Will good duck and goose hunting be in store for wing-shooters this season? Here's the latest on what you can expect to find this year, along with three top wildlife management areas to hunt.
By Curt Williams
"From a subjective standpoint, hunters reported last year's waterfowl season to be an average or a little below average season," said Rocky Prichert, migratory bird programs coordinator for Kentucky's Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).
According to Prichert, waterfowl populations were below normal until January. Then the numbers shot up to higher than normal due to the weather conditions.
"We had a roller coaster weather pattern," Prichert said. "We had above-normal temperatures early in the season, which kept many birds from migrating according to more normal patterns. We didn't get into the freeze-up type conditions until later in the season."
Most of Kentucky's waterfowl numbers are doing well, given the state of habitat and breeding patterns across the country. One species in particular, canvasbacks, has generated concern in recent years.
"The canvasback has never been a major species in Kentucky," Prichert said. "We don't see as many here as seen along the Mississippi River region."
Another reason for the canvasback's lower numbers stems from their unique sex ratio. Out of every 100 births, approximately 60 will be male and 40 female, which results in a maximum breeding pair of only 40 per 100 birds. Other waterfowl have sex ratios, on average, of 50-50.
As for the Commonwealth's waterfowl zones, all four seem to be positioned for normal numbers of waterfowl for the upcoming season. Once again, the weather patterns will be the determining factor for bird movement and hunting opportunities.
In Kentucky's Western Zone, the birds will come from the Mississippi River region. In the Pennyrile-Coalfield Zone, waterfowl will migrate from the southern United States. And in the Eastern and Northeastern zones, waterfowl numbers will be more dependent on local birds.
Many of the waterfowl that make their way into Kentucky follow the Mississippi Flyway. This 14-state flyway embraces 742,000 square miles and provides excellent habitat throughout this huge region that covers nearly one-fourth of the lower 48 states.
Given half a chance, waterfowl can replenish their numbers quickly when given quality nesting areas. Canada geese are especially dedicated nesting birds. During the normal 28-day incubation period, an adult goose may leave its nest for as few as 10 hours out of 672. Some geese have even starved to death rather than leave their nest.
For waterfowl hunters in Kentucky, hunting opportunities are as good, or better, than ever. For hunters who take the time to become familiar with wildlife management areas (WMA) that provide quality hunting, the odds of filling the bag limits are extremely good.
The following WMAs come highly recommended for just such an outing during the upcoming season.
Photo by Robert Sloan
The sprawling Peabody WMA covers 63,800 acres in parts of Ohio and Muhlenberg counties. With numerous access points from state routes (SRs) 70 and 369 as well as from U.S. Route 62, this WMA supplies waterfowl hunters in the west-central region of Kentucky with a large area of public hunting land.
Hunters are encouraged to become acquainted with the regulations and guidelines governing the waterfowl hunting at Peabody. Certain waterfowl refuges are off-limits to hunting, while others may have early closing dates for the season. Knowing what areas to hunt and when will help place hunters in the right blinds at the right times.
Additional Muhlenberg County land is found along Pond Creek and Green River, north of SR 70 and south of SR 176. The Ohio County property is south of West Kentucky Parkway, as well as between the Green River and SR 269. The Gibraltar tract in Muhlenberg County has a waterfowl refuge that is closed to all activities year 'round.
Two other locations to check as to possible closed seasons are the waterfowl refuge in Sinclair tract around Goose Lake and the refuge around South and Island lakes. The portions closed to hunting are still within the proximity of regions open to hunting. When migration patterns begin, waterfowl in large numbers are to be found throughout the Peabody WMA.
When calling ducks in regions such as Peabody, keep in mind that birds flying high and in a straight line know where they are going and aren't likely to be attracted to your decoys. Birds flying at lower elevations and in a meandering pattern are far more likely to be attracted by a skillful call and a nice spread of decoys.
Peabody WMA covers a rough terrain that contains swampland, high ridges and deep pits. The region is primarily reclaimed coal country, and the water-filled strip mines are scattered over a broad area.
Primitive camping is allowed on this WMA with a user permit and liability waiver required. For additional information on the waterfowl opportunities to be found at Peabody, contact the regional office at (270) 273-3568.
BARLOW BOTTOMS WMA
On the extreme western end of the Commonwealth, Barlow Bottoms offers waterfowl hunters a superb variety of lands on which to set up a blind. This WMA covers a total of 5,474 acres on seven separate tracts in Ballard County.
Peal is the largest tract with 2,219 acres. This area is four miles west of Barlow on Mounds City Landing Road. Peal has marshlands, cypress swamps and river bottomland for waterfowl hunters to scout out. Two roads provide easy access to three oxbow lakes.
Swan Lake covers 2,100 acres northwest of Wickliffe about six miles on U.S. Route 51/60. This is a floodplain and river bottomland area of the Ohio River. Several lakes and interior gravel roads are found in the Swan Lake tract.
Special regulations for hunting Swan Lake include advance application for waterfowl hunting, except for the designated observation area. Certain portions of Swan Lake are closed at designated times to hunting. Public hunting is also closed when floodwaters prevent safe entry to blinds by wheeled vehicles only. Primitive camping is allowed in designated areas.
DALE HOLLOW WMA
Over in the south-central region of the Bluegrass State, the Dale Hollow WMA contains 3,131 acres o
f waterfowl land in Cumberland and Clinton counties. The terrain of this region varies from rolling creek bottoms to steep ridges.
The best access to this area is from SR 1206 or by boat. The best areas to hunt are often the mudflats at the mouths of creeks leading into the lake. These areas are often sown with winter wheat, supplying the birds with excellent feeding grounds.
When hunting Dale Hollow, keep in mind that access is primarily by boat and if a house is visible within the area to be hunted, permission must be granted by the homeowner even if the homeowner does not own the adjoining land. This regulation is to protect the privacy of the homeowners located near the water.
When hunting over large bodies of water, make certain to never position your blind toward the morning sun. With bright sunlight in your eyes, approaching birds are not easily spotted, yet the birds can more easily see the light reflecting off hunters' faces. Preferably the sun should be at your back or side.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns Dale Hollow. Additional information can be obtained about waterfowl hunting by calling (931) 243-3136.
Kentucky waterfowl hunters have ample public hunting land on which to enjoy a chilly morning with rising fog. The sound of ducks and geese making their way to feeding areas is an experience of a lifetime, and once a duck hunter brings down his or her first bird, the duck blinds call them back year after year.
Blinds for duck and geese come in all sizes and varieties. From simple camouflage nets to Indian blinds, piano-box blinds, stake blinds, pit blinds and sink boxes - all have proven to be successful to one degree or another. Along with a snug blind, warm clothes are a prerequisite to sticking it out until the birds arrive.
For additional information on the public hunting lands available to Kentucky waterfowl hunters, contact the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, 1 Game Farm Road, Frankfort, KY 40601; or call (800) 858-1549. The department's Web site is: www.kdfwr.state.ky.us.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Kentucky Game & Fish