Waterfowl Update from Southern Illinois
Between deer hunting, family issues and the holidays, I haven't had the chance to get after ducks or geese yet this season. I've got the itch, though, and with my schedule opening up a bit I decided to call a few pros and get the skinny on what the birds are doing throughout the southern part of the state. Here's what I found out, as of December 30, and the news is good for Canada geese fans.
My first call was to Greg Masterson in Olive Branch, whose Big Cypress Outfitters operation is positioned near Horseshoe Lake in the "deep south" of Illinois. Greg was covered up with ducks and trying to pull them in close for some youngsters when my call reached him.
The news from Olive Branch was mostly good and a little bad. Masterson said the Horseshoe area had more Canada geese than they had seen in the last 10 years, as well as a tremendous amount of ducks. The flocks of ducks they were seeing, however, were very hen-heavy and short on drakes, presumably from having been heavily hunted further north. Many of the ducks harvested were also young and seemed light in weight, indicating stress or a lack of food. Specklebelly geese, he said, were starting to gather there, but most of the snow geese had simply been passing through.
On a side note, he mentioned that he wanted to see the required distance between pits increased considerably. He feels it's too easy for people to set up close enough to another group that their shooting spooks off skittish birds that were previously working to the calls.
Call number two was to Pike's Hunting Club near Crab Orchard Lake. I spoke with guide Derek Jenkel, who was in the clubhouse after guiding a group to their limit on Canadas and coming in early for a hot breakfast. He connected me with owner Terry Pike, who told me that the Canada goose hunting had been average or better, but that duck hunting had been slow. Pike felt that the ducks had pushed south – confirmed above by Masterson – but he expected many to come back if the weather stayed mild. He said that there were a lot of geese on the Crab Orchard Refuge and more coming from the north, but that they weren't seeing many snow geese and just a few specks.
My final contact was Jim Knope at Gander Hill Goose Club, located near Pyramid State Park. Like Masterson, Knope stated that they had seen the best push of Canada geese in the last 10 seasons. He said that the area had lost some of its specks and snows, which were there in good numbers, but that he expected them right back with the milder weather that was already moving in. He feels that eagle sightings are usually a good indicator that large groups of geese are pushing into the area, and he had just spotted an eagle that morning.
With regard to ducks, Knope said the park has held mallards and gadwalls all season, although birds have not been as responsive to calling as usual. Many of the birds fed heavily before moving out with the snow system in late December. Again, he expects them back with milder weather and that the area will then hold them until the next major weather system comes in.
So there's the lowdown on waterfowl in southern Illinois, and mild weather with highs in the 40s is in the immediate forecast. Chime in and let us know what you're seeing in the comments section.