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Waterfowl Report

Welcome to Steve McCadams' Weekly Waterfowl Report. Waterfowlers wanting to monitor activity of ducks and geese here in Tennessee's Kentucky Lake area, along with reports from elsewhere in the Mississippi flyway, will want to check in often for the latest migratory movement, state and federal refuge counts, and other interesting information for hunters.

(Waterfowl Reports containing refuge surveys and overall duck and goose hunting activity, along with interesting tidbits on waterfowling will resume here in early November)




By Steve McCadams - January 30, 2014

Although the statewide duck season ended last Sunday afternoon for the old folks, two special youth waterfowl hunts are on the horizon for kids 6-15 years of age.

 Each year Tennessee joins other states within the Mississippi flyway in offering two days set aside for kids to hunt ducks and geese. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows states two days within the framework of season setting to target the youngsters with the goal of helping introduce boys and girls to the great sport of waterfowling.

True you can do that during the regular season too but have hunts where only the kids can shoot makes it even more special for them and those taking them.

For years Tennessee’s wildlife commission did a regular two-day weekend combo and that seemed to work pretty good. However, last year and again this year the two days are separate Saturdays and one week apart.  And, the hunts have the option of occurring before or after the regular season and it has been traditional here to hold the youth waterfowl hunts after the regular season ends.

How do things look for the youngsters in terms of duck activity? Pretty good is the answer as more cold weather earlier in the week has a lot of ducks in the area. Some areas have been iced up this week due to the frigid temperatures but should begin to open up as the mercury is predicted to climb into the lower 50’s on Saturday.

Aerial surveys from the Tennessee and Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuges indicate duck numbers increased in late January, a likely beneficiary of the series of cold fronts that have dominated the weather scene since mid-January.

The most recent waterfowl estimate showed a whopping 231,394 ducks on TNWR along Kentucky Lake. That’s a significant increase over the mid-winter count taken in the third week of December when some 116,000 were estimated. And, neighboring CCNWR on Lake Barkley at Dover also showed good numbers of ducks. The aerial estimate there indicated 50,306, which was also a surge in usage since late December.

The last week of season was a good one for area hunters as severe weather entered the region and really stimulated activity. High winds really put ducks in the air and increased numbers migrated to the area as well which helped waterfowlers end the season on a good note, despite battling ice for a few days when temps dropped drastically.

It appears duck numbers have swelled here in the region the last two weeks and that could pave the way for increased opportunities for the youngsters as ducks have had five days rest since the statewide season closed last Sunday. That is usually good for areas like Springville bottom, Big Sandy, Gin Creek or Camden bottoms where hunting pressure and boat activity can push ducks to other areas.

Youngsters will have two separate Saturday hunts to call their own with the first one arriving February 1. The second hunt is a week later and scheduled for February 8. Both hunts require an adult at least 21 years of age to accompany the youngsters.

Adults cannot hunt ducks but may participate in other open seasons such as those open for snow, blue and Ross’, and white-fronted geese. Bag limits on ducks for the kids will be the same as regular statewide daily bag limits, which allows six ducks but not more than four mallards of which only two may be hens.

For additional info consult TWRA’s Waterfowl Hunting Guide brochure or log onto

Remember to take plenty of hot chocolate and biscuits for those future waterfowlers.  Keep them warm and keep them fed. Hopefully the ducks will fly by for a few visits and add to the overall experience of a nice outdoor trip with buddies and mentors sharing a sunrise together.



By Steve McCadams - January 23, 2014

Duck hunters were tuning up their calls this week in preparation for their “swan song”. Season draws to a close at sunset Sunday across Tennessee and since it opened back on Thanksgiving Day there has been a wide range of weather.

Weary waterfowlers had another week of roller coaster temperatures that started out on Monday some 15 degrees above normal. By midweek it was time to button up the shirt, pull up the hood and back up a little closer to the propane heaters.

Frigid conditions returned at midweek as nighttime temps dropped back to single digits and a stubborn wind chill added insult to injury. A warm up is expected by this weekend as the weatherman is promising a rebound into the low 40’s, which will be a welcomed change even for tough duck hunters known to yearn for cold fronts.

For a lot of duck hunters the home stretch got marred by the return of ice as most shallow bottoms, flooded fields, sloughs, and even some open water bays began to succumb to the cold conditions. Ducks were really on the move as the weather approached and while some major movement took place a few days the honeymoon was short once blinds iced up and decoys glazed over and caked up.

Some good hunts were reported this week from across the region as increased numbers of mallards, gadwall, pintails, shovelers, canvasbacks and assorted divers were pushing through and entering the west Tennessee sector.

While a lot of ducks were already in the area for the last couple of weeks it seems the gusty winds and cold fronts really put the birds on the move as they darted around looking for feeding areas in their restless mood.

Most of the river bottoms west of Kentucky Lake were experiencing good shooting at midweek. Flooded soybean and corn fields across the Obion, Forked Deer and Hatchie bottom areas reported excellent hunting as did the Reelfoot Lake area and throughout extreme western Tennessee.

Other neighboring states had a good week too as ducks have been building in big numbers across eastern Arkansas, the bootheel of Missouri and western Kentucky. Ample water has remained in the four state area for almost a month and that has attracted big numbers of waterfowl that seemed to stay around even during the cold snaps.

Although some good reports were coming in from areas to our west, hunters in most of the Kentucky Lake public hunting areas such as West Sandy, Big Sandy, Gin Creek and Camden bottoms wildlife management areas have not fared well lately. It has been tough sledding for these popular spots that have done well in times past.

Going into the season hunters knew no food was planted in the TWRA units this year due to a very wet spring that prohibited planting. However, just how that would play out was somewhat of a guess and despite the lack of food duck hunters were holding on to optimism.

Turns out the ducks had choices and they opted to fly to other sectors of the state and region where accessible food and shallow water awaited them. No doubt the lack of crops was a factor in this year’s season for most local hunters but there were a few decent days mixed in.

Most of the duck food was found on either the federal refuges or scattered about private hunt clubs that chalked up a pretty good season where flooded grain was an attractant. Abbreviated hunting in those areas helped hold ducks throughout most of the season but the recent rash of cold weather has seen ducks on the move searching for new food sources.

At a time when most waterfowlers would be hoping for cold weather just the opposite is on the wish list as the final weekend arrives. Will it warm up enough for hunters to break ice and return to blinds as the season winds down?

For some the ice may well bring an early closure. There may not be time to rebound from this week’s frigid visit. Others might make a last ditch effort to bust out and get in a little hunting on the last day of a 60-day season that has been good for some, tough for most, and downright demeaning as a few dreary duck hunters will begin pulling up decoys and licking their wounds.

The curtain is falling as hunters are already looking toward next year. Pretty soon duck fatigue will lose its grip and the thrill of what lies ahead will refuel the fire for fowlers everwhere.


By Steve McCadams - January 16, 2014

Tennessee’s duck season is about to hit the home stretch as waterfowlers have two weekends left. The 60-day season winds down on January 26 and most area hunters are hoping to go out with a bang next week.

Duck numbers have increased lately as winter weather over the last two weeks really had temperatures on a roller coaster ride. While a long spell of cool weather did work in favor of duck hunters across the region it has been an ongoing battle with high water across several states that has continued to scatter ducks over thousands of acres of backwater, flooded bottoms and swamps, and grain fields.

Some blinds have fared well after falling victim to ice last week for a few days. Once the thaw came many areas picked up and experienced good shooting for several days before some heavy rains returned and swelled streams that backed out and inundated more places for ducks to feed and rest.

The most recent waterfowl survey taken at the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge and Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge showed increased numbers of waterfowl in the area. Aerial surveys were taken by refuge biologist Robert Wheat on January 8 and showed a total of 194,675 ducks and 14,060 geese here on Kentucky Lake at TNWR.

Those figures show an increase of 68 percent from the previous survey back in mid-December and are 49 percent above last year at this same time. Compared to the 5-year average the total was 9 percent above average and 22 percent above the 10-year average for this time of year.

A breakdown of the top five species indicated mallards topping the list at 128,263, followed by gadwall at 25,460. Third in the ranking were pintails at 8,110; greenwing teal 7,610 and ringneck 6,300.

Out of the total survey the Big Sandy unit was holding 50,981. The Duck River unit had the lion’s share with 139,174. And, there were 72 eagles using the refuge as well.

Neighboring Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Barkley at Dover was also holding a good number of birds with 50,306 ducks estimated and 9,076 geese. Those numbers show a 47 percent increase from the previous survey and 27 percent above last year at this time. The total is 24 percent above the 5-year average and 28 percent above the 10-year average.

Hunters in the Kentucky and Barkley Lakes region have reported mixed results this week as a 3-inch rain in some areas recently really scattered ducks and made it tough for many blinds to score big numbers. And, a lack of food this year in TWRA’s wildlife management areas has no doubt been a factor for just about every blind in the popular public hunting areas of West Sandy, Camden bottoms, Gin Creek and Big Sandy.

Recent reports from these units indicate the harvest has been down. Further west toward the Mississippi River some blinds were having better luck as duck numbers were higher around Tigrett and Gooch WMAs but scattered overall throughout the Forked Deer, Obion and Hatchie River drainage areas.

Increased duck numbers were reported from the Whites Lake state refuge near Dyersburg earlier this week. And, hunters in eastern Arkansas and across the Bootheel of Missouri were seeing good numbers too but also battling too much water. Western Kentucky duck hunters were doing good too when the Mississippi River backed out, sending ducks up river bottoms to new feeding opportunities.

The overall hunting scene improved the last week to ten days but not everyone was the beneficiary of recent cold fronts, north winds and heavy rains. A few blinds have done very well in the last few days and others are hoping ducks return to their local hunt areas as the season rapidly draws to a close.




By Steve McCadams - January 09, 2014

In the aftermath of the bitter Artic blast earlier this week some duck hunters have seen increased numbers and experienced an improvement. Others have fallen victim to ice this week and have been unable to hunt shallow areas where blinds are locked up and thawing has been a very slow process.

Single digit temperatures earlier this week really changed the overall waterfowl picture for hunters across a five-state region as some hunters in open water areas saw activity improve. Once backwaters iced up ducks began moving toward open water to some degree and ducks that had been riding out the weather to our north began moving south in a big way.

While duck hunters are known to yearn for cold fronts during the season there are times when it can get too cold and for the majority of waterfowlers that was the case earlier this week. Bone chilling winds blew in with a vengeance on Monday and wind chills were way below zero across the region and that quickly turned shallow fields, swamps and backwater into solid ice, robbing many hunters of a place to go.

It really separated the men from the boys too as temps were too cold for stubborn starting outboard motors, jamming guns, and about anything else associated with the sport. Many hunters stayed home for a few days and realized their limitations while others have ventured out this week as a warming trend slowly reversed frigid conditions.

Actually the warming trend has seen an increase in activity the last few days as ducks had been changing their flight patterns and working dry grain fields at times. And, when it’s bitter cold ducks will lay up for a day or two and not move until thawing occurs and food becomes more accessible.

A spot check from around the region shows duck activity on the upswing along Kentucky Lake’s open water areas and shallow mud flats. Species such as gadwall, canvasback, ringneck, mallards and buffleheads seemed to increase this week.

From a variety of public hunting areas such as Big Sandy, Gin Creek, West Sandy and Camden bottoms the word was still slow as hunters were not seeing or bagging many ducks. A lack of food in those units this year has no doubt taken its toll as duck usage has been below average in those units.

Further west the duck picture was off a bit for most popular areas across the Obion, Forked Deer and Hatchie bottom drainage, although some success stories were coming in from hunters having open water. Many have used a variety of devices to keep potholes open during the cold snap and it has paid dividends at times, although ducks had vacated a lot of shallow areas earlier this week but will likely return as the warm up continues.

The massive amount of water that had scattered ducks across portions of eastern Arkansas, southern Missouri, southern Illinois, western Kentucky and west Tennessee fell victim to the ice age this week and that moved ducks that had grown quite complacent. Prior to the deep freeze this week ducks were very scattered and some popular hunt areas were struggling across the region.

It appears temps are headed back to normal range as the weekend approaches and hunters will soon be able to return to their blinds and decoy spreads that had been frozen stiff.

The next two weeks could be pretty good for southern duck hunters as more ducks are now in the region and may linger a bit. Season runs through January 26 and while there’s no perfect weather for everyone or every location, waterfowlers this season have had about every weather pattern imaginable!



By Steve McCadams - January 03, 2014

Duck hunters across the region are hoping the approaching cold front will bring new ducks to the area as frigid temperatures are in the forecast.

Ice is about to enter the picture and that could freeze up some of the massive backwater that has scattered ducks and geese for the last two weeks across a five state region. It should improve things for this area as ducks have been basking in the sun for quite some time and enjoying the abundance of shallow feeding and resting areas that flooded back before Christmas.

Portions of southern Illinois and Indiana had thousands of acres of farm land and low areas covered with water as the Ohio River had backed out and inundated low lying areas that were holding a lot of ducks. It was the same picture further west as eastern Arkansas and the Bootheel of Missouris attracted a lot of ducks to the shallow rice, corn and soybean fields but hunters there were also victims of very scattered waterfowl.

Western Tennessee and Kentucky waterfowlers were in the same boat as ducks were straying from normal flight patterns and roaming backwater havens where they had an abundance of opportunities. There has been too much water that mixed with some mild weather but that’s about to change.

The shallow areas will be freezing up by this weekend and will no doubt have less appeal to ducks so it should put them in the air and send them further South soon. Puddle waters are vulnerable to cold weather and while ducks will ride it out for a few days and manage to find enough open water to hang around the approaching cold weather should change the overall waterfowl scene.

Most of the rivers and big water will not freeze so ducks may move toward those areas while dry feeding at times in farm fields near some open water.

Hunters in the southern region of the Mississippi flyway should see improvement in the days ahead as ducks move around and leave iced up backwater to our north that has held them for the last two weeks. Water in those areas has been slow to recede as the heavy rains two weeks ago really changed the whole waterfowl scenario.

The approaching cold weather----temps are expected to reach single digits early next week and not rise above freezing for a few days--- will see ice form in most backwater sloughs, bottoms and just about any shallow area by early next week so a lot of blinds will fall victim to the change. Hunters will be battling the ice for a spell and by the middle of next week will likely be wishing for a warm up.

Cold weather is nice and moves ducks but it can get too cold and it appears duck hunters across the region are about to get a dose of extremely cold conditions that will alter things here too. Some hunters with mobility might take advantage of the forthcoming weather and use temporary setups around open water as both diver and puddle ducks should soon move to open water feeding and resting areas in the days ahead.

Locally, duck hunters in the West Sandy, Camden bottoms, Big Sandy and Gin Creek wildlife management areas have reported low numbers of ducks seen and taken. The holiday period is always popular as hunters are out in force when school and work vacations permit.

Unfortunately, the recent holiday hunt period was not kind to waterfowlers around here who scanned empty skies for the last week or two. Most have been disappointed as the season crossed the half-way point last week.

Diminished success rates have not been exclusive to the Kentucky Lake area as a lot of hunters to our west have also suffered.

Here’s a summary from Arkansas Game and Fish on their situation: Following heavy rainfall just before Christmas, much of the state has experienced an increase in waterfowl habitat. But reports from across the state indicate hunting success has been hit and miss.

Most of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s waterfowl-hunting impoundments have reached full pool, and natural flooding has occurred in many watersheds, including the Cache and lower White river basins.

Field reports from around the state, however, don’t reveal any particular hot spots for duck hunting success.

“I’m not sure we’ve gotten a reinforcing push of ducks since the big rain event,” said AGFC waterfowl program coordinator Luke Naylor. “And the ducks that have been here are likely spreading out with the abundance of habitat that’s available.”

Naylor also pointed out that the past two weeks likely have been a time of intense hunting pressure. Schools have been on Christmas break, and the holidays are also a time when many hunters take vacation days.

“When you take all of this into consideration, it stands to reason that the ducks are spread out,” Naylor said.

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s statewide season runs through January 26 so duck hunters have three weeks of hunting opportunity left. The late season can be good and hunting can rebound quickly when cold weather pushes new ducks our way.

It will interesting to see how next week’s cold weather changes the waterfowl scene and how hunters adapt to the frigid temps that are sure to send ice to a large portion of the area.



By Steve McCadams - December 26, 2013

Maybe Santa didn’t get their letters. Duck hunters across the region made a list and checked it twice but apparently ole’ Saint Nick didn’t have many web footed gifts in his bag of tricks as waterfowlers across a vast area are singing the blues. Significant weather changes last week really upset the apple cart for most duck hunters who were anticipating a push of new ducks to the area after enduring a long spell of mild conditions and above average temperatures that hung around throughout mid-December. The extended spell of stagnant weather had ducks lazy and complacent prior to Christmas as lack of wind and temps that ranged some 12 to 15 degrees above normal wasn’t duck weather.    

Then came the dramatic blast last week when thunderstorms and excessive wind rolled through the region pushed by a strong cold front, dropping heavy rains along the way that flooded parts of four states. Portions of West Tennessee, eastern Arkansas, western Kentucky and the Bootheel of Missouri got drenched. Some areas received in excess of 4 inches of rain in a short time and that inundated all tributaries to the Mississippi River, backing water out across thousands of acres river bottoms and low lying farm land.    

Since the excessive rains ducks have been very scattered as they’ve had a million places to go for feed and rest. Hunters have not fared well in most regions as the ducks have changed flight patterns and going to and fro with no apparent destination.    

Hunters in the four state region reported seeing a lot of high ducks earlier this week but success stories were in the minority as to harvest. Here in the Kentucky Lake area a lot of ducks left and headed west toward the backwaters last week in search of abundant feeding opportunities once the flood water backed out.    

The upper Big Sandy bottom was out for a few days as were areas nearby along all forks of the Obion, Forked Deer, and Hatchie River drainage areas across West Tennessee. Some hunters were mobile and headed to wading areas in the backwaters where ducks were using flooded timber and sloughs that had been dry a few days before.    

Water is now receding across the region and secondary rivers are back in their banks. Even massive Kentucky Lake’s elevation jumped a couple of feet in a short time but was falling slowly at midweek and should be back near normal winter pool by this weekend.    

Reports from around the public hunt areas such as TWRA’s West Sandy, Big Sandy, Gin Creek, Camden Bottoms, and west toward Gooch and Tigrett have experienced a slowdown in shooting opportunities. Talk to ten blind owners and about eight of them are crying hard times.    

A few private hunt areas have had decent shooting at times but those that reported good hunting are resting their spots and only hunting them two or three days a week and even then hunting abbreviated hours in order to keep ducks using their location.    

Other pits and blinds near refuges that had been scoring some decent numbers fell off dramatically this week as the high water changed that picture too, causing many ducks to pick up and leave enroute to flooded backwater buffets.    

Aerial surveys taken by Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge in mid-December and the most current one available showed a total of 116,067 ducks on the three units comprised of Big Sandy, Duck River and Busseltown along Kentucky Lake. There were 2,764 geese estimated in the survey.    

The duck total was 26 percent ahead of last year’s count at the same time and 20 percent above the 5-year average for this time of year. It was also 33 percent above the 20-year average. However, it’s important to remember these numbers were observed prior to last week’s storm and flooding as most hunters are of the opinion ducks moved out toward flood water earlier in the week and have been slow to return.    

A breakdown of species shows 68,067 mallards, 20,945 gadwall, 6,500 pintails, 6,465 greenwing teal, and 4,800 ringneck comprising the top five in the survey.    

Even Arkansas was below average on its duck count according to this report from Arkansas Game and Fish:  Following a prolonged spell of cold weather in The Natural State as well as frigid temperatures and snow in states to Arkansas’s north, many waterfowl hunters likely expected to see increasing duck numbers in recent weeks. But results from the season’s second aerial waterfowl survey paint a different picture.    

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists flew the December aerial waterfowl survey Dec. 16-18 in the state’s Delta region and the Arkansas River Valley and Dec. 13 in southwestern Arkansas. The duck population index in the Delta was just over 830,000 ducks, about half of the 2009-2013 average (1.6 million ducks) for the December survey. The mallard population estimate was about 475,000, representing more than half of the Delta total but well below the 2009-2013 December mallard average of roughly 850,000.     

“These systematic surveys continue to point toward habitat conditions – namely flooding extent – playing a major role in Arkansas duck numbers,” Naylor said.   

The survey took place last week, just before this duck season’s biggest rain event, which dropped several inches of rain across many parts of Arkansas.  

Meanwhile, weary, local hunters are hoping to put a few points on the board in the second half. While some blinds have done well at times across West Tennessee the lion’s share have endured tough times the last week or two and are hoping for a surge during the season’s second half.        

Tennessee duck hunters are coming up on the half-way point this weekend in the 60-day duck season. Season runs through January 26.


By Steve McCadams - December 12, 2013

Waterfowlers took another ride on the weather roller coaster this week as temperatures have bounced around and were some 15 degrees below average at midweek---it was 18 degrees Thursday morning--- in the aftermath of last week’s sleet and ice storm. A slight warm up is escorting the weekend’s entrance but by Sunday another cool snap enters the picture.

Mixed reports are coming in from duck hunters across West Tennessee and neighboring states where several success stories dominated the conversation. Some spots were reporting good shooting while others were less fortunate and not seeing big numbers or bagging many ducks.

Every day is different in the duck blind and success often depends on wind direction, velocity, temperature, cloud conditions and mood swings of finicky fowl who make their own rules and change them whenever they wish.

Some flooded fields and dry field pit hunting adjacent to refuges or wildlife management areas have been pretty good thus far with double digit duck number being taken on a regular basis. Other areas haven’t fared as well since enjoying a good start to a season starting off with frigid temps.

Shallow areas such as flooded soybean and corn fields across West Tennessee’s Obion, Hatchie and Forked Deer River basins have been fighting ice this week as those splash water spots freeze up quickly when temps drop below freezing and winds quit blowing. A warming trend is expected Friday and Saturday and that should open up some areas for those hunters.

Backwaters of West Sandy, Big Sandy, Gin Creek, Gooch and Camden Bottoms wildlife management areas have had some ice this week too as some blinds were having to break out holes each day to free up decoys. Open water on Kentucky and Barkley lakes, along with open main lake blinds on Reelfoot Lake have remained open and reported mixed result but bagging enough ducks to keep interest levels high.

Last week’s bitter cold front delivered rain, ice and light snow across much of the area and northern states experienced a winter blast that did stimulate a migration of ducks that had been riding it out in the upper portions of Missouri, Iowa and South Dakota.

Here in the Kentucky Lake area we saw an increase in duck numbers with some good bunches of divers winging their way south. Nice groups of ringneck, canvasback, scaup, and even some redheads were moving through as were a few goldeneye and bufflehead.

Good numbers of greenwing teal had been hanging around the Kentucky Lake area but appeared to move out during the recent cold fronts and likely moved further south.

A few more puddle ducks entered the zone too as some nice flocks of pintails were seen as were a few new mallards. Several gadwalls remain and a few scattered black ducks have been seen and taken too.

Hunting along the Mississippi River in extreme West Tennessee, the Bootheel of Missouri and Western Kentucky has been good at times but ice has robbed a few days from blinds and pits located in shallow water.

Although most waterfowlers benefit from frequent cold fronts the recent rash of cooler conditions have not been automatic for all hunters. Those hunting TWRA’s public hunt areas got off to a good start but a lack of food in the units may not hold good numbers of ducks when colder weather descends.

Hunters in the majority of blinds across wildlife management areas this week indicated duck numbers had fallen off in the units compared to last week despite the arrival of good duck weather. However, private hunt clubs where flooded corn and other grains was available were reporting good shooting as the birds flocked to hot foods when cold temps lingered.

Aerial waterfowl surveys were underway today (Thursday) on Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge and Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge. I’ll have updates posted from USFWS by early next week if not sooner.

Seems success always varies across the region during duck season and no one has good luck---or bad luck---all the time. The overall season has been much better than last year at this time for the vast majority but weather conditions, water levels in some spots, icing and lack of wind all play a big part in the day to day hunting.

A lack of wind earlier this week had some blinds fogged in for the first few hours each morning and that diminished shooting opportunities but just because it’s bad one day doesn’t mean tomorrow will be the same. In the sport of duck hunting yesterday and tomorrow don’t mean much as things can change quickly.

The weather is never perfect for everyone as some need rain and others like it dry. A few like warm to moderate weather when others thrive on bitter cold and freeze-ups elsewhere.

It’s still early in a long season that will run through the end of January so there’s an abundance of opportunities ahead. Roller coasters have a lot of ups and downs and so do duck seasons in Dixie!



By Steve McCadams - December 03, 2013

More good duck season is on the way! After a few days of spring conditions it appears a cool snap will chase it away.

Waterfowlers across the Kentucky Lake area and throughout West Tennessee got off to a pretty good start Thanksgiving morning as season opened under cold conditions. Temperatures opening morning dropped down to a frigid 15 degrees in most areas and ice entered the picture for some shallow fields and backwater areas where hunters had to bust out potholes.

It was somewhat surprising as a few shallow areas where hunters anticipated thick ice were actually still open or had a light skim where hunters busted it up enough to allow the wind to create a pocket. Several hunters did just that and wound up having a good shoot over a small, open hole of water.

Still, hunters across the region were not accustomed to fighting ice on opening day. It has happened a few times but it’s rare to have that degree of cold in late November.

A few days prior to opening morning a severe cold front rolled in and really brought winter conditions to the region. Gusty north winds escorted the cold front and that seemed to stimulate duck activity for a day or two before the weather moderated and returned to normal temps last weekend.

A dramatic warm-up has been underway since opening day as temps at midweek climbed up to the low 60’s and some areas touched the 70-degree mark on Wednesday! Ducks seemed to settle in and were complacent during the warming trend earlier this week. Activity slowed in most areas for a few days as the duck weather turned into fishing weather.

Prior to the midweek rash of spring like weather hunters in the area were bagging mixed bags of mallards, gadwalls, widgeon, shovelers, greenwing teal, and woodies. Small numbers of pintails were taken and open water areas had a few scaup and buffleheads darting over decoy spreads and testing the shooting ability of hunters.

Several blinds in wildlife management areas such as Camden bottoms, Big Sandy, Gin Creek, and West Sandy scored good numbers on opening day. Activity fell off, however, by the weekend as ducks responded to both hunting pressure and the warm spell.

Further to the west found good hunting too as Gooch WMA and several private hunt areas around Dyersburg reported good numbers of ducks using shallow corn and soybean fields. Reelfoot Lake reopened its zone on Saturday and had pretty good hunting for a day or two but action fell off quickly there earlier this week.

Good news is on the horizon; another cold front is in the forecast as temps are expected to really fall on Friday with the weatherman crowing about rain turning to sleet and even possible light snow by this weekend. From a midweek high of 70-degrees to a high of only 32-degrees by Saturday is the picture being painted by meteorologists.

Sounds like some good duck weather is in progress as the weekend approaches and that should put ducks back in the air and perhaps bring in some new birds as well. Dramatic changes in temperature usually makes ducks restless. They move around more as they feel the low barometric pressure change and that increases their appetite. And the wind, or lack thereof, is always a factor.

As the second good cold front of the season descends with winds switching to the northwest duck hunters across the region should see significant improvement. Last year cold fronts were rare during the warm duck season but this year is starting off to be quite different and two cold fronts this early in the season sets the stage for more migration and stirs up what’s already here.

With only one week of season in the books waterfowlers have seen a roller coaster weather pattern. Season began with below average temperatures only to have spring weather slip in the door at midweek. Now, another blast is on the way and hunters will have to button up their shirts and kneel down as ducks ride the front and hopefully wing over decoys in the days ahead.

Season here runs through January 26, 2014.

Dear Duck Hunters

By Steve McCadams - November 25, 2013

It’s spitting snow, temperatures are 15 or degrees below normal, and a brisk north wind is whipping up the enthusiasm level of duck hunters across the region as our season is about to open. I hope this waterfowl update finds you in the mood for waterfowling.

Season opens Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) here and duck weather has arrived as a massive cold front across the country is in progress. Ducks are on the move too as significant numbers are migrating in response to the brutal weather to our north and west.

Some shallow fields are already beginning to freeze up in Missouri and eastern Arkansas, which is a sharp contrast to last year’s warm winter. We’ve already had several cool snaps and it is shaping up to be a colder and wetter winter than last year which should improve the overall duck picture here.

The last week or so I’ve seen increased numbers of gadwall, greenwing teal, widgeon, mallards and even a few bluebills (scaup) and bufflehead. While our duck numbers will continue to build the stage is set for a good early season thanks to winter weather’s early arrival.

I hope to hear from you this season. Several of you have already booked dates and remember to touch base with me a few days prior to your hunt. If you’ve called or emailed earlier checking on availability please feel free to drop me another note as my calendar changes and some dates may have opened up.

Our season runs 60-days straight, ending on January 26, 2014. This year’s bag limit allows six ducks of which four can be mallards, one black duck, three woodies, two pintails, two canvasbacks, three scaup, and two readheads. And, we’re allowed three Canada geese.

I’ve caught early water at my farm and will have flooded soybean fields to hunt there in-between my open water river blind hunts, especially during the last half of season.

My Labrador Daisy is anxious for the season to begin too as she has been working out all summer and fall on daily routines. She’s ready to trade in the plastic dummies for real ducks!

This will be my 39th year as a professional hunting and fishing guide here on Kentucky Lake. I hope you’ll join me and share a sunrise, along with some of those marinated pork chops, hefty chicken breasts, and other morsels in the blind during the hunts.

Ducks are down wind and their wings are cupped! Guess what comes next?



By Steve McCadams - September 9, 2013

Frosty mornings and bone chilling winds are still a few months away but most of us in Waterfowl World are always thinking ahead and wondering about the status of the Fall Flight Forecast.

How was the hatch? What does the season look like? When does it open and has the bag limit changed? These are a few of the questions I hear on a regular basis from enthusiastic duck hunters anxiously awaiting early season sunrises.

Recently released reports indicate the ducks had another great year on the breeding grounds. Thanks to a wet spring duck numbers heading south this fall and winter should be well above the long-term average.

The survey, which has been conducted annually since 1955 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife service, puts the breeding duck population at 45.6 million, the second-highest level ever recorded. This year’s estimate was 33 percent above the long-term average.

"We started with high numbers of breeding ducks, and we have great water in the right places for renesting and duckling survival," said Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl. "Duck production should be excellent."

“This spring saw abundant moisture in much of the heart of North America's most important duck breeding areas," said DU Chief Scientist Dale Humburg. "That bodes well for duck breeding success this summer and hopefully, for hunting this fall.”

Of the 10 species surveyed, 7 were similar to last year’s estimates, including mallards. American wigeon were 23 percent above last year. Mallards, similar in number to 2012, are 36 percent above the long-term average.

Greenwing teal, gadwalls, ringnecks, canvasbacks, and redheads are other species in pretty good shape too.

Two species (northern pintail and scaup) remained below their long-term average and North American Waterfowl Management Plan goals.

Weather and water conditions are always big factors influencing the seasons down here in Dixie but it’s nice to know the ducks are there in big numbers. Now we’ll keep our fingers crossed for normal winter weather to stimulate the migration as last year’s temperatures (especially during late December and most of January) were above normal.

Last year’s warm winter did not work in favor of duck hunters across the region as an extended spell of mild conditions allowed big numbers of ducks to stay north of their normal wintering grounds. Refuge waterfowl surveys across the South were below their 5 and 10-year averages during December and January, which reflected the influence of warm weather both here and up north.

Yet last winter was unusual. And, every year is different. Cold fronts can happen overnight and north winds can change the waterfowl picture quickly. Every morning in the duck blind is different!

Thanks to a good Fall Flight Forecast duck hunters will see another 60-day season and 6 duck bag limit. Our season will open Thanksgiving Day (Nov 28th) and run through January 26th, 2014.

Soon the web-footed visitors will arrive. In fact, waterfowlers already have the welcome mat out.

(Note to Editors: Download the species chart and other photographs from Delta's website:

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