2016-17 waterfowl Predictions
Fall is here and that means waterfowl season is almost upon us. Hunters from Long Island Sound to Baja California are dusting off their waders, touching up their decoys and waiting for the first call to be sounded. The question on everyone’s mind is “What will the season be like?”
When it comes to predicting the upcoming waterfowl season experts look at two factors: one, “what is the current population?” and two, “Will that population migrate far enough south to offer hunter an opportunity to take them?”.
The first part of the equation is based on annual surveys conducted by a joint team of US & Canadian biologists. Each spring these teams study the populations in the northern United States & southern Canada breeding ground, determining the overall number of birds and specifically the breeding pairs at each site. Based on these numbers they estimate the size of the population, percentage of juvenile birds and health of the flocks. Unfortunately, the 2016 study shows mixed results.
Due to extremely dry conditions many of the traditional breeding ponds are smaller than normal, or completely dry, meaning they can only accommodate a fraction of the normal population. This forced some flocks to move further north to less desirable locations with less favorable conditions, which is likely to result in fewer juveniles in the upcoming migration. Juveniles are important to hunter success as they generally easier to decoy which translates to greater shooting opportunities. On the plus side the overall population appears to hold more adult birds, probably due to an unseasonably warm winter last year which resulted in a lower success rate for hunters. Overall the flocks were deemed to be healthy and only slightly smaller than the annual average numbers.
This brings us to the second part of the equation – will the birds migrate south far enough to offer you a shot? As stated earlier last winter was exceptionally mild across most of the USA, according to the recently published Farmers’ Almanac this will not be the case for 2016-17. The 2017 Farmers’ Almanac is warning the upcoming winter will include exceptionally cold temperature for the Northern Plains, Great Lakes, Midwest, Ohio Valley, Middle Atlantic, Northeast and New England. There are also predictions of lower than normal temperatures as far south as Florida and the Gulf Coast. In other words many of the major flyways will be hit with cold if not frigid winter weather. This may be unwelcome news for those paying for heating bills, but for waterfowl hunters it means birds will be on the move across much of the country.
So what does this mean in terms of hunter success? With the population stable or only slightly below the annual average hunters should see plenty of birds, especially with cold temperatures pushing them further and further south. Because there are less juveniles hunting may be a bit tougher than normal, but hopefully the numbers make up for the difficulty in decoying educated birds who survived last season. Of course only time will tell. The real results will only be known when you hit the blind!
Good luck, good hunting!