The Mississippi River area has been known as one of the best places in the world to hunt waterfowl. But in the past three years, nature has caused problems for the sport of waterfowl hunting and conservation.
“The past three years have been very different from the hunting that I grew up doing,” said Alec Ossorio, a UM student. “When I was little, it seemed like the weather and rainfall were absolutely perfect every year. There was just enough water to hold a high concentration of ducks without spreading them out everywhere. And the temperatures would always drop in October, making way for a great opening day every year. For the past three years, it hasn’t been like this.”
John Graeber, a UM alumni and former guide at Tallahatchie Hunts in Mississippi, worked at Tallahatchie Hunts for four years.
“Working there showed me that ducks are always smarter than I am,” he said. “Sometimes birds are very predictable, and just when you think you have it figured out, you get trumped.
“I have always had better luck when the weather is cold, sunny, and the wind is blowing steadily. Ducks seem to be more active in this type of weather.”
The past three years have seen fluctuations in rainfall due to the natural phenomena of El Nino. This caused a major influx in the amount of rainfall in the Southeast, causing the Mississippi River to flood in the middle of winter.
“Last year was different,” Ossorio said. “We had entirely too much water. Every field or block of timber bottomland was flooded. There was nothing keeping the ducks in one area very long. I noticed the only people who consistently killed ducks all year were the ones with enough land to seek out the ducks and hunt them where they wanted to be.”
Ossorio said the temperature has affected the numbers of ducks in the South. “The longer it takes for the lakes and rivers up north to freeze over, the longer it takes for the ducks to fly south. The surprising thing is this year. We have had very unseasonably warm months leading up to the beginning of duck season, but there seems to be an abundance of birds already in the South.”
McLane McGuire, founder of Team Renegade Outdoors, said the weather these past few years has been brutal. “We’ve had both extremes in such a short time,” he said. “We went from cold weather and perfect rainfall amounts a few short years ago, to hot temperature and unpredictable rainfall amounts these past three years.”
McGuire said the past two years, Mississippi has had a massive overabundance of water causing the ducks to spread out all over the Southeast, and making it nearly impossible to consistently kill ducks in one place.
“This year will hopefully be different,” McGuire said. “Although we have had a drought and hot weather leading into the season, the rain has finally showed up during the break in the season, and the cold weather is on its way.
“The only thing I am worried about is if it gets too cold with this little water, only deep water will stay unfrozen, making it difficult to find areas to hunt.”
Graeber said the 2015-2016 duck season was terrible because temperatures went below freezing. “However, in February and March, temps got well below freezing numerous times, and if duck season was open during that time, it would have been phenomenal,” he said. “Mallard numbers were unbelievable in February-March.”
McGuire said he constantly watches the weather on his phone in Missouri and other northern states. “If there is a week-long freeze or a lot of cold weather up there, the ducks’ next stop is Arkansas where I primarily hunt,” he said.
McGuire recalls hunting with Buck Gardner twice last year. “He is one of the biggest duck call producers and distributors in the country,” McGuire said. “He has won every duck calling championship there is to win. He can no longer compete he is so good. One hunt, he told that this was the worst year of duck hunting he has had in 25 years of hunting because of the weather.
“Man, I wish we could have everything from the St. Louis area up to stay frozen all season, and everything down here would stay in the mid-30s with a little more rain. It would be like the old days and everyone could have a great season,” McGuire said, even though he knows it won’t happen these days.