John's Journal...


What Avid Waterfowlers and Guides Think

EDITOR’S NOTE: Everyone in the South has asked the question the last few years, what's happened to the ducks? The number of ducks coming down the Central Flyway seems to have vastly decreased, but why? Even when the ducks do come down the flyway, they only show up during the last two or three weeks of the season, or well after the season ends. Too, why has Canada experienced record numbers of ducks while the Central Flyway has had a duck drought? This week we’ll try to answer some of your questions by talking with the experts in the duck business.

Rick Nemecek/Guide/Ohio

Rick Nemecek, of Port Clinton, Ohio, an outdoor writer and editor for the “Ohio Sportsman” and a duck-hunting guide for 27 years, hunts in the center of what's left of Ohio's wetlands. "We didn't do too badly this waterfowl season because we're further north, but even in Ohio, the ducks were late,” Nemecek mentions. “I believe several factors contributed to this season’s waterfowl tardiness. First, the summers are lasting longer, making the weather patterns fall a month later than normal. Now, the weather doesn’t get cold until December, where we once had freezing weather in November. We've heard for years about short-stopping ducks in the North. What are the things, manmade or otherwise, that create a reason for the birds not to travel further south? Birds once stopped in Ohio on their fall flight because there was a large amount natural vegetation and some spilled grain to eat. Over the last 10 years, hunting clubs have started manipulating water levels to get natural vegetation for the ducks, but that hasn't produced the quality hunting that their members’ request. The theory of flooding crops has evolved even further. The clubs that once planted millet or buckwheat have almost totally gone to corn as their food crops in the flood areas. These practices impact how far the ducks will fly south. The colder the weather gets, the more the ducks seem to want corn, and they'll bypass other food to get to it. A lack of food and open water is what makes the ducks fly south.

“With Lake Erie being such a huge body of water, it doesn’t freeze nearly as early as the marsh areas. The birds have an opportunity to feed in these fields, and even when the flooded fields ice-over, the birds still can feed and then go out in the lake to get water. “Some hunting clubs are keeping the water open in their flooded-hunting regions by using bubblers. As the clubs learn to manage better and create better hunting, other hunters hear about those clubs and want to join them. As the demand for clubs from hunters continues to grow, so does the number of places for the ducks. Add in a longer duck season, and there are many more opportunities to take ducks. In years past, some hunters had quit buying duck stamps because the season only lasted one month, but now that it lasts two months, more hunters are coming into the fold. So, we have to make space for them.”

Click to enlargeRandy Huffstetler/Guide/Tennessee

Randy Huffstetler of River Bottom, Tennessee a duck guide in northwest Tennessee, believes that, "Many ducks have changed their migration patterns’. In Illinois, they have so much feed, the ducks don’t need to fly this way as much. Too, because of the added refuges, there are many more places the ducks can rest. Some of the refuges should open up this year, and I think that will help make the birds move around."

Billy Blakely/Guide/Tennessee

Billy Blakely, a guide on Reelfoot Lake in Betroy, Tennessee, names weather as the main reason for the lateness of the ducks. “We had a fair adult season, but we had a phenomenal juvenile season because of a two-day cold front that came in when the high temperature was only 38 degrees,” Blakely recalls. “The winters have been too mild. The first week in December, I was hunting in a t-shirt."

George Cochran/Hunter/Arkansas

“We just don't have the ducks we once had,” George Cochran of Hot Springs, Arkansas, a tournament bass fisherman and avid waterfowl hunter, notes. “People can call to ducks late or early. But there never seems to be any ducks in my area anymore. Many of my friends run duck-hunting clubs, and hardly anyone in them sees or harvests ducks. If the wildlife divisions will decrease the limit to a couple of mallards per day, leave the dates as they are and do away with electronics and gadgets, I think the ducks will make a comeback in a couple of years.”

Click to enlargeMike Herrman/Guide/Louisiana

Mike Herrman of Chalmette, Louisiana, has guided to waterfowl for 18 years and owns Louisiana Gulf Coast Outfitters, a guide service in Saint Bernard Parrish. Herrman hunts on the Gulf Coast around Delacroix Island, Louisiana, about 30 minutes east of New Orleans. “There's a few factors I think could have caused the ducks not to come down the flyway,” Herrman explains. “In the last few years, people blamed abnormal weather and mild winters on El Niño. This abnormal weather pattern could have caused the birds not to migrate as far south. I think when the birds migrated a shorter distance, perhaps the following year this short migration caused the birds to fly back further north. Since new birds would make up a big portion of the flock, when the younger birds flew further north, they’d return to that further-north environment. So the following year, I feel the younger ducks stayed with the same flight pattern. And then in the new season, the first-year birds followed these second-year birds. Too, there are more places for the birds to find open water and food than ever before. I've hunted many places, and the places that are located closest to the refuge are the places I’ve seen the fewest birds. The marshland where I hunt on the Louisiana Coast, is eroding at such a fast pace that it’s created more water where the birds can land. Fifty years ago, that land was more solid, and there were fewer ponds and lagoons, so the birds had to concentrate in the areas where there was water.”

Jeff Martin/Tennessee

Jeff Martin, of Halls, Tennessee, the owner and operator of Twin Rivers Guide Service reports that, “We had a dry winter on this end of the flyway. Early in the season, there wasn't much water in places that usually held water. Several of the early ducks passed us by, and the season was halfway gone before we had sufficient water to hold the ducks. Too, we saw more adult ducks than we usually do, and there weren't many young and dumb ducks flying this year. You had to hunt five days to get one day out of the week to see fresh ducks. You only got a fresh push of ducks one or two days a week.”

Click to enlargeTerry Demon/Hunter/Louisiana

“The duck count done by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in December, indicated that we had 3.2 million ducks in Louisiana,” Terry Demon of Monroe, Louisiana, an avid waterfowl hunter and the owner of Mojo Decoy Company, comments. “That's not all the ducks in Louisiana but that's a comparative count. In January we had 3.8 million ducks, which is equal to the five-year average and includes the record years of 1999 and 2000. So, you couldn't say Louisiana didn't have any ducks, even though you didn’t see any ducks in best hunting areas available. Weather, a poor hatch and a large number of older-age ducks in the population are key factors. But, I also believe that the ducks have learned that they can survive best if they fly at night. We've found a lot of evidence showing that ducks have become nocturnal. They stay on the refuges during the daylight hours, especially the federal refuges that don't permit any hunting, and they fly around and feed at night. This has occurred in several different places. I believe hunting pressure has made the ducks realize it's safer to fly at night.”

To learn more about ducks, their nesting habitat and their migration, you can go to the DU website, or; or (601) 956-1936, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at; or call (800) 344-WILD. For more information about ducks in each state, visit


Check back each day this week for more about WHY DUCKS HAVEN’T COME DOWN THE CENTRAL FLYWAY...

Day 1 - What Does the Duck Problem Involve?
Day 2 - What Ducks Unlimited Thinks
Day 3 - Talks with State Biologists about Duck Season
Day 4 - What Avid Waterfowlers and Guides Think
Day 5 - More Duck-Hunting Guides and Avid Waterfowlers Speak


Entry 286, Day 4