Is it because of global warming? Is it because Hoosier waterfowlers who respond to post-season polls conducted by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) show a preference for late-season hunting? Have ducks and geese changed the patterns and timing of their fall migration? Perhaps it’s because we’ve had liberal season lengths for the past several years giving the DNR’s waterfowl hunting date pickers a chance to set later seasons?
The answer to any of the above questions could be “yes, no or maybe,” depending on who is being quizzed. Regardless of all the questions above, anyone who has duck and goose hunted in Indiana for the past decade or so realizes the heart of the season has shifted to later on the calendar.
There was a time when there were scant few duck or goose hunting options available much past the end of November in the Hoosier State. That really didn’t matter to a large extent, because there weren’t many ducks or geese in Indiana past the end of November.
That’s changed and many waterfowlers now eagerly anticipate the challenges and steady dose of success that are available later on in many areas. So, let me point out a few options.
Indiana has three waterfowling zones. With a good number of December days available in each of the zones, let’s pick a worthwhile choice to hunt in each region.
LaSalle Fish And Wildlife Area (FWA)
Traditionally, the North Zone duck season ends sometime in December, but the goose season continues on through the month. Therefore, I’ve picked a spot where both ducks and geese are abundant and the good times just never end.
Early in December, when both duck and goose seasons are open, a daily drawing is held at the LaSalle FWA check station at 4:30 a.m. each day to allocate the duck blinds on the property. The action depends on the weather. If the weather is mild, expect plenty of late-season mallards to be hanging around.
After the duck season ends or if a December cold blast hardens up the ice in LaSalle’s marshes, the action switches to the Kankakee River, which flows through the property from U.S. Route 41 to the Illinois/Indiana border. The flowing water keeps the ice at bay, but there’s more.
The cooling lakes at three nuclear power plants along the Kankakee River, downstream from LaSalle, have become the migration terminus for hundreds of thousands of Canada geese. Though these geese headquarter on the cooling lakes, they spread out for miles up and down the Kankakee River on their daily excursions to feeding fields. That puts plenty of them in gun range of hunters setting up along the main stem of the river on the LaSalle property or in unfrozen bayous adjacent to the stream.
It’s freelance hunting, but hunters do need to sign in at the LaSalle check station just off state Route 10 before heading to either the state line or campground bayou access ramps. The state line ramp is a longer trip from the check station, but it will stay unfrozen long after the campground bayou ramp is frozen tight.
Fairbanks Landing FWA
Fairbanks Landing is Indiana’s newest FWA and is located along the Wabash River between Terre Haute and Sullivan. Indiana deer hunters eagerly awaited the opening of this land because before it being deeded over to the DNR, it was hunted only lightly. There were some big bucks waiting. For the same reason, quail hunters lined up to get their chance at the new property. Big coveys were waiting to provide topnotch action as well. How ’bout with waterfowl? Waterfowl-wise, Fairbanks Landing didn’t make much of a splash.
That’s probably because the river was behaving itself. It doesn’t always do that. As the Wabash River drains much of Indiana and a good portion of Illinois, a few gray days of rain, perhaps a bit of snowmelt from an early-season storm and the water level in the Wabash jumps up and quickly inundates adjacent bottom lands containing both crop fields and bottomland hardwoods. Ducks love both.
Couple a bit of flooding with the fact the Wabash River is a major migration corridor used by ducks and geese and the stage is set for some heady action. Nearby Minnehaha FWA is charged with managing the property and the hunting activities. Give them a call at (812) 268-5640 and ask them if the river is “out.” If it’s out, you are “in.”
Check-in is required, but it’s self- service at a pullover off county Road 925, which runs west out of the town of Fairbanks. You’ll need a boat, preferably with an attached blind as a superstructure. There are no DNR launches located at Fairbanks at this time, but there are ramps both upstream and down. At high water, when you want to go to Fairbanks to hunt, these are of little use. Better to simply launch from the county roads that lead down into the bottomland. They become makeshift public boat launches where the road dips into the floodwaters.
Big spreads of decoys are best when hunting the flooded fields. The cresting river is wide and there are thousands of acres where the ducks can choose to settle. You need to make your spot look as inviting as possible.
Hunting the timber? This “Arkansas-style” green timber shooting can be terrific, especially on windy days. Giant spreads of decoys aren’t needed in the flooded woodlands nearly so much as persistent loud calling. Use the calls to tempt circling mallards below the treetops. Once they commit, you have them!
OHIO RIVER ZONE
Hovey Lake FWA
Any experienced Hoosier waterfowler knows that Hovey Lake has changed over the past few decades more than any other of Indiana’s waterfowl-oriented public properties. Managers at the Slough, the Kankakee, Monroe Reservoir and others quickly learned what worked on those properties and have pretty well stuck to the program. Hovey Lake has been a long-term work in progress!
In the 1970s, the completion of the Uniontown Lock and Dam on the Ohio River did a couple of things. One, it raised the normal water level in Hovey Lake (an old oxbow of the Ohio) transforming it from “normal” pool with a surface acreage of 150 to a lake 10 times as large. The Army Corps of Engineers purchased thousands of acres of bottomlands when they built the dam and turned over a large portion of these lands to the DNR to become the “bigger and better” Hovey Lake FWA.
Then came the geese. Instantly, the property became a Canada goose magnet, attracting thousands upon thousands of geese (and like numbers of ducks) along with thousands of waterfowl hunters. Hovey Lake became the first FWA to offer pre-season reservations, re
placing the daily drawing system entrenched at most properties.
The goose bonanza waned as the big birds found more northerly areas (such as the Illinois cooling lakes) to winter. The ducks still come, however, but the changes continued.
Most recently, Hovey Lake became the first of Indiana’s FWAs to forego offering pre-prepared duck blinds for hunters to use. Instead, the lake has been divided into four sections and either through the pre-season reservation system or a daily lottery held at 4:30 a.m. CST, from two to four groups of hunters are assigned to each unit. By December, the top units are 3 and 4.
You’ll need a boat (none are furnished) with no more than a 10-horsepower motor and preferably fitted with a superstructure, which transforms the boat into a duck blind. Hovey has also developed some outlying marshes in the Ohio and Wabash River lowlands. Of the three, only one or two is open each day. Check with Hovey Lake staff for this year’s schedule at (812) 838-2927.