Water levels up, temperatures above average and the birds are showing in nice numbers.
Prospects for the Saturday start to the duck and goose hunting seasons look promising for hunters set up at and after the half-hour before sunrise opener.
That government shutdown canceled organizational planning for federal blind drawings, but the selections for state wildlife management areas already were mailed to successful recipients seeking first-day access to sites around the Oak Orchard and the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas.
Heidi Kennedy, Department of Environmental Conservation Region 8 senior wildlife biologist, oversees the Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management areas. The outlook for the Saturday opener on New York State managed marshlands is promising. Kennedy says, “Overall, the marshes are good; a couple might be a bit high from the rain.”
She adds, “One small marsh called paddy three needs a control box and should have low water for the opener; all other areas look good for water levels on the Saturday opener.”
As for the grounds and bird numbers, Kennedy noted that vegetation was thick this summer and duck populations were good, because of good aquatic vegetation growth and forage this season.
Kennedy suggests that hunters planning on waterfowl hunts should get out this week and scout areas to check on access conditions and places to set up good sites for shooting.
Last year’s drought made hunting conditions difficult on state marshes; the land and wetland areas look better this year.
Paul Hess, wildlife biologist at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, coordinates the waterfowl hunting program. Hess said water levels throughout the refuge are fine this year.
Recipients have been selected for the opening day drawing, but, as most veteran waterfowlers know, some heavy flights often arrive shortly after the official opening date.
Regulars at Iroquois will not see Dorothy Gerhart, visitor services manager, during the blind drawings throughout this season. Shortly after the season last year, Gerhart quietly retired. Hess said that Madeline Prush now does some of the hunt coordinating, but Gerhart’s position has yet to be filled.
The Thursday end to the government shutdown had Iroquois Refuge staffers back and setting up fall programs. But Hess noted that crews will have to scramble to get walk-in areas fully cleared and marked for the Saturday opener.
“We have 27 stands entered in the draw and will not know if all can be completed until Wednesday,” Hess said of the blinds entered in the opening-day drawings.
Hess asks that hunters hold off until at least Wednesday to check on completions and availabilities of blind areas. A Facebook page shows the ongoing process of blind setups, but for phone contact on or after Wednesday, call (585) 945-5445.
Ducks Unlimited’s popular Waterfowl 360 online program is up this year with the addition of a phone app option for smart-phoners. The program can be useful for general information about programs and bird flights.
When clicking on the Migration Map to find locations in Western New York, the nearest update sites are Syracuse and Erie, Pa. But the information from both is solid about sightings and migration patterns. For access to this map program and information about all Ducks Unlimited projects and programs, go to ducks.org.
Waterfowl hunting areas on private land vary from year to year, but all are affected by water levels and aquatic growths monitored and managed on state and federal marshlands. After a nice summer season of the right rainfall that produced good vegetable and fruit crops, a late-summer mini-drought dropped water levels in many ponds that were not spring fed. Aquatic as well as land-borne crops grew well this summer.
Rain last week and for coming week could put inland lakes, ponds, streams and potholes in good shape for the waterfowl opener.
As with areas on state and federally managed lands, duck and goose hunters should check on access and decoy setup areas this week before opening day. Shoreline brush patterns could have changed considerably since that last hunt day during the previous year.
Take along a handsaw and/or trimmer; Mother Nature has a nasty way of changing the flora arrangements out there, especially along water edges.