A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Despite a year of unusual weather, waterfowl season looks promising

By Lee McClellan
Special to KyForward

The shot of cold that greeted Kentucky earlier in November pushed many waterfowl into the state, which should portend a great opening to the waterfowl hunting season on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.

“We have more birds early than we’ve had in a really long time,” said John Brunjes, migratory bird coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We recently saw 20,000 to 30,000 ducks at Ballard Wildlife Management Area (WMA). We are in a better spot that we’ve been this early in the season in a long time.”

Wes Little, a migratory bird biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, said Sloughs WMA near Henderson held white-fronted and snow geese last week, likely pushed from the upper Midwest and Canada by the recent cold snap.

The waterfowl seasons open Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, statewide. The recent cold snap pushed great numbers of ducks into Kentucky and portends a productive opening to the duck season. Canada goose numbers remain strong across Kentucky as well. The moist soil habitat preferred by waterfowl is in the best shape in years. (Photo from Kentucky Afield)

“I saw great numbers of ducks at Sloughs and there should be plenty of birds for opening day,” Little said.

The heavy rainfall across Kentucky early in 2019 resulted in the record pool level at Lake Cumberland and extremely late planting of crops for waterfowl on wildlife management areas in western Kentucky.

“On some places such as Doug Travis WMA, the water from spring didn’t come down until August,” Brunjes said. “It was August 20. We just could not get into some areas until then. We try to plant crops when we can. High water was a common problem across the Mississippi Flyway.”

Brunjes said the good news is the wet conditions charged the moist soil habitat loved by waterfowl. “It is one of the best moist soil habitat years we’ve had,” he said. “The wild millet and smartweed in the moist soil areas should provide plenty of food for birds.”

Many Kentuckians cannot afford a duck boat, expensive decoys and other accessories necessary for hunting big waters. Farm ponds dot the landscape across the state and provide excellent hunting. Farmers with an abundance of birds, especially Canada geese, may welcome hunters to thin the numbers a bit.

“For farm pond hunting, you need to find places where ducks roost and where they feed, then get permission to a pond in a travel corridor between these areas,” Little said. “You want to be in line with the waterfowl.”

Little explained the two most important things for farm pond hunting are concealment and movement of the decoys. “Motion in your decoys is critical, never leave home without a jerk string,” he said. “Spinning wing decoys may or may not work, but a jerk string never fails.”

Many of the ducks arriving at Kentucky farm ponds are migrating from the north and already educated by encounters with hunters. Concealment becomes paramount.

“Most of our resident mallard ducks are park or city ducks, but the ones in rural areas are usually migrators,” Little said. “Blinds made from natural vegetation work best. You need to spend as much time hiding yourself as you do placing decoys.”

Some welded wire fence, zip ties and natural vegetation such as tall grass or brush is all you need to build a waterfowl blind for farm pond hunting. Use the zip ties to attach the vegetation to the woven wire fence. “You can build a nice hunting blind for less than $50,” Little said.

Those concerned about their calling prowess should not worry when farm pond hunting. “If you are where the ducks want to be, you don’t have to call,” Little said. “When calling, less is sometimes more.”

Kentucky has more flowing water than just about any other state. Diligent scouting often reveals areas of a creek used by waterfowl as loafing spots or as travel corridors. These areas can provide excellent pass shooting as long as concealment hides the hunter from the birds.

The first segment of duck season closes Dec. 1. Duck season opens again Dec. 7 and closes Jan. 31, 2020, which is new for the 2019-2020 duck seasons. Previously, duck season closed on the last Sunday in January. Another change for this duck season is the lowering of the northern pintail daily bag limit from two birds to one.

Goose season also opens Nov. 28 and closes Feb. 15, 2020.

The upcoming waterfowl season could be one of the best in years. Nothing beats hearing ducks splashing into a nearby pond on a cold winter morning.

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Author Lee McClellan is associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Lee and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter at @kyafield

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For more information on the department, click here.

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