Duck hunters stalled by river’s food shortage
By Ralph Loos
Marion, Ill. — As observant duck hunters know, it’s all about the food.
With Thanksgiving Day arriving – and with it the opening of the south zone, the fourth and final zone to open to duck hunting – lack of food on the Illinois River has made the season a tough go for hunters in the north, central, and south-central zones.
“The August floods really wiped out the food, which is a shame because before the flooding things were looking really good on the river,” said Aaron Yetter, a waterfowl ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey who conducts a weekly aerial census of waterfowl in the Illinois River Valley. “There was a lot of food, and the flight forecasts called for a lot of ducks to come down. But with the lack of food and the warm weather, duck hunters have really faced poor conditions this season.”
Ducks did start arriving in greater numbers between Yetter’s Nov. 7 count and his Nov. 14 count.
He and his INHS colleagues estimated 333,095 ducks in the Illinois River Valley on Nov. 14, which was 15 percent above the 10-year average and up 56 percent from the Nov. 7 count.
Of that new total, 125,000 were mallards,which is below the 10-year average of 142,000, but a drastic improvement over the Nov. 7 count.
“A big chunk of that increase was due to an influx of mallards in both the upper and lower Illinois River – mallards increased 196 percent from the previous week,” noted Yetter.
Total ducks along the Central Mississippi River Valley were up 44 percent from the previous week and 12 percent above average for the middle of November.
Mallard numbers along the CMRV climbed 83 percent from the previous week, and a decent sized raft of lesser scaup (12,000) was found between Nauvoo and Fort Madison, Yetter said.
With the weather pattern forming in the prairies, Yetter expected the arrival of new ducks beginning a few days before Thanksgiving.
“However, the central Illinois forecast of northwest winds and low temperatures will likely drive out many of those non-mallard dabblers that have been hanging around for several weeks now,” said Yetter.
The north zone duck season ends Dec. 13. The central zone wraps up Dec. 20, while the south-central zone remains open until Jan. 9. South zone hunters have until Jan. 22 to get their ducks.
“The species distribution usually starts to change by the second week of November when we shift from the non-mallard dabblers – northern pintail, gadwall, American wigeon, American green-winged teal, and northern shoveler – to mallards,” explained Yetter.
Unseasonably warm weather had stalled waterfowl movement in the north, central and south central zones this fall. A predicted cold snap expected to hit much of the state in the days prior to Thanksgiving had duck hunters hopeful.
“It’s been pretty slow all around, duck and goose wise,” said Bil Cartwright, a hunter from the McHenry area. “We’re just hoping the cold gets here and the ducks start flying.”