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Missouri Waterfowl Preview 2017

Missouri Waterfowl Preview 2017
With record numbers of ducks, and the right weather, Missouri waterfowlers should be in for some fine duck and goose shooting this year. (Shutterstock image)

We are lucky to have such outstanding waterfowl options within our state. And with this information to guide us, another great season is coming our way.

By Ryan Miloshewski

Smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi and Central flyways, Missouri is home to some of the best duck hunting in the country.

Plentiful numbers of conservation areas, multiple waterways for migration, and an ideal geographic location combine to make our state a great one for anyone calling himself a waterfowler.


With record numbers of ducks, and the right weather, Missouri waterfowlers should be in for some fine duck and goose shooting this year. (Shutterstock image)


OVERALL OUTLOOK

Much like the past 30 years have been, the 2017 waterfowl season should be a good one. That evaluation is per our Missouri Department of Conservation waterfowl biologist Andy Raedeke.

"Over the past few years, we've had record numbers of ducks continentally, and we are holding more ducks in Missouri now than we ever have," Raedeke said.

Statewide, Missouri tends to hold close to 1 million ducks throughout the migration. With record numbers of ducks, and the right weather, Missouri waterfowlers should be in for some fine duck and goose shooting this year.

In the last 30 years, the number of conservation areas and wetland acreage has exponentially increased. "In 1980, we had five or six conservation areas in the entire state. Four Rivers, Grand Pass — they did not exist," Raedeke noted. "Coupled with expansion of our conservation areas and restoring 150,000 acres of wetlands across the state, duck habitat has never been better."




MDC has a great partnership with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Ducks Unlimited, which allows acquisition of grant money from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). With this money, multiple conservation areas are seeing major renovation and restoration. Over the last year, Duck Creek, Fountain Grove, Montrose, Ted Shanks, and Schell-Osage conservation areas have all been, or will be, completely renovated.

However, asking two different waterfowl hunters how our duck season has been over the last few years will surely yield you drastically different answers. A common theme seems to be that on one lease or conservation area, hunters are hammering waterfowl. A county away, or even only a few miles, hunters are seeing only a few singles each hunt. Helping to alleviate that drastic difference in experience is a goal of the MDC. 

REGULATION CHANGES

Due to the nature of data collection, upcoming season dates and regulations are based on the previous year's data. An extensive review of season timings, hunter preferences, and shooting pressure was just concluded by the MDC. One of the major things the MDC conducted before setting the 2017 season was hunter surveys.


"Hunter input has been extremely important to the MDC in getting the 2017 waterfowl seasons set," Raedeke stated. "Without their input and season formulas (mathematical formulas created and used by the MDC biologists), we would not have a good grasp on when the best timing would be for hunters." These surveys considered number of ducks sighted, how many were harvested, and when the desired timing of the season should be for each zone in Missouri.

Because of this, some notable changes were made to the 2017 waterfowl seasons. First, split seasons will occur in the Middle Zone and South Zone of the state.

"Hunters in the middle and southern parts of the state wanted to be able to hunt as late as possible," Raedeke explained. "They were willing to sacrifice early days. We started the season later in these zones so hunters could have additional days toward the end of the year."

All in all, about five extra days were added to the seasons in the Middle and South zones.

Another major change was the restructuring of the hunting zones in the state. Due to hunter input, Barton County, in the southwest part of the state, is now included in the South Zone. A more major change occurred in the southern border of the North Zone. For years, Interstate 70 has been the border between the North and Middle zones. Beginning in 2017, from Highway 63 to the Missouri River bottoms, Highway 24 will now be the dividing line. This allows Smithville Lake and Grand Pass Conservation Area to be included in the Middle Zone.

The limit for mallards in Missouri is 4. No more than 2 can be females. (Shutterstock image)

NOTABLE TRENDS

"Expect the unexpected! With Missouri's weather, anything is possible," Raedeke claimed. Overall, normal conditions for the 2017 season are expected. The only variable may be the droughts the Dakotas experienced in early summer.

"When the ducks nested, water was plentiful. When ducklings hatched, a moderate to severe drought was occurring," Raedeke explained. "Depending on the other breeding grounds, we may see a decline in duck numbers in certain areas of the state." Losing valuable habitat when ducklings are young can be devastating to the breeding success of waterfowl.

WHEN TO HUNT

Keying in on weather events and foraging ducks will produce the best numbers. "As soon as you get colder weather or a snowstorm, hunt the next day," Raedeke said. "The colder ducks are, the more energy they need to survive, so they feed more."

An often-overlooked weather event is rain. "Rain floods new areas and ducks have evolved to seek out the newly flooded habitat to feed," Raedeke clarified. When you get rain or cold weather, you can be sure ducks will be foraging and on the move.

"It all comes down to the weather," stated Johnny Everhart, known around the west-central Missouri area as Dr. Duck. "You have to watch the forecast close. I've seen migrations move just ahead or on the face of a hard front."

Dr. Duck likes to key in on the newly flooded areas after rains. "Swelling water provides one of their favorite foods — acorns from flooded oaks floating everywhere," he said.

Duane Doty, dock manager at Lilley's Landing Resort and Marina on Lake Taneycomo, is an avid waterfowl hunter. He's been going after ducks and geese in the southwest part of Missouri for years. "I hope for moderate temperatures the first two weeks and prior to the opening of the South Zone. This will give us a better chance at opportunities with the woodies and teal," he said.

Like Raedeke and Dr. Duck, Doty looks forward to high water on the lakes and reservoir arms. "The abundance of food and cover encourages them (waterfowl) to stick around a little longer rather than resting and passing through," Doty noted.

Doty's most important tactic for waterfowl season is scouting. "Spend some time on the water checking creek arms, coves, and flats looking for areas ducks are feeding and have cover to hide in," he detailed.

Doty spends a lot of time on the waters of Table Rock, Taneycomo and Bull Shoals before and during the South Zone season. He's chasing walleyes and crappie then, but he's always scouting for ducks. "The first couple of hours of daylight are always your best chances at duck hunting in this area," he advised, and then offered a great suggestion. "Take small spreads and enjoy a morning of hunting, and then change gears and try some fishing. The fish bite all day that time of year, and I love a good cast and blast!"

MIGRATION PEAKS

Migration peaks are not an exact science. But without an abnormal weather event, they generally stay the same. According to Raedeke, unless Canada gets a large snowstorm in October, causing migration peaks to be around Veteran's Day, ducks will head South no matter the condition.

"I talked with biologists from the Mallard Migration Network in Canada last year, and even with the mild weather and plenty of food available, most ducks left by Nov. 15," he said.

Here's a look at the usual patterns for our hunt zones. 

North Zone Migration Peak

  • The last week of November to the first week of December. Once waters start to freeze, numbers drastically drop.

Middle Zone Migration Peak

  • The first week of December to the second or third week of December.

South Zone Migration Peak

  • The second or third week of December until the end of December.

Birds in the South Zone tend to hang around. Their numbers can peak when the North and Middle zones peak, but the ducks usually don't leave. It's a gradual increase in duck numbers, as opposed to a "blast of ducks" like you'd see in the North Zone.

TAKEAWAYS

One of the major lessons consistent with all hunters and biologists, is we cannot predict 100 percent of anything regarding the waterfowl season. There are trends and certain conditions that make it better, and the information provided will most surely get you ahead of the average hunter.

Dr. Duck put it best. "Your encounters may be completely different than others. If something works, stay with it. The main thing to remember — duck hunting is more than just killing ducks. It's not the quantity but the quality of the hunt!

"There is no better therapy in the world than sitting in a duck blind experiencing God's creation. Take a youth, a friend, your dog and a camera and get out and enjoy the great outdoors!"

SEASON DATES

New to 2017 is the split-season format by the MDC to help lessen pressure and extend late-season days for waterfowl hunters in the Middle and South zones. Here is a breakdown of season dates and limits for each zone.

North Zone

Ducks

  • Nov. 4, 2017, to Jan, 2, 2018
  • Youth season: Oct. 28-29
  • Daily limit of 6 (with species restrictions below) and possession limit of 18
  • Mallards: 4 (no more than 2 females) 
  • Scaup: 3
  • Wood ducks: 3
  • Hooded mergansers: 2
  • Redheads: 2
  • Canvasbacks: 2
  • Black ducks: 2
  • Mottled ducks: 1
  • Pintails: 1
  • Limit of 6 per species: American widgeon, blue-winged teal, gadwall, green-winged teal, Northern shoveler, ring-necked duck
  • Coots: daily limit 15, possession limit 45

Geese

  • Canada geese, Brant geese:
  • Oct. 7-15, and Nov. 11, 2017, to Feb. 6, 2018
  • Limit 3 with possession limit of 9
  • Light geese: Nov. 11, 2017, to Feb. 6, 2018 Limit 20 daily with no possession limit Greater white-fronted geese:
  • Limit 2 daily, possession limit of 6

Middle Zone

Ducks

  • Season Dates: Nov. 4-10, and Nov. 16, 2017, to Jan. 7, 2018
  • Youth season: Oct. 28-29
  • Daily limit of 6 (with species restrictions below) and possession limit of 18
  • Mallards: 4 (no more than 2 females) 
  • Scaup: 3
  • Wood ducks: 3
  • Hooded mergansers: 2
  • Redheads: 2
  • Canvasbacks: 2
  • Black ducks: 2
  • Mottled ducks: 1
  • Pintails: 1
  • Limit of 6 per species: American widgeon, blue-winged teal, gadwall, green-winged teal, Northern shoveler, ring-necked duck  Coots: daily limit 15, possession limit 45

Geese

  • Canada geese, Brant geese:
  • Oct. 7-15, and Nov. 11, 2017, to Feb. 6, 2018
  • Limit 3 with possession limit of 9
  • Light geese: Nov. 11, 2017, to Feb. 6, 2018 Limit 20 daily, no possession limit Greater white-fronted geese:
  • Limit 2 daily, possession limit of 6

South Zone

Ducks

  • Season Dates: Nov. 23-26, and Dec. 4, 2017, to Jan. 28, 2018
  • Daily limit of 6 (with species restrictions below) and possession limit of 18
  • Mallards: 4 (no more than 2 females) 
  • Scaup: 3
  • Wood ducks: 3
  • Hooded mergansers: 2
  • Redheads: 2
  • Canvasbacks: 2
  • Black ducks: 2
  • Mottled ducks: 1
  • Pintails: 1
  • Limit of 6 per species: American widgeon, blue-winged teal, gadwall, green-winged teal, Northern shoveler, ring-necked duck Coots: daily limit 15, with possession 45

Geese

  • Canada geese, Brant geese:
  • Oct. 7-15, and Nov. 11, 2017, to Feb. 6, 2018
  • Limit 3 with possession limit of 9
  • Light geese: Nov. 11, 2017, to Feb. 6, 2018 Limit 20 daily, no possession limit Greater white-fronted geese:
  • Limit 2 daily, possession limit 6 

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