Season over, ducks are here

The ducks started flying before we even stopped the Ranger in the almost knee-deep water.

John and I went quickly to work throwing out decoys and getting the kids ready for the single-day, youth waterfowl hunt last Saturday. 

With zero cloud cover, the sun was illuminating the sky faster than we expected and the ducks were already falling in our decoys as we got the kids into position.

The kids let fly at duck after duck only to miss regularly. Shooting a moving target is tough for a 9- and 11-year old.

But, eventually, they would knock down some birds. Three in all. One an American widgeon and the other two mallards. 

And, as many people have repeated, a good time was had by all.

We stayed for the better part of two hours watching voluminous amounts of ducks circle the extra-large piece of water we’d decided to hunt that morning. 

The size of the water kept most of the ducks away from a decent shot for the kids, but the numbers of birds beggared belief compared to what we’d seen the last few years of our meager duck seasons.

We saw a full mixed bag of all the ducks Mississippi has to offer. There were waves of mallards, pintails, teal, wood ducks and widgeons. It was a sight to behold.

This sight though, was tempered with the knowledge these ducks weren’t here when the adults had a chance to hunt them. 

They’d come to our part of the country six days after our season ended as though they had a calendar in their back pockets.

These late-arriving ducks always prompt the question in my head of why we aren’t able to hunt them. They are a migratory species and if they aren’t migrating during the season, then we simply do not have a shot at them. (Pun intended.)

Houston Havens is the coordinator of the Mississippi Waterfowl Program and lent some insight as to why the waterfowl season are set the way they are via email.

The federal government sets a statute that duck season must occur from the Saturday nearest Sept. 24 until the final Sunday in January.

“Under the federal frameworks for the 2018-19 duck hunting season, Mississippi placed priority on hunting as late as possible (the last Sunday in January) and hunting as many weekends as possible (a maximum of 60 days with 3 season segments for states using 1 hunting zone),” Havens writes.

I can surely understand the need to place emphasis on weekend hunting for those of us who aren’t able to hunt as often during the week and the state is constricted by federal statute to end the season when it does. 

But why not change when the season ends?

There is a move afoot right now to change the end of duck season to a date, Jan. 31, instead of a day. 

“We expect this to be offered as an option beginning with the 2019-20 hunting season,” Havens writes. “Mississippi typically experiences peak duck abundances in early or late January each year, and current information suggests that a duck hunting season from late November through the end of January (using three split season segments) is the most appropriate time period for Mississippi.”

But, other than it not being allowed by federal statute, why not an extension into February for Southern hunters? 

“Hunters will often observe high concentrations of ducks in some areas during February, which can often lead to the assumption that duck numbers have dramatically increased after the hunting season has ended,” Havens writes. “This apparent increase in duck numbers is most likely due to a combination of three main factors. The first factor is a sharp decrease in available wetland habitat, due to the draining of managed wetlands after the hunting season ends. The second factor is the absence of hunting pressure, which allows ducks to freely exploit wetland habitats without disturbance. The third factor is possibly an influx of migrating ducks beginning their spring migration heading back northward from the Gulf Coast or other regions.”

So, it appears there are more ducks because there is less water, less hunters and, maybe, more ducks.

I guess I’ll never know the mind of the ducks I hunt each year, but, if I could, I’d like to ask one question: “Why do you fly South when you do?” I might also ask one follow up question: “Could you slow down just a little bit so it would be easier to shoot you with a shotgun?”

The answer to the first question is in the forefront of every debate a waterfowler has and is perhaps the most difficult to answer. 

If we knew exactly what triggered the ducks to fly, be it climate, temperature or time of year, we’d know exactly when to set the duck season so we had the best chance to intercept them.

But, like the ducks themselves, all the factors controlling migration are a moving target. 

I just wish I had another weekend to see if they are still hanging around the Delta or if they have moved on.

Angel Alert goes out to all the fathers and mothers who took their children hunting this season. It’s truly a great way to experience time disconnected from the electronic world. Happy birthday to Jay Janous, Princella Nowell and Charlene Steed. Send alerts and birthdays to the contact information below.

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