Open-Water Waterfowling In West Virginia

Our state's river systems offer your best bet to fine wing-shooting in the dead of winter. Here are select places for you to try right now. (January 2006)

Photo by Kenny Bahr

When it comes to waterfowl hunting, weather is the determining factor. If freezing weather settles in the far northern range of ducks and geese, then Mountain State hunters can usually look forward to large flocks of birds winging their way over well-concealed blinds.

The 2005 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey, conducted by West Virginia biologists during the first week of January, reveals an increase in duck numbers compared with surveys in recent years. A total of 5,253 ducks and 1,145 geese were tallied in the survey.

"The number of ducks observed was near average after two years of below-average counts, while the number of Canada geese observed was well below average," said Steve Wilson, waterfowl biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Section.

Wilson said the absence of snow cover and ice on smaller waters allowed the Canada geese to remain scattered throughout the area in feeding fields and on smaller bodies of water, which reduced their overall count. "The total count for ducks would also have been lower for these same reasons, but one unusually large concentration inflated the total," Wilson noted.

According to the survey report, individual state totals may vary considerably from one year to the next because of weather conditions before and during the survey. The real value of the midwinter survey is the long-term trend that develops over broad areas. West Virginia's data will be combined with counts from other states to obtain regional and national totals that provide reliable indicators of overall waterfowl population trends.

The top three species reported in last year's survey were mallards, black ducks and Canada geese. Other duck species included goldeneyes, buffleheads, scaup, pintails, ruddy ducks and mergansers; two mute swans were also observed.

The waters surveyed included the Kanawha River (Nitro to Point Pleasant), Ohio River (Huntington to Parkersburg), the Tygart Lake/Pleasant Creek Marsh, the West Virginia portion of the Shenandoah River and the New River from Hinton to the Virginia line, including Bluestone Lake.

For waterfowl hunters who take to the rivers and lakes at this time of year, freezing temperatures are a given. Yet even in subfreezing temperatures, moving water such as that found in the numerous rivers that crisscross the state will provide ample opportunity for a quality hunt.

The following areas noted in the midwinter survey provide just such opportunities. Access points and results of recent surveys can help duck hunters plan a successful waterfowl outing.

KANAWHA RIVER (Nitro To Pt. Pleasant)

Last year's survey resulted in a count of 180 ducks and 17 geese on the upper Kanawha River. The previous year, biologists counted 160 ducks and 302 geese on this section of the river. Five years ago, during the 2001 midwinter survey, 1,042 ducks and 659 geese were spotted in this same section.

West Virginia is right on the line between the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways for geese and ducks. Most of the birds for our area come from the northeastern region of the United States. Overall, the Atlantic Flyway fluctuates less than other regions of the country. This helps make West Virginia more stable.

But, as already noted, weather is the key factor in the snapshot survey taken during the first week in January. This was evident in the results of last year's survey on the lower section of the Kanawha River where 85 ducks and 135 geese were reported. In the 2004 survey, 617 ducks and 559 geese were spotted in this region.

For waterfowl hunters in Mason County looking for access to the Kanawha River, the Leon ramp is off state Route (SR) 62 in Leon. The ramp is rated for access for all boats, and a parking lot with 10 spaces is available at this location.

Another Mason County access is the Point Pleasant ramp off SRs 2 and 62. This ramp also provides access to the Ohio River. This is a large, three-lane ramp for all boats, with a nearby 80-space parking lot.

In Putnam County, waterfowl hunters can obtain access to the Kanawha just off SR 62 in the city of Buffalo. This is an all-boats ramp with a 50-space parking lot.

And the Raymond City ramp is off SR 62, a half mile west of the city of Poco. It is a two-lane ramp with handicap parking available.

During a midwinter hunt on the Kanawha, heavy clothing and bulky gloves can make for some difficult gunning. Many consistent river waterfowl hunters make it a practice to wear foul-weather gear when practice shooting. Actual conditions will often require kneeling and sitting positions when shooting, and being able to sight and shoot while wearing heavy gear will increase the odds of bringing home more birds.

OHIO RIVER (Parkersburg To Huntington)

The middle section of the Ohio River reported, by far, the largest number of birds in the most recent survey. There was a total count of 4,193 ducks and 536 geese. Geese usually dominate this section of the river during the midwinter count. During the 2004 survey, 936 geese were reported on this same stretch of the Ohio with ducks numbering 627.

On the lower Ohio River, last year's duck count totaled 687, with the geese numbering 265. In 2004, geese numbers totaled 2,077 and ducks came in at 817. Overall, the Ohio River provides the best waterfowl opportunities, and this is due primarily to the size and accessibility of this waterway. This broad band of moving water gives birds a roadmap, which is bordered by excellent resting and feeding locations.

For Wood County hunters, access to the Ohio River is provided at the Belleville ramp. This ramp is at Old Lock 20 at the end of county Road 2/5. This is a one-lane all-boats ramp with a 20-space parking lot nearby.

In Jackson County, the Ravenswood ramp provides good access just off SR 68 in Ravenswood. A spacious four-lane ramp with a 50-space parking area close by gives hunters plenty of room to get on the water. Restrooms and potable water are also available at this location.

The Mason ramp in Mason County gives Ohio River access off U.S. Route 33 at the end of Pomeroy Street in the city of Mason. This is an all-boats single-lane ramp with a 25-space parking lot. Restrooms and a courtesy dock are at this location.

Cabell County hunters ca

n access the river at the Guyandotte Ramp. This ramp is off SR 2 on Bridge Street in the Guyandotte section of Huntington. This all-boats ramp with a 60-space parking lot gives waterfowl hunters in the Huntington area good access to the birds on this stretch of the Ohio River.

Weather fronts are critical to launching and finding the birds on the Ohio River at this time of year. Birds seek out differing types of food and shelter when strong winter winds start blowing. Finding where the birds travel on this big river in clear skies, as well as during times of rain or snow, will put the odds in favor of the hunter.

PLEASANT CREEK MARSH (Near Tygart Lake)

The lowest number of birds counted in this year's survey was at Pleasant Creek Marsh near Tygart Lake. Only 17 ducks and five geese were reported at this location. In recent years, the largest number counted in the midwinter survey was in 2002 when 86 ducks and 150 geese were tallied.

Yet for waterfowl hunters in this region of the state, the Tygart Lake region provides quality habitat for waterfowl and good access for hunters. Taylor County provides access into areas known for good hunting possibilities.

The Tygart tailwaters ramp is at the Tygart dam in Grafton City Park. This is rated as a small-boats access ramp and has a 15-space parking area nearby.

Another Taylor County access is at the Camp Towles ramp three miles north of U.S. Route 50 on county Road 18/4 near the 4-H camp. This is also a small boats ramp with only five parking spaces available.

Compared with other river hunting locations, the hunting pressure is often relatively light in this area. Hunting pressure plays a major role in when and where the birds will feed. Birds will stop flying into high-pressure locations, and heavy hunting can even push the birds into nocturnal feeding habits. When this happens, early morning and late evening are the better times to take up positions for hunting.


Waterfowl shooting may take place on or over the Ohio River and West Virginia tributaries only during West Virginia's open season.
 

When marshes freeze, look for birds feeding in grain fields and resting on creeks and rivers. This is the ideal time to make a float trip down an open river and find the birds.

SHENANDOAH RIVER

In the extreme eastern region of the Mountain State, the Shenandoah River offers waterfowl hunters a good opportunity for a midwinter hunt. The most recent survey shows geese sighted at 123 and ducks totaling 15, quite a variation from last year when the 2004 count produced 790 geese and 64 ducks.

In this Jefferson County section of the Shenandoah, access to the river is available at the Bloomery Bridge ramp. This ramp is off SR 9 at the bridge at the east end of Bloomery. It is a carry-down access for small boats with an eight-space parking lot.

The Millville ramp is on SR 9 and county Road 32/2 about 3 1/2 miles east and north of Bloomery Bridge. It is an all-boats access with a 20-space parking lot nearby.

When hunting the waterways of this far eastern section of the state, concealment in midwinter is a top priority for successful bird hunting. With barren trees bordering the river, camouflage is critical. Many hunters invest in camouflaged boats or elaborate blinds only to end up tipping off the birds with a bright, shining face. Concealing one's face with a head net or camouflage paint can make all the difference when birds are coming in for a landing.

The sharp-eyed crow is a good gauge of hunter concealment. Observe the way crows react when they fly over your boat or duck blind. If they detour in their flight, it means they've spotted something out of place and more camouflage needs to be added. If you doubt that your face is a giveaway, just look up at any passing crows. These birds will let you know instantly if they have spotted you.

Another tip to keep in mind is that waterfowl prefer to land into the wind. If you have flooded timber or the point of an island nearby, the birds will most likely swing around downwind to come into your decoys. Make it a clear shot for the birds to come in. If there's a wind shift, you may need to move to the opposite side of the island for a clearer shot.

NEW RIVER (Including Bluestone Lake)

The final area to be surveyed this past January was the New River and Bluestone Lake region. In this location, 76 ducks and 64 geese were spotted. The largest count in this region in recent years took place in 2003 when 398 ducks and 273 geese were recorded. And the best year overall for ducks was in 2001 when 511 ducks and geese were counted in the New River area.

For access in the Summers County section of the New River, the Bertha ramp is found in the Bertha Camping Area (Bluestone Wildlife Management Area) on county Road 33. This is an all-boats ramp with a five-space parking lot.

Another access ramp is the Bellepoint Park ramp in the Bluestone Reservoir tailwaters off SR 3. This is a small boats ramp with a 30-space parking lot, and it also has a site limitation for "experienced canoeists."

Access to the 2,040-acre Bluestone Lake is found from both interstates 77 and 64. From Interstate 77, take exit 14 (Athens Road) to SR 20. Take 20 north approximately 25 miles to Bluestone dam. From Interstate 64, take exit 139 (Sandstone/Hinton) to SR 20 and travel south about 12 miles to Bluestone dam.

In this region of the state, slow- moving creeks with plenty of bends are perfect for float-hunting. If the river or creek meanders through farm fields or oak groves, then so much the better. The farther the stream is away from a highway, the better the likelihood of finding ducks. These birds prefer secluded areas. Keep in mind that the best strategy is to hug the shoreline. Your downstream approach will be hidden by the bends.


The top three species reported in last year's survey were mallards, black ducks and Canada geese.
 

Waterfowl hunting on the Ohio River can be a little tricky at times, and becoming familiar with the regulations governing the river between Ohio and West Virginia can prevent unintended violations.

According to the regulations, current federal waterfowl management places West Virginia in the Atlantic Flyway and Ohio in the Mississippi Flyway. Each state may have different hunting seasons and regulations. Hunters are reminded that opening and closing dates, bag limits and other regulations may vary between Ohio and West Virginia. It is the hunter's responsibility to know and comply with the existing laws.

Waterfowl shooting may take place on or over the Ohio River and West Virginia tributaries on

ly during West Virginia's open season. Hunters cannot hunt from the Ohio bank of the river when the Ohio season is closed.

West Virginia does not allow Sunday hunting. Therefore, the Ohio River and its embayments and tributaries that are within the boundaries of West Virginia are closed to all hunting on Sunday. Sunday waterfowl hunting is only allowed on embayments and tributaries within the boundaries of Ohio and only during the Ohio season. On Sundays, hunters are reminded that they may not shoot waterfowl that are flying over the Ohio River from the Ohio shoreline.

A carefully planned midwinter waterfowl hunt is a highly rewarding experience. A thorough knowledge of the waterways, and the regulations that govern the hunting, is a prerequisite to launching onto the lakes, streams and rivers. Of equal importance is appropriate gear. Warm clothing, especially warm socks, and rain gear will make all the difference between a day of enjoyable comfort or a day of downhearted misery.

For additional information on the regulations governing the Ohio River, contact DNR District VI (Middle Ohio River), 2311 Ohio Ave., Parkersburg, WV 26101; or call (304) 420-4550.

For overall information on waterfowl hunting in the state of West Virginia, write to the Wildlife Resources Section, 1900 Kanawha Blvd., E. Bldg. 3, Charleston, WV 25305 or call (304) 558-2771. You can also visit the DNR Web site at

www.wvdnr.gov.

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