The 2015-16 duck season is a wrap. It’s done. Any other sixty days never pass this fast. The season in the East Zone, which includes our area, went down with the sun Sunday afternoon. Overall, it was a poor season. It was the ducks fault. The ducks just didn’t come down this far. Yet. You can be assured in the next month you will probably see more ducks than you could believe. That’s the way it usually works. Why? Cold weather up north really never iced over major duck wintering areas so far. And thousands of acres of floodwaters kept the ducks happy up there without coming to see us here. Great numbers made it to Missouri. Good numbers made it to north Arkansas. Only a fraction of the ducks we are used to seeing came on down.
The LDWF does monthly aerial surveys before and during the season. Most duck hunters didn’t need to see it to know that numbers of ducks were way down. The survey says the numbers of ducks statewide in January was only 55% of last year’s total. It was less than 40% of the five-year average. Want more bad news? It is the lowest January estimate since 2009’s total and that is the 5th lowest January survey estimate, exceeding those of 1983, 1987, and 2008 as well as 2009. It is not typical for estimates of total ducks to decline from December to January especially to such a degree. However, despite some flashes of winter, temperatures in December were warmer than average, regular rainfall has maintained widespread available flooded habitat, and birds have clearly dispersed from the surveyed region.
If you have been in the duck blind much you already know this, but the official numbers just confirm it. The mallard estimate statewide is the second lowest on record; only the 59,000 in 2009 is lower. It is far lower than the 5-year and long-term averages for mallards on this survey, which are 145,000 and 363,000 respectively.
The decline in ducks counted from December to January was even greater on the NE Louisiana survey, where only 106,000 ducks and 88,000 geese were counted on selected habitats. That is less than a third of the 363,000 ducks and 199,000 geese counted in December. The big concentrations south of Grand Cote and between Bonita and Mer Rouge were gone, and the largest groups of ducks were counted east of Ouachita WMA (although far fewer than in December), and at Catahoula NWR. Most abundant species were gadwall, shoveler, and ring-necked duck. Extensive flooded agricultural habitat was evident and there was extensive flooding in the major river systems.
Mid-winter waterfowl surveys in other states showed Arkansas’ estimate was below average; Mississippi’s about average, Missouri’s was twice the most recent 5-year average, and Tennessee and Kentucky are reporting above average number of ducks. Extensive shallow flooding is evident over broad expanses of the Mississippi Flyway from southern Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Combined with far warmer than average temperatures, the winter distribution of ducks this January appears to have shifted northward.
There is one last shot for young hunters. The last of the Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days is Feb. 6 in the East Zone. That’s for waterfowl hunters age 15 and younger, when accompanied by an adult (age 18 and older). The youth hunter may take ducks with bag limits the same as regular duck seasons. The adult may not hunt. If you are going, make sure you check all the rules and regulations for these special days.
Note: If you haven’t looked already, you can see a day-by-day hunting blog about the season from one of the area’s most ardent duck hunters, Jeff Simmons.
Check here for his daily diary of the season: