3 Public Water Waterfowl Hunts In West Virginia

These three public areas for duck and goose hunters may put you in the thick of some fine wingshooting during the latter part of the waterfowl season.

Photo by Cathy & Gordon Illg

By Curt Williams

A midwinter waterfowl hunt on the interior waterways of West Virginia can be the experience of a lifetime. Geese and ducks arrive with weather cold enough to make tree limbs pop. But the sound of these birds winging their way toward a hunter's blind can warm even the coldest of hearts.

"Waterfowl numbers along the Atlantic Flyway, which we are part of, are based on the eastern surveys," said Steve Wilson, wildlife biologist for West Virginia's Division of Natural Resources (DNR). "Weather will play the key part in how our January hunting goes. The late season is dependent upon migrant birds, and the birds won't come if the weather is mild."

Another factor for West Virginia hunters is whether the hunt is to take place in the more mountainous region of Zone 2 or within the lower regions of Zone 1. Here again, weather makes the decision as to which region will provide the best opportunities. Before the establishment of the two hunting zones, many waterfowl hunters missed out completely on late-season hunts.

"In the mountain regions, duck hunting was often gone by mid-December," Wilson said. "People were losing out on waterfowl hunting, and this is why the two zones were established. Zone 2 opens a little earlier and runs into the early days of January, while the bulk of the state is open well into January."

For most hunters, Zone 1 will be the best bet for waterfowl in January. Canada geese, mallards and black ducks usually will provide the greatest number of birds, but coots, mergansers and snow geese supply numerous hunting opportunities as well. And as for a place to hunt, the following three public hunting areas are recommended for a quality January duck outing.

SUMMERSVILLE LAKE WMA

The 5,974 acres of Summersville Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) provide some excellent waterfowl hunting in Nicholas County. This District III public hunting area adjoining the 2,790-acre Summersville Lake brings in the birds when January turns cold.

"Many of our birds come out of the northeast," Wilson said. "Overall, the Atlantic Flyway fluctuates less than other regions of the country. This provides more stability for the waterfowl."

As the wildlife biologist noted, weather will be a determining factor as to waterfowl numbers, but Summersville Lake can be one of the more productive areas in the region. Scouting the area ahead of time, and locating experienced waterfowlers in the area, can help hunters locate key feeding areas near which to establish a blind.

This WMA is three miles south of Summersville on U.S. Route 19. The area around the lake is primarily forested with terrain that ranges from rolling hills to vertical rock cliffs. Feeder channels and tailwater areas often provide natural funnels for the ducks and geese upon arrival. Once again, becoming familiar with the lake ahead of the season can increase the odds of being in the right place at the right time.

"Waterfowlers who do well keep an eye on the weather," Wilson noted. "Bad weather makes for better hunting."

Many species of puddle ducks migrate south when harsh weather moves into the northern regions of the United States. Some species will hang around as long as the weather is mild enough to provide food and open water. So when severe weather conditions settle in up north, the sound of migrating birds can be heard across the Mountain State.

Summersville Lake WMA is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is managed by the DNR. For additional information on the facilities open to the public in January, as well as for information on the hunting opportunities, contact Resource Manager, Summersville Lake, Rural Route 2, Box 470, Summersville, WV 26651-9802; or call (304) 872-3412.

BEECH FORK LAKE WMA

"You're going to have resident geese at Beech Fork from September on through January," Wilson said. "In the early season, wood ducks are the more numerous, but for the late season, a whole variety of waterfowl are available."

Some of the birds mentioned as possible January arrivals are redheads, pintails, mallards and occasionally canvasbacks. Other species often touch down on this District IV public hunting area found in Cabell and Wayne counties.

The 720-acre Beech Fork Lake is five miles south of Huntington. From the west the area can be reached from state Route (SR) 152, and from the northeast by SR 10 and Heath Creek Road.

The terrain is steep, with over 85 percent of the area bordering the waterway covered by oak, hickory and pine woodlands. Two public boat ramps are available as is a 275-site campground, which is open year 'round. A camping fee is charged for those planning to take advantage of the campgrounds.

When scouting potential hunting locations at Beech Fork, search out likely spots such as coves, points, fields, ponds and sandbars. Knowing the habits of the geese and ducks puts a hunter ahead of the game. What appears to be quality hunting terrain to us may turn out to be completely off base for the particular species the hunter is looking for.

Local game wardens, hunting supply storeowners and local guides can provide a wealth of information. This knowledge can help the hunter know where the ducks go in clear weather as well as during times of snow and rain.

Beech Fork Lake WMA is also owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but managed by the DNR. For additional information on the state park, call (304) 528-5794. For lake and recreation information, call (304) 525-4831.

THE JUG WMA

"The Jug will probably be good in the early season," Wilson said. "There's a fair number of resident wood ducks and mallards. The late season in this area will be especially dependent upon the weather as to what birds will be pushed into the region by inclement conditions."

This 2,065-acre WMA is in Tyler County and is 1 1/2 miles east of Middlebourne off SR 18. Access can be tricky during bad weather or high water. For year-round access, take SR 46 from Centerville or SR 7 from Middlebourne.

Knowing where to set up a blind is critical when hunting in areas such as the Jug. Hunting pressure plays a big part in when and where the ducks will feed. When the pressure gears up, the birds will stop feeding even in the best

of habitats. Locating alternate food sources and setting up blinds in these locations can place the odds in the hunter's favor.

Extreme hunting pressure can also cause the birds to start nocturnal feeding habits. If this occurs, late evening and early morning are prime times to be in the blind. Feeding habits and food supplies are the keys to bringing home the ducks.

A variety of blinds are available to waterfowl hunters, and whether the blind is a full pit, half pit, boat or shore blind, there must not be anything unusual about your appearance from the air. Anything that glares or shines will sound the alarm for the birds. Gunstocks, gun barrels, eye glasses and even upward turned faces are giveaways to your location.

Pay close attention to the crows that fly close by. Crows have superb eyesight and if the hunter sees crows making a fuss and steering clear, he knows that something is out of the ordinary. Completely blending in with the surroundings is of utmost importance.

Don't forget the decoys. Their own kind feeding attracts ducks and geese. Mallards and geese are especially attracted to decoys. When in doubt as to how many decoys, a rule of thumb is to put out as many as possible. The basic principle of waterfowling is to catch the birds' attention with the decoys and bring them down with some good calls.

IN SUMMARY

The tried-and-proven material for this time of year is wool. Wool pants, shirt and jacket will hold warmth even when wet, and duck hunters are constantly operating in wet conditions. Along with knowing your birds and their habitat, having the appropriate gear will add to the enjoyment of the hunt.

West Virginia is blessed with an abundance of WMAs open to waterfowl hunters all across the Mountain State. The basic approach to a safe and successful hunt is the same for all flyways, and for the thoroughly prepared hunter who knows the birds and weather patterns, roast duck is a regular item on their menu.

For additional information on the waterfowl hunting available in West Virginia, contact the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Section, Capital Complex, Building 3, Charleston, WV 25305; or call (304) 558-3380.



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