Waite Park, Minn. — Where there’s water, there are ducks. But in some areas of the state, finding water or places to access it for the waterfowl opener on Sept. 22 will involve more work and maybe a change in plans.
After heavy precipitation across much of the state in June, the rain slowed to a trickle. Most seasonal or temporary wetlands are dried up in many regions, so getting a duck-hunting boat and motor on bigger basins will be tough.
The entire northwestern region of the state has been dry all summer, extending drought-like conditions that have existed since last year. The bigger basins in the area are at least 20 inches below target levels, and that means duck hunters will have to adjust next weekend, according to Joel Huener, DNR assistant wildlife manager at the Thief Lake WMA.
“Water levels are lower than anyone has ever seen them – it’s really dry up here,” Huener said. “The small basins are dried up and there’s no water at the boat launches, so hunters need to plan accordingly.”
Using a boat and motor would be difficult due to the lack of water at access points on Thief Lake. He suggests hunters use a canoe or shallow boat and push-pole route this opener on the bigger bodies of water in the northwest.
Other areas, such as the Roseau River WMA, are in slightly better shape. The river is low, but there are pools that seem to be holding more water.
In western Minnesota those small, temporary wetlands also don’t exist. The bigger basins are low, and there will be mud flats and rocks revealed this opener that hunters need to monitor.
Curt Vacek is the DNR area wildlife manager at the Lac qui Parle WMA, and he recommends hunters do some scouting if they’ve never been to the area.
“Marsh Lake is lower than it’s been in a few years, but we’ve seen it lower,” Vacek said. “It’s still huntable. People just need to be aware that they’ll encounter mud flats in spots that haven’t been exposed in a few years.”
The dry conditions have concentrated ducks in this region, and those shallow areas are quite attractive to puddle ducks. Vacek said there are a lot of wood ducks and teal around, using the shallow basins in good numbers.
The southwest part of the state remains dry, as well. It was dry last fall, snow was minimal last winter, and despite some isolated pockets of heavy rain this summer, a lot of basins remain lower than normal.
Ken Varland is the DNR Region 4 wildlife manager in New Ulm, and he says access on some lakes will be an issue on opening day. He noted that water levels consistently are low throughout the southwest.
“Swan Lake in Nicollet County should provide good access, but we have a number of WMAs and large lakes where access will be more difficult than most years,” Varland said. “Hunters need to be scouting, and they shouldn’t show up and expect access conditions to be the same as last year.”
Water levels in north-central Minnesota appear to be in better shape than most areas, according to Perry Loegering, DNR wildlife manager in Grand Rapids.
Loegering said water levels on area streams and small rivers are down and the lack of flow could force hunters to have some difficulty moving around on them. But the lakes and bigger marshes in his region are at “normal” water levels, so he doesn’t anticipate any access issues.
“We had so much rain earlier that we’re holding our own as far as water levels,” Loegering said.
Heavy rains in June smacked the wild rice crops in some areas. Loegering said he could “draw a line” through Grand Rapids and virtually find no rice south of it.