Duck hunters get Christmas in February

In the past week, Duck hunters in the Mississippi Delta got a bit of a gift: five extra days of duck season.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith pushed a bill through as a rider on a comprehensive lands bill which would allow states the ability to extend Duck season until Jan. 31.

In 2020, duck season would have ended on Sunday, Jan. 26. The legislation was Hyde-Smith’s first piece offered last year, but wasn’t passed then. 

The Natural Resources Management Act, which is how the bill passed, is a bipartisan package of public lands, natural resources and water bills considered in the Senate and House but were not passed before the end of the 115th Congress last year.  

Had this bill been in place this season, what turned out to be the worst duck season in the Delta in the last decade could have partially been salvaged.

The worst duck season in a decade isn’t hyperbole, it’s fact, according to Trey Cooke executive director of Delta Wildlife.

“This year marked the lowest number counted in the region (The Delta) in past decade,” according to an email from Cook.

But this five-year stretch has been top shelf in terms of numbers of waterfowl.

“Statistically speaking, the last 5 years have been exceptional in terms of the number of number of ducks and mallards that have visited the Delta,” Cooke said.

While there are many reasons any season could be bad, this season hit the trifecta for bad duck hunting.

“Dry prairie (Prairie Pothole Region) conditions during the spring and summer force waterfowl to nest farther north which typically prevents them from migrating as far south the following winter – which was the case this year,” Cooke said. “Major river systems (MS, MO, IL, OH) that flood during the winter provide significant habitat for migratory birds and can ‘spread them out’ further than normal – which was the case this year. “Delated and postponed harvest of crops, especially corn, in the upper Midwest and Prairie Pothole Region provides significantly more food for migratory waterfowl, to the point they do not have to migrate any further to find additional food — which was the case this year.”

At least we have confirmation the ducks didn’t just not want to be here, they didn’t have any reason to be here. 

That’s why the extension of duck season seemed a no-brainer to me and one I’m glad the junior senator from Mississippi addressed. 

It’s not like we’re killing enough ducks to significantly reduce the populations to dangerous levels. According to Cooke, waterfowl harvest doesn’t seem to affect the population though there aren’t statistics to show either outcome, but he did say it doesn’t have near the effect natural mortality.

While talk in the duck blind always seems to center around work done very much north of our region, it may be factors there we can’t control. 

Conservation practices have made it easier for ducks to remain in the upper Midwest, but any out-of-the-norm weather patterns can tip the scale in a direction away from the hunters in the South.

That’s what we got this year until the polar vortex helped push ducks south and fill up empty waterfowl habitat only days after our season ended prematurely.

Next year though, we’ll have those extra five days in what should be the prime of duck season. 

I, for one, am appreciative of the senator’s efforts to move the bill forward, but now, I’d like to see an effort to move the season on in to February. 

It probably won’t happen anytime soon, but as the climate changes we should be ready to adjust our seasons to match what the migratory game does. 

Angel Alert goes out to all the folks who lined up on the streets of our town last weekend to hand water and encouragement to runners in the marathon. Happy birthday to Charlene Steed. Send angel alerts and birthdays to the contact information below.

Jon Alverson is proud to be publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. Write to him at jalverson@ddtonline.comor call him at 335-1155.