High numbers of ducks and geese pass through northeastern Ohio during the fall, and many of them visit public hunting areas in the region. Here's where to go for some great waterfowl shooting this month.
By Greg Keefer
Migrating geese and ducks in northeast Ohio should provide waterfowlers with plenty of action this month, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife. Thousands of Canada geese, mallards, woodies, teal, pintails, blacks and other ducks will rest and feed on the region's marshlands during their annual fall migration.
"Public wildlife areas in District Three can produce some great waterfowl hunting opportunities," said Geoff Westerfield, a wildlife research technician in northeast Ohio's District Three. "Last year's hunting turned out to be pretty good. An average number of mallards, Canadas and wood ducks were taken."
Westerfield points out that waterfowl populations are weather-dependent, and that the Midwestern prairie pothole region had gotten quite a bit of rain last spring, which may have resulted in some drowned-out nests. If the rain was not a factor, he says, some great hunting could be expected in November.
For the 2004 season, Westerfield recommended some of the area's lesser-known stopovers. "These areas are generally much smaller in size but can have a good number of ducks and geese if conditions are right," he remarked. Not only can these out-of-the-way areas concentrate waterfowl once they are south of the Lake Erie shoreline, but they often receive only minimal hunting pressure.
"The best advice is to pre-scout. That's the key to success on these smaller areas," said Westerfield.
Wildlife areas fitting this category include the Lower Killbuck, Auburn Marsh, Zepernick, Shenango and Beach City areas.
District Three hunters can also enjoy some fast action along the Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie marshes, according to Tim Plageman, wildlife management supervisor for District Two. The region's wetlands are a natural staging area for ducks and geese as they begin their southward flight through Ohio. Lake Erie's shoreline marshes contain excellent waterfowl habitat, a fact that has been noted in the Division of Wildlife's management strategy.
According to Plageman, high waters flood areas with emergent plant growth along the Lake Erie shoreline, stranding insects, seeds and vegetation and creating a smorgasbord of high-energy protein for waterfowl. To enhance the natural ebb and flow of water over the low-lying marshes, the division has constructed dikes that have created thousands of acres of additional wetlands. Though admittedly expensive, pumping water onto the diked areas has proven to be well worth the effort in expanded waterfowl habitat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Division of Wildlife conduct migratory bird studies to determine the status of waterfowl populations every year, reports Craig Faanes of the USFWS. The results are used by the division to set dates and bag limits for the Ohio waterfowl season.
Faanes pointed out that the birds migrate across broad fronts heading south to their wintering grounds each fall. "At one time there was the mistaken idea that birds funnel through migration areas such as river valleys. Recent studies have shown that they don't necessarily follow these funnels," he said.
That's good news for Ohio hunters, who are able to fan out across District Three to target southbound waterfowl in a variety of locations.
Here's a look at some of northeast Ohio's best bets for waterfowl hunting this season.
Photo by R.A. Simpson
KILLBUCK MARSH WA
Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area in Holmes and Wayne counties is a traditional hotspot for wood ducks and Canadas. Blue-winged teal and mallards are also frequently taken by waterfowlers.
Much of the area's 5,492 acres are water-covered or marshland with Killbuck Creek flowing through. Killbuck Marsh is the largest remaining wetland area in the state outside of the Lake Erie region.
A central section inside of the wildlife area is a designated refuge within which no hunting is allowed. Waterfowl hunting is allowed in the area bordered by Harrison Road on the south and by Force Road on the north.
Several years ago, the Division of Wildlife, in cooperation with Ducks Unlimited, created a 350-acre diked wetlands area known as Wright's Marsh off state Route 226. This area attracts waterfowl when the water is high enough. Flooded emergent plants provide an ample supply of food.
Killbuck Marsh's wood duck population is bolstered by the division's nest box program, which adds about 4,000 woodies every year.
Some hunters choose to make a float trip through the area; others prefer to hunt over decoys. The 151-acre Lower Killbuck WA is the most recent Division of Wildlife acquisition in the area. It is south of the main wildlife area in Holmes County. This smaller wetland can be productive if conditions are right, said Westerfield. Hunters should take a day to pre-scout Lower Killbuck to check on water levels and the numbers of ducks and Canadas using the area.
Killbuck Marsh is 55 miles from Cleveland and 35 miles from Akron. The area can be reached via state routes 83 and 226.
There's ample parking throughout the area. Hunters can launch small boats from the bridges crossing Killbuck Creek.
The Killbuck WA office can be reached at (330) 567-3390, or contact the Division of Wildlife's District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
One of the smaller wildlife areas recommended by Westerfield, this Columbiana County wildlife area covers 518 acres four miles northwest of Hanoverton.
Zepernick features a 39-acre lake, two ponds totaling 8 acres of water and a 5-acre manmade marsh. About a third of the area is cultivated with grain crops that provide a ready supply of food for migrant birds.
Scouting is a good idea at Zepernick, because waterfowl may or may not be using the area depending on conditions. When ducks and Canadas are using Zepernick, hunters can expect some action, especially because most other waterfowlers have gone elsewhere.
Migrant ducks and geese spend a lot of time in the two marshy areas off state Route 172, which intersects the wildlife area.
ump-shooting or pass-shooting near the lake, ponds and marshes can work well when hunters can take up positions on dry land.
There are three parking lots on state Route 172, two of which are near the lake and the 7-acre pond.
Contact Highlandtown WA at (216) 685-4776 or the District Three office at (330) 644-2293 for an area map and more information.
PICKEREL CREEK WA
Pickerel Creek WA lies between the south shore of Sandusky Bay and state Route 6 in Sandusky County. The greater part of the area's 2,814 acres has been restored to wetlands by the Division of Wildlife's system of dikes, which have been built to control soil erosion and create additional acres of waterfowl habitat. There is very little dry land at Pickerel Creek, so a boat is a necessity.
The division acquired the area in 1987. The northern part of the wildlife area is in the middle of some of the finest wetland habitat still in existence along Sandusky Bay.
A daily drawing allows winners to hunt a section of the area. Hunters not drawn can move down about a mile to nearby Willow Point WA, which is open to freelance hunting. The area is highly productive of a variety of game birds.
"We get a pretty good flow of waterfowl through here in the fall and just before freeze-up," said Chris Dwyer, a wildlife biologist in District Two.
November hunters target mallards, blacks, pintails, woodies, canvasbacks, scaup, ringnecks, two species of teal and Canadas.
According to the Division of Wildlife's Tim Plageman, Pickerel Creek yields one of the highest numbers of ducks per hunter-day in the state. He recommends setting up between the area's fields and the water to take advantage of Canadas flying in and out of the marshland to feed.
Pickerel WA is in Sandusky County west of the city of Sandusky. Additional information may be obtained from the Pickerel WA office at (419) 547-6007 or the District Two office at (419) 424-5000.
AUBURN MARSH WA
Another of Westerfield's recommendations for 2004, the 462-acre Auburn Marsh WA, is in Geauga County about 25 miles east of Cleveland.
Water levels fluctuate from year to year depending on rainfall and beaver activities. When the water is up, mallards and woodies can be abundant.
"A lot of local hunters come here, which is a good sign," said Jeremy Byers, a Division of Wildlife wildlife technician.
This is one of the smaller wildlife areas and many hunters overlook it. Auburn Marsh is on the east side of Auburn Road about one-half mile north of Auburn Corners on Washington Road off state Route 44. There is no lottery-style hunt here, and walk-in hunters are welcome throughout the season.
A map and additional information may be obtained by calling the District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
"A sometimes-overlooked area is Shenango Wildlife Area in Trumbull County," said Westerfield. "It can be a great place to find ducks, especially if it has been raining and the creek is flooding. It's always good for mallards and wood ducks early on."
Biologist Byers agrees wholeheartedly. "Shenango Wildlife Area holds tremendous potential for hunters willing to walk or canoe to isolated spots," he said.
Shenango lies along Pymatuning Creek and is an excellent place to float-hunt for waterfowl, and there are plenty of decoy-hunting opportunities on the larger marsh units.
The 4,845-acre Shenango WA has several areas of marshy lands along Pymatuning Creek, which flows through the area. One of the most productive spots is north of state Route 87 along the creek.
Shenango WA is in Trumbull County 22 miles north of Youngstown, and lies along Pymatuning Creek. Most of Shenango is bordered by state Route 7 on the west and Orangeville-Kinsman Road on the east, and is intersected by state Route 88.
Local hunters float the area by boat, launching from where township roads 87, 88 and 252 cross Pymatuning Creek.
Additional information on waterfowl hunting opportunities and maps of the area can be obtained from the District Three at (330) 644-2293.
GRAND RIVER WA
"The Grand River Wildlife Area offers 7,000 acres of mixed wetland and upland habitats that attract good numbers of waterfowl," said Byers. "There are a number of secluded marshes that offer great opportunities for those hunters willing to walk and find them."
Grand River WA covers 6,993 acres along the Grand River. Over 600 acres are wetlands and attract Canadas, woodies, mallards, black ducks and teal.
Float trips are a productive tactic. There are winding creeks that are full of ducks, and the main river offers shots at resting and feeding waterfowl.
Greentree Marsh is one of the most productive spots on the wildlife area. It is north of state Route 88 on the east side of the area. It can be reached off township Road 236. The Dillon Pond area is also popular and provides good hunting when waterfowl are flying in. Dillon Pond can be accessed off township Road 304.
Grand River WA lies a mile north of the intersection of state routes 88 and 534 in Trumbull County. For more information, contact the Grand River WA office at (330) 889-3280 or the Division of Wildlife's District Three at (330) 644-2293.
"Highland Wildlife Area early on can be good for mallards and wood ducks," said Westerfield. Almost 20 parking areas are provided throughout the area for hunters frequenting the manmade and beaver ponds. Set up for jump-shooting near the various ponds.
Highlandtown WA is 93 miles from Cleveland, 37 miles from Canton and 30 miles from Steubenville. It is three miles northeast of Salineville and eight miles south of Lisbon in Columbiana County. Hunters can reach Highlandtown by state routes 39 and 164.
The wildlife area covers 2,265 acres. The 170-acre Highlandtown Lake attracts ducks and geese throughout the season. Plan on using either a dog or a small boat, because most of the area is open water.
Additional information and a map can be obtained by contacting the District Three office at (330) 644-2293.
MOSQUITO CREEK WA
"In northeast Ohio are several public hunting areas provide excellent waterfowl hunting opportunities," said Byers. "At the top of my list would be Mosquito Creek Wildlife Area and Lake."
early 1,000 acres of prime waterfowl habitat are open to hunting on the wildlife area of the 9,515 acres that make up this state-owned wildlife area and refuge. Cropland and ponds draw plenty of Canada geese, which at times number upwards of 13,000 birds.
A lot of the area is completely under water, and a boat is required to hunt it.
Mosquito Lake is part of Mosquito Lake State Park and is open to freelance hunting without a permit. A daily drawing is made for morning and afternoon hunts on the area, while field hunting is restricted to drawings that occurred earlier in the summer.
Management activities have included establishing a nesting area for local Canadas and wood duck box nesting sites. Woodies are the most common waterfowl during November, followed by black, scaup and teal.
Mosquito Creek WA is five miles south of Colebrook where state routes 46 and 87 intersect.
The wildlife area office may be contacted at (440) 685-4776 for a map and more information, or call the District Three office at (330) 644-2283.
BEACH CITY WA
"If I had to pick a place to start looking for ducks, I would look first at Beach City," said Westerfield. "The backwaters of Beach City Wildlife Area can produce good numbers of wood ducks and mallards, along with an average number of Canadas."
There are over 400 acres of marshland in the wildlife area. Most of it is open water and requires a boat to hunt.
A productive spot is near the parking lot on township Road 62. From the lot, walk in to where there is standing water for wood ducks.
Another hotspot for woodies is where township Road 447 enters the wildlife area.
Beach City WA covers 1,912 acres on state Route 93 about a mile south of Beach City in Tuscarawas County. Access is from U.S. Route 250 and secondary roads.
Additional parking areas are on county Road 96 and on the access road off county Road 96 north of county Road 94.
Contact the District Three office at (330) 644-2293 for a map of the area and additional information.
Waterfowlers should contact the wildlife areas they intend to hunt for current regulations and drawing times. A hunting license, an Ohio Wetlands Habitat Stamp and a signed federal migratory bird-hunting stamp are required to hunt waterfowl.
Current bag limits, regulations and season dates are in the waterfowl hunting publication available online at the Division of Wildlife's Web site, www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife. Or call the division's information line at 1-800-WILDLIFE.
The Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism will help with trip-planning decisions; phone 1-800-818-6446.
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