is shorter, and Ohio hunters can benefit from that."
Pintails are among the many species of ducks available to Ohio hunters on public lands statewide this month. Photo by Dan Armitage
Barry, who is an avid duck hunter as well as duck biologist, added that if the season is cut by 15 days, the benefit from a drop in hunting pressure will not be as pronounced as it will be if we are saddled with a season only half as long as we've had in the recent past.
"Under a 45-day season, ducks are still going to be as spooky as they have been during the last couple of years," the biologist said.
Spooky or not, the birds will be found at traditional hotspots across the state. Some of the best places in which to locate ducks this month, from north to south, include the following:
NORTHWESTERN OHIO "The western Lake Erie marsh region is one of the best places to go duck hunting in the nation," said biologist Barry. "It's the largest area of wetland habitat we have left in the state and holds the largest concentrations of ducks that are staging before they migrate south over Ohio each winter.
"In fact," the biologist added, "until the Lake Erie marsh region freezes over and forces ducks to fly south to find open water, the rest of the state doesn't see very many migrant ducks."
Barry said that a good place to find those staging ducks each fall is on and around massive Maumee Bay. He recommends that waterfowl hunters try the Mallard Club Marsh Wildlife Area, about five miles east of Toledo near Maumee Bay State Park. Featuring 400 bayside acres, the marsh is at the intersection of Cedar Point and Decant in northeast Oregon near Maumee Bay State Park.
Barry said that chest waders are adequate for hunting most of the Mallard Club's shallow marshlands and that layout shooting from a boat can be fantastic on the bay, especially for late-season bluebills and other divers.
Farther east, Barry recommended the main waters of Lake Erie, including Metzger Marsh Wildlife Area, which is 10 miles east of Toledo and a mile east of Bono off Bono Road north of state Route 2. With 30 acres of land plus 500 more acres of water, this is one of the most popular destinations for waterfowl - and the hunters who seek them - in the state.
Barry said that a boat is all but required to access most of Metzger's best waterfowl honeyholes. There is a 10-horsepower limit on outboards used by waterfowlers accessing Metzger's waters, added Barry, despite the "U" (unlimited horsepower) notation found in a recent Ohio Public Hunting & Fishing Areas brochure.
Inland areas of northwest Ohio should offer decent duck hunting opportunities this month. Barry recommends Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, two miles southwest of Harpster in southern Wyandot and northern Marion counties. With nearly half of the more than 8,600 acres of land and water at Killdeer set aside as a waterfowl refuge, Killdeer Plains attracts ducks and geese from all over the region.
"It's one of the largest wildlife areas in the state, with several wetlands that are open to walk-in hunting," Barry said. "There are controlled hunts on the refuge and within the Abraham Marsh area that can be quite productive."
The state's waterfowl expert said that Killdeer Plains attracts mostly mallards, wood ducks and green-winged teal, with some pintail and gadwalls and plenty of Canada geese.
For maps of the wildlife areas on Lake Erie and inland northwestern Ohio, including Killdeer Plains, call the ODOW's District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
NORTHEASTERN OHIO In northeastern Ohio, inland reservoirs offer the best duck hunting. One of the most productive of these is the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area.
Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area is in southern Wayne and northern Holmes counties and covers some 5,400 acres, most of it marshland. The public hunting area follows Killbuck Creek from Wooster down into Holmes County in what is known locally as Killbuck Bottoms, and includes several manmade wetlands that will offer controlled hunts this season. The 1,000-acre wildlife refuge south of Force Road along the Wayne-Holmes county line is closed to waterfowl hunting but is one of the reasons the area is so attractive to waterfowl each season. The balance of the wildlife area is open to hunting and features some of the most productive wetlands for ducks in eastern Ohio.
"There are a lot of
wetlands surrounded by hardwood trees," said Damon Greer, a wildlife technician at Killbuck, who explained that early season wood duck hunting can be excellent at the marsh.
According to Greer, a boat could be a productive tool when hunting Killbuck's waterfowl. The diked areas have been dredged, leaving deep-water areas that have to be crossed to get to the more remote - and often duck-filled - regions of Killbuck.
Waterfowl hunters can launch a boat at both of the bridges crossing Killbuck Creek north of Force Road. There is also access for small boats south of the refuge and along state Route 226, where hunters with boats can access some of the manmade tanks that have been flooded for waterfowl.
Access is adequate to get to most of Killbuck's waterfowl hunting hotspots, and there are more than 20 public parking lots within walking distance of Killbuck Creek on the north end of the wildlife area. West of state Route 83 on County Line Road, two parking areas provide access to the southern section of the public marsh, and two more parking areas are within a mile and a half south of the county line on state Route 83.
Special waterfowl hunting restrictions have been implemented in some areas at Killbuck Marsh. Call the Killbuck Marsh headquarters at (330) 567-3390 or the District Three ODOW office for details on the controlled hunting areas and for maps of the wildlife area.
During and after periods of high precipitation, a good place to find ducks is west of Killbuck at Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area, which offers 2,000 acres of prime waterfowl habitat off state Route 95 between Funk and Wooster. Hunters may park on the south side of state Route 95. Get there early because the word is out on this spot. When the water and the ducks that follow are "in" at Funk Bottoms, hunters won't be far behind. Most will set up in the area of Funk Bottoms just above Mohican Dry Dam.
A map of Funk Bottoms Wildlife Area showing the best wetlands for waterfowl hunting and where to park is available from the ODOW District Three office in Akron (330-644-2293). For more up-to-date waterfowl hunting advice, as well as a free map, stop by the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area headquarters, on the north side of County Line Road east of Shreve Eastern Road.
Tucked into Trumbull County 40 miles southeast of Cleveland, the Grand River Wildlife Area offers 7,000 acres of public hunting north of the intersection of state routes 534 and 88 about midway between Akron and Cleveland. Composed primarily of beaver marshes and manmade wetlands and cut with creeks and small streams, Grand River is a magnet to both ducks and hunters from both cities, especially on weekends and early in the season. Later in the month, the area's duck population consists of migrating mallards, black ducks and scaup.
Hunters with boats do well while drifting and jump-shooting along the main stem of the Grand River and put in at the state Route 88 bridge to drift north through the wildlife area.
The Dillon ponds, a series of eight manmade wetlands in the area's northeastern corner, are worth investigating at Grand River. The ponds can be accessed from a parking area on township Road 304, which is shown on the eastern portion of the area map. There is a controlled, lottery-style waterfowl hunt conducted at the Dillon ponds on the north end of the wildlife area.
Grand River's most popular waterfowl hunting areas are at the north end, above state Route 88, but the southern section offers wetlands and branches off the Grand River that hold ducks, too, and are not nearly as busy with hunters.
Grand River Wildlife Area is cut by state Route 88 from east to west and by township Road 213 from south to north. Six public parking lots are available along these two routes, and there are several parking areas near good wetlands along county roads 217 and 233 on the area's south side.
Duck hunting in the upper reaches of the Ohio River in northeastern Ohio includes a mixed bag dominated by divers, but there are plenty of puddle ducks when conditions are right. Look for diving ducks in the main-river channel. The mallards, blacks and other puddle ducks will be tucked along the shore and in the embayments along the Ohio River.
The islands off Jefferson and Columbiana counties are popular destinations for river hunters seeking diving ducks. Hunters launch at public ramps in Steubenville and the New Cumberland Lock & Dam access areas, or at the Indian Short Creek off state Route 7 in Rayland in Jefferson County.
Buckeye State hunters are advised that most of the islands in that part of the Ohio River are owned by the state of West Virginia, and therefore hunters must be licensed by that state and follow its hunting regulations, but the Ohio shoreline offers enough action on puddle ducks and Canada geese to keep most hunters happy.
Because so much of the Ohio River shoreline is privately owned, a boat is a huge asset for waterfowl hunters.
SOUTHWESTERN OHIO "Most of the productive wildlife areas the Division manages in southwestern Ohio are associated with state park lands," said biologist Barry, "and therefore are run as lottery-style hunts."
Even public hunting areas such at the St. Marys Fish Hatchery and Clark Lake Wildlife Area are controlled by lottery systems, which limits walk-in waterfowl opportunities, Barry said.
"Most of those Army Corps of Engineers lakes also allow waterfowl hunting from boats or portable shore blinds on a walk-in basis," he added, referring to impoundments such as East Fork, Caesar Creek and Paint Creek reservoirs.
However, Barry said that some of the best public duck hunting in the southwest region of Ohio is on the rivers.
"The Great Miami River can be an excellent float in that part of the state at this time of year," Barry said.
Waterfowl hunters with small craft can access the Great Miami at any of several public ramps in riverfront towns upstream of Dayton, including Sydney, Piqua, Troy and Tipp City. However, local ordinances regarding discharging of a firearm within city limits confines hunting to waters well downstream or upstream of these areas.
On the Great Miami River south of Dayton, a popular public launch area for car-toppers is at the state Route 73 bridge east of Trenton and is owned by the Miami Conservancy District. Hunters must adhere to local laws regarding the discharging of a firearm while floating the waters of the Great Miami - or any other river in Ohio that flows through urban areas.
For more information on access areas and hunters' rights on waters in the region, as well as maps of public hunting areas, contact the ODOW District Five office in Xenia at (937) 372-9261.
SOUTHEASTERN OHIO Some of the best waterfowl hunting opportunities in Ohio's southeastern quadrant are found on moving
water, according to biologist Barry.
"The Scioto River is famous for its late-season duck shooting for hunters who float it," said Barry.
Though they are not officially designated as "public" access areas, waterfowl hunters after Scioto River ducks often launch small craft where state routes 665, 762, 752 and 361 cross the Scioto south of Columbus.
Farther east, the Muskingum River is also a duck destination during winters cold enough to push waterfowl south off Lake Erie and the northeastern impoundments into the hill country of Wildlife District Four. Boat access for waterfowl floaters is available at most of the series of locks and dams that interrupt the Muskingum's flow south of Zanesville to where it enters the Ohio River at Marietta. A map of the Muskingum River Parkway showing all the access areas is available by calling (800) BUCKEYE.
"You can't overlook the AEP Recreation Lands (formerly known as the Ohio Power Lands) when discussing good duck hunting in southeastern Ohio," said Barry.
He was referring to 37,000 acres of AEP property in Noble, Morgan, Guernsey and Muskingum counties between McConnelsville to the west and Caldwell to the east along both sides of state Route 78. The reclaimed mining lands are open for hunting, fishing and camping to holders of a free permit, which can be obtained by calling the AEP offices at (740) 962-1205.
"I've had some great jump-shooting on the beaver ponds and strip pits at Ohio Power over the years," the biologist said. "Many of the remote ponds there see very little pressure from duck hunters over the course of a season."
Farther south and east, the Ohio River offers a mixed bag of ducks for late-season hunters. Because most of the shoreline is privately owned, most hunters access the river from private landowners who have given them written permission to trespass and/or hunt on their property.
FOR MORE INFORMATION Maps of each of the public hunting areas described are available from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Public Information Center in Columbus. Hunters may request up to five free wildlife area maps by calling the ODNR information office at (614) 265-6565. Or send a card to Public Information Center, ODNR, 1952 Belcher Drive, Columbus, OH 43224.
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