Another above-average waterfowl migration is in the forecast for the winter, and Mississippi duck hunters are excited … well, maybe.
That excitement is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that the 2018-19 forecast was similar, yet it failed to produce a decent duck season in most areas of Mississippi’s duck country, and that surveys show ducks continue to decrease in number.
“Two things happened, both related to weather, that messed us up,” said Will Brown of Vicksburg. “One, it never got cold, like really cold, like what we need to force ducks down here to stay. Two, we had too much rain in the south Delta, way too much rain, as in it started flooding and provided too much water to concentrate ducks in any one area.
“The bottom line was that we had a below-average year. We didn’t get a lot of ducks in here consistently, and when we had ducks, they were spread out throughout the Delta. It was just tough hunting the whole season, and really, really tough in December.”
Surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service estimated the 2019 breeding North American duck population at about 38.90 million, down about 6% from the 2018 estimate of 41.19 million, but still 10% higher than the long-term average. It is the fourth-consecutive year that the spring duck population has declined and the lowest total breeding duck population estimate since 2008 — the last time the estimate was lower than 40 million. Still, most duck species are at higher populations levels than long-term averages.
“There will be plenty of ducks in the fall flight, and I expect duck hunters — especially in the southern U.S. — to have a better season this year,” said Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist of Delta Waterfowl. “The fact that the numbers are down is a reflection of last year’s dry conditions for nesting ducks. We know that production drives duck populations, so it’s no surprise that after a year of poor production, the USFWS counted fewer ducks.”
But we also know that winter weather drives waterfowl migration, and it is the National Weather Service forecast that causes concern. While the 2019-20 winter is forecast to be drier in the Southeast, it is predicted to be warmer than average in most of the Mississippi River Flyway.
“Well, that’s not promising, not at all,” Brown said. “The upper Midwest had some strong cold fronts early, in October and November, and that was good, but if they can’t sustain it and turn into a total freeze-out early, then it will delay the migration. Our best years are when the northern tier states are frozen out in December, like two years ago. I had the best season of my life in the 2017-2018 season, and the December season was ridiculous how good it was.”
2019-2020 Mississippi duck seasons
Brown and thousands of other Mississippi waterfowlers are extremely happy about the latest change in season frameworks that for the first time will allow the season to run through Jan. 31, regardless of what day of the week it’s on.
“This year, it means we get almost another whole week to hunt at the end of January, when the migration has had a chance to push ducks here,” Brown said. “Under the previous schedule, the season had to end on the Sunday preceding Jan. 31, and this year that would be the 25th. With the new framework, we get to hunt until Friday, Jan. 31. It may not sound like much, but for a duck hunter, believe me, those five days are a true blessing.”
- Season 1: Nov. 29-Dec. l
- Season 2: Dec. 6-Jan. 31
- Limit: Six ducks per day, including no more than 4 mallards (no more than 2 females), 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 3 scaup, 2 canvasbacks, 1 mottled duck, 2 black ducks, and 1 pintail. The possession limit is three times the daily limit (including species limits).