Water ripped over the rocks on the Yellow Medicine River in southwestern Minnesota for the Sept. 23 waterfowl opener.
It’s a sign of the kind of water levels that are currently covering a lot of the state’s landscape. Other years, these rocks have been easy stepping stones from one side of the river to the other. Waders are required attire to avoid getting soaked these days, with those high water levels possibly boding well for waterfowlers this season.
My 6-year old yellow lab, Ole, and I sat on the bank of the river that opening morning and swatted mosquitoes until cloudy skies finally gave way to enough light to see the wood ducks jetting overhead. Fast is the best way to describe the teal and wood ducks that make up the majority of the local ducks many hunters find early in the season. I shot off a couple of handfuls of four shot that found nothing but the sky before things quieted down by 8 a.m.
Sunday, I changed tactics, choosing to do some jump shooting on a ditch I grew up hunting as a kid not far from my parents’ house. Family responsibilities called me back to Alexandria after about an hour of hunting, but I had a couple birds to bring home. Other hunters I know from that area saw even better success through opening weekend.
The Minnesota DNR issued a release forecasting what the agency expected to be a pretty good opener, and that’s what many hunters experienced in the local area, based on waterfowlers Gregg Anderson of the General Store in Osakis talked to.
“I think it was a fantastic opener,” Anderson said when reached on Sept. 26. “Truly. It kind of took me by surprise. I think with the flooded fields and stuff like that, there’s a pile of ducks around. Lots of numbers being shot opener. I talked to a gentleman this morning and he shot a limit of ducks this morning too. I think it’s been fantastic.”
It’s often hard to know exactly what kind of waterfowl numbers are around until hunters actually take to the sloughs and fields on opening day.
“A lot of those ducks are hidden in flooded cornfields down there,” Anderson said. “I had guys I talked to who walked into those corn fields and they were surprised at the clouds of ducks that would get up. It’s more than just local ducks, I think. I don’t think they’re coming down yet but maybe they just filtered east this year instead of west where they usually go.”
Drought conditions plagued parts of North and South Dakota this summer. The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks blamed those drought conditions for a 45-percent drop in the state’s pheasant numbers from 2016 during this year’s annual roadside survey.
Rains hammered much of west central Minnesota late this summer and into this fall, creating some high water levels in the area. Anderson said it wasn’t just teal and wood ducks being shot by local hunters on opener, with plenty of mallards being a part of their bags.
“I’m hoping it’s a shift in the migration where we’ve got the water,” he said. “Usually they go west of us and there’s not a lot of sloughs with water in them in North and South Dakota, I’m hearing. It’s quite dry, except along the river system of course. I hope it shifts toward us and where they start going, they keep going. It could be quite a bonanza this season.”
The Minnesota duck season will be open for 60 days in each of the three waterfowl zones:
• In the north zone, duck season is Sept. 23 through Nov. 21.
• In the central zone, duck season is Sept. 23 through Oct. 1, closes for five days, then reopens Oct. 7, and runs through Nov. 26.
• In the south zone, duck season is Sept. 23 through Oct. 1, closes for 12 days, then reopens Oct. 14, and runs through Dec. 3.
The daily duck bag limit remains six per day. The mallard bag limit remains four per day, including no more than two hen mallards. The daily bag limits are three for wood duck and scaup; and two for redheads, canvasbacks and black ducks and one for pintails.
“The number of breeding ducks in Minnesota and North America has been good in recent years, so we’re optimistic that will result in a good duck season,” waterfowl specialist with the Department of Natural Resources Steve Cordts said in a release leading up to opener. “Wetland habitat conditions and wild rice lakes are in pretty good shape. Canada goose populations remain high as well, so there’s lots of opportunity to hunt geese this fall.”
Area waterfowlers would no doubt love to see some more of the northern flights find their way to Minnesota later this season. It’s early, but Anderson is hopeful this could be the year that happens with water levels the way they are.
“It’s kind of exciting this year,” he said. “Duck opener wasn’t as big as it used to be in Minnesota. I shouldn’t say it isn’t big, but with the success, I think there’s going to be a lot of people hunting this year.”