If ever a biblical verse has fit a hunting season, it is Job 1:21 and the start of the 2014 Mississippi Duck season.
“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.”
What nature provided the state’s waterfowlers through two early November “polar vortexes,” it has taken back with the current warm front that has brought 70-degree weather.
The cold blasts pushed duck migration into high gear well ahead of the Thanksgiving opening day of duck season. Mallards, in particular, were here in numbers we don’t usually enjoy until mid to late January.
This week’s warmth has sent those ducks, with mallards leading the way, winging their way back in a northerly direction.
“I’m afraid that’s what has been happened since the season opened,” said Jacob Sartain of Madison, who hunts in Humphreys County. “Those two polar fronts we had, one early in November and the other in mid November, really pushed in some ducks, and that includes more mallards than I’ve ever seen prior to mid to late January.
“Then, this week, right after the season opened, we had this warming trend and we’ve been in the upper 60s and mid 70s since Sunday, and mallard numbers are diminishing. They’ve started flying back north and it is very noticeable. And, from the long-range forecast, it doesn’t look like we’ve got anything good coming for a while.”
A nice taste of action
That’s sad, too, because a lot of hunters were looking at the kind of season they had only heard about but never experienced. That includes Gerald Harris, 47, of Senatobia, who was beginning to think he’d never see the kind of duck hunting his dad and granddad had talked about having in the “good old days.”
“I think I have finally gotten a taste of it, maybe a small bite,” said Harris, who hunts near Sledge in Quitman County. “This week, since the season opened on Thanksgiving, I have enjoyed limit hunts on mallards, gadwalls and teal every time I’ve gone … and I’ve gone every day.
“The hunting was so good and we have had so many ducks, even on the days when I had to be in the office, I could get to the blind, get a limit and still be at work usually by 9 in the morning, and at the latest 9:30.”
The last few days, it’s been more like 10 or 10:30.
“Good thing I own the business, cause it’s been taking a little longer to get a limit the last few days,” Harris said. “I finally stopped going on Wednesday and decided to let it rest until the weekend. I hope the birds are still there, because even though we’ve still gotten limits, it’s obvious we don’t have the concentration of birds we had a week ago.”
Hunters throughout the Mississippi Delta, at least those who have water on their honey holes, have reported similar results — great at the start and slowing rapidly.
“We had ducks a week or two ahead of the one-day youth hunt (Nov. 22) and were just waiting on the opportunity to get at them,” said Jim Stevens of Hernando, who hunts in Tunica County. “We had water and when that first polar front came in, so did the ducks. Then we got another one right before the youth day and we took four kids and they killed 24 ducks (the limit) in about 1½ hours.
“We went back in there on Thanksgiving morning and there were even more ducks and we killed 30 ducks between five of us in an hour. We skipped Friday, went back and got another limit hunt on Saturday, but it’s true we didn’t see as many ducks. On Sunday, we still had a three-guy limit but not nearly the ducks.”
Stevens said Wednesday still produced a limit, but not on mallards.
“We shot more teal and a few more gadwall to go with two or three mallards each,” he said. “Those mallards are quick to leave when it warms up. They don’t seem to tolerate it as well as other species.”
The turnaround has been felt hardest in South Mississippi, where hunters along the coastal river marshes even had a good opening few days.
“We didn’t have the numbers that I hear they had in the Delta, but down here we certainly can’t complain,” said Ken Cuevas of Bay St. Louis, who hunted the lower Pearl and the Jordan River marshes. “It’s usually mid January before we get any ducks to speak of, and we actually had a limit hunt on Friday last week and got close again on Saturday.
“It’s been rough since then, though, because we could have hunted in short sleeves. It’s been in the mid to upper 70s ever since, and early in the morning when the temperatures are in the 50s, it’s been so foggy we couldn’t see. Once it cleared, we put the guns back up and got out the rods and went and caught redfish and sheepshead instead. Fishing is a lot more fun in T-shirts than hunting is.”
Most of the best reports were coming and still come from the Delta, from Vicksburg to Memphis. Near Eagle Lake, Jeff Terry reported limit hunts the first weekend and on into the early part of the next week.
“It’s been insane how good it was,” Terry said. “I’ve been seeing a few less ducks the last few days but they are saying the wind will switch around out of the north and that always brings some ducks back. You don’t necessarily have to be real cold, sometimes you just need that north wind.”
Having water early was key
Obviously, not every hunter in the Delta has had great hunts.
“It’s all about having water habitat,” said Sartain. “If you don’t have the ability to pump and hold it, and have it when the ducks came in, then you didn’t have ducks.”
But having that many ducks early can be a problem, Terry said, if you flooded all your duck food early.
“I can’t pump water, but I have caught enough to hold by putting up my boards (blocking drain),” he said. “That’s an advantage for me, because I didn’t want too much water because that would have put all my duck food underwater and they could have eaten it all by now. As it is, I still have duck food that’s high and dry that will go under water when we get more rain.”
For the time being, hunters are eyeing the weather forecast and trying to protect the ducks they have.
“For us, it’s all about the mallards, and there’s no doubt they are leaving out in this weather, Sartain said. “We’re backing off some of our hunting now, not wanting to put pressure on what we have and hold them longer.”
That could be a smart idea since there’s a long way to go. Mississippi’s 2014 duck season continues through Jan. 25.