Ducks And Geese in Eastern Ohio

Some of the best waterfowl hunting of the year takes place this month in Ohio, and there are plenty of public hunting options for gunners to consider. Give these proven hotspots a try!

By Brian Ruzzo

While Ohio is not on any major routes of the Mississippi Flyway, we still see plenty of winged migrants each fall. Late in the season the bag is usually comprised of mallards, black ducks, Canada geese and various divers. Most of these late-season birds originate in Ontario and the northern Great Lakes states.

Barring harsh weather this month, we should also have plenty of gadwalls in Ohio. Gadwalls have been increasingly more important to Ohio's duck hunting success in recent years. Gadwalls now rank number three or four in total ducks bagged each year. Mallards and wood ducks rank at the top with gadwalls and green-wings jockeying for third position.

"Gadwalls have been doing very well over the last few years," said Mark Schieldcastle, an Ohio Division of Wildlife biologist. "They seem to be expanding their breeding range eastward."

Once a prairie pothole breeder, the eastward movement of the gadwall not only means more habitat for more birds but also means more birds are closer to Ohio. According to Schieldcastle, gadwalls have always been a common sight on the Lake Erie marshes, but now more gadwalls are showing up in Ohio's inland marshes.

Green-winged teal may also be around this month. December weather has been unpredictable over the last few years. If it gets too cold the teal will move out early, but if warm weather persists, look for plenty of these fast-flying winged rockets.

Eastern Ohio's waterfowling gets started at a trio of public lands only minutes apart - Mosquito Creek, Grand River, and Shenango wildlife areas. The action continues at Killbuck Creek, the largest inland marsh in Ohio. Rounding out our list are a few central Ohio hotspots, including the Kokosing, Delaware and Big Island wildlife areas.

Here's a closer look at these great December waterfowling destinations:

Photo by R.E. Ilg

MOSQUITO CREEK WILDLIFE AREAS
In the northeastern corner of the state the Grand River, Shenango and Mosquito Creek Wildlife Areas form an exciting trio of waterfowling destinations. Mosquito Creek is in the center of the group with Shenango approximately 10 miles to the east and Grand River about 10 miles to the west. Due to their close proximity, all three wildlife areas share meandering flocks of ducks and geese over the course of the season.

Mosquito Creek has three different styles of duck hunts open to the public. The state park administers a drawing during August for blind sites on Mosquito Lake. Hunters who draw a site may erect and maintain a blind for the entire season. This area attracts mallards, geese and divers when the weather turns bad up north.

Another controlled waterfowl hunt provides hunters the chance to decoy geese and mallards out of state-maintained blinds set in cornfields. To participate, hunters must apply in the summer for an early fall drawing. Hunters are then assigned a specific date to hunt.

If you missed out on the state park drawing or the controlled hunt, there is still a way to get in on the action at Mosquito Creek. There are daily drawings held at the area headquarters for the area's smaller wetland regions. The drawings are held at 5:15 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The 5:15 a.m. drawing is for the morning hunt, which lasts until noon. Hunters must be out of the area by 1 p.m. The 11 a.m. drawing is for hunters entering the property at noon with a start time of 1 p.m. The area is rested on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

There are 13 units available for hunting. Most of the units are designed for partners, but there are a few units that will work for individual hunters.

None of the units have blinds. Most hunters hide among the shoreline vegetation. Bring decoys and plan to see mostly mallards. According to area managers, approximately 85 percent of the area's ducks are greenheads. Some pintails will also move through the area, and late in the year flocks of divers pass through.

Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area lies between state Route 88 and state Route 87. North Park Avenue runs north and south between the two state routes providing access to the area. The headquarters are off North Park Avenue one mile south of state Route 87.

For a map and more information, contact the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area at (440) 685-4776. Information is also available by contacting the district three office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, Ohio 44319; or by calling (216) 644-2293.

GRAND RIVER WILDLIFE AREA
According to Ron Ferenchak, wildlife area technician, hunters can apply for the daily drawing at Mosquito Creek, and if they are not drawn they can go to the Grand River Wildlife Are for a hunt. In fact, often the best days to hunt Grand River are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, when the waterfowlers at Mosquito Creek are stirring things up.

"We are close to Mosquito Creek," Ferenchak said, "so we get a lot of spillover ducks."

Flowing through the heart of the wildlife area is the Grand River and five of its tributaries, including Mud Run, Center Creek, Dead Branch, Coffee Creek and Baughman Creek.

Almost half of the area is covered with hardwoods. Many of the stands are on the banks of the Grand River and its tributaries. As a result the region provides excellent habitat for beavers. Much of the area north of state Route 88, which passes through the center of the wildlife area, is teeming with beaver marshes, which are excellent for wood ducks until the waters freeze over.

Since the beaver marshes change every year, it's important for hunters to obtain a map and explore the region. Most of the marshes found north of state Route 88 can be waded. Flooded oaks should hold wood ducks and some mallards.

With 170 wood duck boxes that hold six to eight eggs each and an approximate production rate of 50 percent, the area produces an estimated 500 woodies each year.

Pass shooting for wood ducks in the smaller beaver marshes is a popular tactic. The most remote flowages are best. If the beaver marshes freeze over this month, target the main river channel for late season wood duck action.

Ferenchak said he jumped plenty of wood ducks along the banks of the Grand River la

te last year. Mallards can be found along the riverbanks. The river is often too deep to wade, so bring a retriever.

The area also has an impressive resident Canada goose population of approximately 500 birds. The residents, along with migrant geese, mallards, black ducks and divers will head for two open water regions found on the area.

In the extreme northeastern section of the area is a 300-acre wetland comprised of eight reclaimed fish hatchery ponds. The old hatchery site is managed via a daily drawing that is held at the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area. The drawings are held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 5:15 a.m. and 11 a.m. There are four units available for hunting. The remainder of Grand River WA is open to hunting every day without a draw.

South of the converted hatchery, Green Tree Marsh offers a second open water hunt on the property. On the map, this region appears to be a small pond surrounded by marshlands. However, the small "pond" is actually larger than it appears. Covering 120 to 130 acres when flooded, the wetland is marked with dead timber. Hunters should find good duck and goose action here until ice drives the birds south.

Access to the Grand River Wildlife Area is provided by state Route 88, which runs east and west, and state route 534, which runs north and south.

For a map or more information, contact the Grand River Wildlife Area, 6686 State Route 534, West Farmington, Ohio 44491; or call (330) 889-3280. Information is also available from the ODOW's District Three office noted above.

SHENANGO WILDLIFE AREA
The easternmost of the Grand River trio is the 4,845-acre Shenango Wildlife Area. Beginning near the Ashtabula-Trumbull county line, the area features wetlands on both sides of Pymatuning Creek. The creek twists and turns in multiple bends that favor canoe-bound jump shooters that can access the river from several bridges.

Beginning upstream, the first area bridge is on Milligan East Road, also called township Road 252. Continuing downstream, the next crossing is the state Route 88 bridge. Farther downstream, state Route 7 approaches the area from the north, crosses the river and meanders along the western edge. The last downstream bridge is the state Route 87 crossing.

Expect a mix of late-season dabbling ducks with mallards dominating the bag. However, pintails and green-wings can be found on the area before bad weather hits.

"Last year the teal hung around into the second half of the season," noted area manager Mike Renner.

Decoy hunters can also find excellent action in some of the area's backwater beaver marshes. There is a 40-acre marsh adjacent to the river between state Route 88 and Milligan East Road. A parking lot off state Route 88, which is shown on the area map, provides access. The walk south can be taxing, however. A canoe will help hunters access the region.

A second marsh, which covers approximately 150 acres, is at the northern end of the area. The surrounding property is privately owned. Therefore, hunters must hike or canoe from a parking lot off state Route 87. There are several beaver dams that must be negotiated by canoeists.

Early in the season there are special regulations. This month the entire area should be open to hunting every day.

State routes 7, 88 and 87 provide access to the area. For a map or more information, contact the Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area or the District Three office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

KILLBUCK MARSH WILDLIFE AREA
Covering 5,492 acres, Killbuck Marsh is not only Ohio's largest inland marsh but it is also one of the best-known waterfowling destinations in Ohio. However, during the last few seasons this shallow, U-shaped valley has not consistently harbored large flocks. That doesn't mean there aren't any birds at Killbuck. It just means that the late-season buildup of birds that used to fill the marsh with northern migrants is not as dramatic.

Killbuck Marsh hunters should closely watch the weather. Most of the birds come from the Lake Erie marshes, so it's best to be at Killbuck the day after those marshes freeze. It's also best to hunt during the week to avoid hunting pressure.

The area is divided into three units and a refuge. Unit 1 is north of Kimber Road. Unit 2 is between Kimber Road and the refuge, which lies between Force Road and Harrison Road. Unit 3 is south of Harrison Road. During the early part of the year there are different regulations for each unit. However, during the second split of the season, the entire area is usually open for hunting under statewide regulations.

Area mangers recommend probing the marshes closest to the refuge, which offer a good indicator of the number of birds in the area. Try the southern regions of Unit 2 north of Force Road or the northern reaches of Unit 3 south of Harrison Road. There are parking lots on both Force and Harrison roads that provide access to these areas.

Killbuck Creek, which flows through the heart of the marsh, can be waded in some areas but is too deep in others. A canoe or other small craft can be helpful when hunting Killbuck Marsh.

Expect mostly mallards with a scattering of other puddle ducks, depending on the weather.

Access to the area is provided by state Route 83, which runs north and south along the eastern edge of the property.

For a map or more information, contact the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area, 1691 Centerville Road, Shreve, OH 44676; or call (330) 567-3390.

The District Three office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife can also provide information. It's a good idea to call the area for up to date reports.

KOKOSING LAKE WILDLIFE AREA
Expanding resident goose populations in Ohio have created exciting new waterfowling opportunities throughout the state. One example is 160-acre Kokosing Lake and the surrounding 1,000-plus acre wildlife area. Lake hunters can also take geese, mallards and an occasional diver.

The lake is surrounded by public land so hunting access is good. The best way to hunt Kokosing is from the bank with a canoe or retrieving dog nearby. A parking lot and boat ramp along the southern shore of the lake provides access. The northern half of the lake is less than one-half mile from the ramp. To reach the parking lot, follow county Road 6 north from Fredricktown.

There are also a few trails that provide access to the northern shores, but these require a considerable hike. The trails are off county Road 6 north of the ramp.

For a map or more information, contact the ODOW's Wildlife District One office, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus, OH 43215; or call (614) 644-3925.

DELAWARE WILDLIFE AREA
North of Columbus, the Delaware Wildlife Area features a 1,330-acre lake and a 159-acre marsh. Both waters are excellent for waterfowling (the lake is managed by the state parks division); however, the 54 ponds are also busy with puddle- jumping ducks. These ponds are often overlooked by most waterfowlers, making them a great choice for hunters seeking solitude and some great shooting.

Biologists recommend hunting the larger ponds, especially the ones close to the lake. Late in the season, expect mallards, blacks, some divers and geese.

Much of the land on the west side of the lake is state park land that is off-limits to hunting. However, the eastern side is open to hunting every day during the late season.

For a map or more information, contact the Delaware Wildlife Area office, 8589 Horseshoe Road, Ashley, OH 43003; or call (740) 747-2919. The District One office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife can also provide information.

BIG ISLAND WILDLIFE AREA
The Big Island Wildlife Area features a 500-acre marsh that is popular during the early part of the season but is often quiet later in the year.

A mix of mallards, black ducks, divers and geese filter through the marsh.

Like many of the above wildlife areas, the Big Island region is governed by special early-season regulations that are lifted for the late season.

Access to the area is provided by LaRue-Prospect Road, which runs east and west through the southern half of the area. There are nine parking lots on LaRue-Prospect Road. Those closest to the area headquarters provide the best walk-in access to the marsh.

For a map or more information, contact the District One office of the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Check the 2003-'04 Ohio waterfowl hunting regulations pamphlet before venturing out this month.



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