Season Summary: Updated February 4, 2016
Name: David Ortley
Location: Kalispell, Montana
Notable Weather Changes/Differences This Season: Looking over past season summaries reveals a common theme: weather patterns have changed and dramatically affected bird hunting. We received very little snow early in the season and once again experienced an early “freeze up” that greatly impacted hunting and “normal” migration. Unlike previous years the cold period ended rather quickly but by then birds had left and/or passed over us as they escaped the cold. Toward late season we received significant snow which once again drove birds south. The traditional pattern has been periods of snow followed by clearing and warming. We have not have not seen this for several years and the season has become largely unpredictable.
Winter Snow Summary: We did not receive significant snow until late December and then it dumped on us. We received some late rain but it doesn’t help with future flow and levels. The mountains have received upwards of 93 percent of normal snow fall which is critical for spring and summer water levels. Early 2016 has produced some decent snow but not as much as the previous year.
Season Water Conditions: Water levels dropped early because of the lack of early snow and a very hot and dry late summer. We received less than normal rainfall and as a result the river flow dropped early as efforts were made to maintain the lake level and downstream flow. We need record snow to bring us up to the level we need to be at going into spring.
Overall Feeding Conditions: Feeding conditions were great most of the season because of minimal snow cover. Aquatic vegetation was accessible early and seemed to last well into the final stage of the season. Low till farming has provided more forage throughout the season as the practice grows in the area.
Duck Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Duck numbers appeared to be down. It is suspected that while the bird numbers may have been at least equal to years past, many of the waves of birds coming out of Alberta skipped over us because of the early cold snap. When we had birds coming through the flocks were large with lots of mallards!
Goose Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Goose numbers appear to have been up which I attribute to a growing population of resident geese. We did not see as many massive waves of geese arriving, or passing us by, but we appeared to have lots of geese for most of the season. After the late season snow the numbers dropped off significantly.
Notable Duck Migrations: Notable migration occurred around just before Thanksgiving and just after Christmas. Both were weather related. Throughout the season we saw fresh birds arrive but not in massive migrations. Interestingly, we had pintail much later in the season than we normally see them. Likewise, teal were seen much later than normal.
Notable Goose Migrations: As indicated above, we did not have the traditional flood of geese into the valley and lake this year. That was the case last year and appears to be weather related. Late in the season the numbers dropped and no notable late season push out of the north was observed. This is becoming the norm and is of concern!
Overall Hunting Report: Hunting was reported to be good throughout the season. There were birds present at all times although at times you had to work very hard in light of stale birds and frozen access. Mid-season was the best period. In the final stages there were few hunters afield as it was work to get limits. Overall a good season!!
Name: Alex Russo
Location: Hecla, SD
Notable Weather Changes/Differences This Season: Warm fall, mild winter.
Winter Snow Summary: Light and variable
Season Water Conditions: Levels are currently receding.
Overall Feeding Conditions: Good, there was fair amounts of grain available and invertebrates in the marsh and pothole areas.
Duck Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Great numbers but didn’t stay for a long period of time. New pushes would stay only a few days at a time.
Goose Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Yes
Notable Duck Migrations: Yes
Notable Goose Migrations: Yes
Overall Hunting Report: Hunting was very good, a lot of success this fall. Mallard hunting was tough at times on average very successful. Mild temps in the fall made the season abnormally long. We hunted until the last day of the season finishing with a very strong limit.
Name: Kirk Steffensen
Location: Lincoln, NE
Notable Weather Changes/Differences This Season: Highly variable temperatures: temperatures were abnormally warm during the early parts of October with cold temperatures not really coming until after Thanksgiving. During the late part of goose season, temperatures were unseasonable cold with day time highs in the single digits for extended periods of time.
Winter Snow Summary: Not much during the waterfowl seasons, most of the “big” forecasted snows missed our area.
Season Water Conditions: Good water conditions and with the above average temperatures, lakes and ponds stayed open later than normal. A couple late season rain storms even caused several areas to flood, filling pit blinds.
Overall Feeding Conditions: Typical, lots of corn and bean fields in the area and farmers got them picked on time.
Duck Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Below average, ducks pushed into and mainly through the area in a couple mass migrations in late-November through early-December.
Goose Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Dark goose numbers seem to increase annually. City limits were holding thousands and thousands of birds.
Notable Duck Migrations: A couple notable migration occurred the week before Thanksgiving but the majority of ducks then pushed into (but mainly through) the area in early-December.
Notable Goose Migrations: Similar to the duck migration but more geese hung around.
Overall Hunting Report: Overall, our duck numbers were slightly down from previous years. Early teal and early brown duck numbers were terrible but late season mallards were fair. Goose hunting was slightly above average chasing them in the fields late.
Name: Jared Shepard
Location: Scottsbluff, NE
Notable Weather Changes/Differences This Season: We received a lot more snow this season than in years past and a lot earlier in the season too. We also saw colder temperatures than in the past few seasons.
Winter Snow Summary: This winter held snow almost the whole season. And not just the nice powdery snow but the deep and packed snow from drifting and the frozen snow caused by just enough sun to melt the top layer day after day. The latter two kinds of snow made it extremely difficult for the birds to locate food.
Season Water Conditions: Due to colder temperatures earlier in the season the few local ponds and lakes in the area froze early and stayed that way through most of the season. Thankfully we didn’t receive the subzero temperatures for days on end that cause slush and ice on the N. Platte River and we were able to hold the majority of birds there.
Overall Feeding Conditions: Overall feeding conditions were not good across the board. Unfortunately we had a wet spring in 2015 causing a lot of corn to be planted late. This in combination with an unusually wet fall led a lot of corn to come off late. We had our first push of ducks early in the season but because of the lack of corn and early snow the best hunting passed by quickly as the birds moved south fast.
Duck Numbers Compared to Previous Years: This is the worst year I can remember in the eight or nine years I’ve been in W. NE. Duck and goose numbers were way, way lower throughout the whole season on average.
Goose Numbers Compared to Previous Years: See above
Notable Duck Migrations: The only notable duck migration I can think of off the top of my head was a trickle down within the first month of the season.
Notable Goose Migrations: A great reverse migration was going on with the warm up this past week…until we got more snow yesterday and today! This past week was phenomenal goose hunting and probably the best overall migration of the season.
Overall Hunting Report: The hunting report for this past season can be described in one word, lackluster!
Name: Vance Stolz
Location: Johnstown, Colorado
Notable Weather Changes/Differences This Season: Significantly colder temperatures throughout most of the waterfowl season. Several cold fronts pushed through the region keeping the temperatures down and snow on the ground.
Winter Snow Summary: Above average snowfall coupled with below average temperatures, kept the snow on the ground in most locations throughout a good portion of our season.
Season Water Conditions: Overall water levels were lower in most locations due to the dry summer and fall. Some of the smaller reservoirs and ponds froze relatively early due to the colder conditions. Soon after, the larger lakes froze and remained mostly locked up throughout most of the waterfowl season. Larger rivers remained mostly open.
Overall Feeding Conditions: This was a difficult year for the farmers in the area due to the unpredictable weather patterns. Crops were planted late in many locations, which pushed the harvest back as well. In many locations, the corn harvest went well into December and January due to the weather conditions. Overall, birds still had plenty of feeding options in winter wheat, grass, and harvested corn fields.
Duck Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Overall duck numbers seemed to be well below average for most of the season. There were certainly areas where the mallard numbers were very strong later in the season, mostly further east of the Front Range corridor.
Goose Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Goose numbers have been about average for our region. The difference this season was that the birds seemed much more concentrated. This was due to the colder weather and limited roosting locations during a majority of our season.
Notable Duck Migrations: It’s difficult to pinpoint a significant duck migration. With several cold fronts pushing through our area, the duck seemed to gradually build as the season progressed. However, it was difficult to get a good feel for how many we actually had due to the fact the birds seemed to move around and not get on any specific pattern.
Notable Goose Migrations: Similar to the duck migrations, the geese seemed to steadily increase just prior to the beginning of the regular season and continued to build as the weeks went by. The geese seemed to also be very concentrated on the limited roost areas due to the very cold temperatures. Our goose numbers remained strong throughout the year, but they certainly were not as widespread throughout the area as they usually are.
Overall Hunting Report: This has been a very different year here on the Front Range of Colorado. This is mainly due to our below average temperatures and snow cover. It’s difficult to get an overall feel for how the majority of the hunters did this season, however it seems that it is a below average year for ducks and an average year for the geese. We still have nearly 2 weeks of our regular goose season left and generally see a significant reverse migration of lessers this time of year. This was just beginning to take place until we were hit over the last couple of days with a significant snow storm, which brought 12”-14” inches of snow to the area. This is pretty much how our season has been this year, very unpredictable. For those who put in their time scouting and were willing to work hard, this waterfowl season has been good, but it hasn’t always been easy!!
Name: Bill Schaefer
Location: Grand Junction, Colorado
Notable Weather Changes/Differences This Season: The effects of the El Nino forecasted winter were evident. Consistent weekly snowfall from Christmas until the time of this report, has kept conditions mostly cold and wet given periodic melt-off. The heaviest and wettest snowfalls have occurred toward the end of January and early February.
Winter Snow Summary: Above average snow accumulation has been noted for this winter however, periodic melting kept feeding areas open for birds.
Season Water Conditions: All standing bodies of water were frozen several days after Christmas and remain frozen at the time of this report. Multiple days of single-degree temperatures in late December also preceded large river ice flows.
Overall Feeding Conditions: Most birds seemed to concentrate feeding efforts in grass and alfalfa type fields given days of significant snow cover on corn and grain fields.
Duck Numbers Compared to Previous Years: Slightly above average given a generally mild winter in surrounding areas.
Goose Numbers Compared to Previous Years: About average.
Notable Duck Migrations: Given generally mild conditions in the northern regions, it seemed there was a later than normal push of mallards. Many ducks arrived in December – January vs. October – November.
Notable Goose Migrations: The goose migration seemed to be consistent as in years past and did not seem to be notably effected by the unpredictable weather conditions.
Overall Hunting Report: The season was more productive for goose vs. duck hunting but overall it was successful. Consistent migratory influxes of geese provided the opportunity to target less educated birds which produced good results.