Choosing a Website
Before we get into this subject, let's discuss the ingredients that make up a great waterfowl season recipe.
NUMBERS & OPPORTUNITY
The new longer season and the fact that waterfowl numbers are up, makes this part of the recipe near perfect.
Most of the ducks and geese we get in the middle zone are from the Mississippi Flyway, but there are a lot of crossovers from the Central Flyway. Actually, birds have been known to zigzag east and west, and even zag back north. Two hundred miles is just a skip and a hop for a duck. I believe the same ducks are using the same areas year after year, and their offspring will also do the same.
WEATHER & WATER
The last couple of winters have been very mild. This has slowed down the migration, but not because of the temperatures. Cold weather alone will not move ducks. A mallard dressed in his GoreTex-like plumage will swim to shade at zero degrees!
Ice-covered lakes and snow-covered crops push birds southward. On the other hand, a severe cold front can make hunting impossible or shove the birds right on past your website.
Ducks will also follow heavy fall rains and flooded rivers south. So, we dedicated hunters hope for just the right amount of bad weather to our north and a dash of local flooding to add to our season's recipe.
THE BIG REFUGE FACTOR
Refuges and Conservation Areas are great for ducks and the hunters that use them. Unfortunately, for us here in West Central Missouri, most of the big refuges are up north. Because the hunting pressure is low and their seasons close early, a big part of OUR ducks and geese are staying there longer and later each year. With mild weather, plenty of food and safety ... who could blame the ducks?
Last season, after the north zone closed, the refuges up there were holding more than a half-million ducks, while we sat and watched the empty blue sky.
TIME TO CHANGE THE RECIPE!
Even though duck numbers are way up, hunter numbers have fallen. What we need here are some new incentives.
I believe the MDC and DU should stop creating more refuges in Missouri and start spending their money on hunter access to existing areas. Rotating shooting pools every few days might also make better use of these areas and help move the ducks around.
Well, enough about that ... let's find the perfect website.
BUY OR LEASE
My father, along with a few of his friends, leased a duck lake each year in the Grand River or Big Creek bottoms. Each share of the lease seemed a fair price to pay to get away from the crowd and have their own blind. It was also a great place to introduce their children to the sport they loved.
If you haven't already signed a lease for this season, it is probably too late. Most good spots have been spoken for by July. Now is the time to start thinking about the 1999-2000 season. Before you lease or buy, take the following steps so you won't be disappointed:
Talk to the previous leasees about the last season and why they are letting it go.
Scout the area in the Fall. Spring migrating birds will land on any hole of water and may not return during the season.
If you would rather own but are not positive that the area is good, ask if the seller will lease with the option to buy, so that you can check it out the first year.
Check the condition of the levees and blinds. Preparation can be a lot of work and very expensive.
If buying, look into government programs that cost-share wetland restoration. Some programs pay $250 per acre for fixing levees and installing water valves. (Call your local Conservation agent for details.) The Wetland Reserve Program will pay up to $750 per acre for farmland to permanently restore it to wetlands, if the soil type qualifies. It also will pay up to 100% of levee and waterway building expense.
Check the access and road conditions. (Plus existing easements if your are buying.)
If you form a club, choose members that think along the same lines. Set rules that all can live with. (I've seen clubs with too many members, all with a different idea of how things should be run. That's a bad ole deal!)
Find out if the area has access (and the right) to pump water during dry years.
Where is it located? Wetlands near major streams, rivers, flyways or conservation areas are always best.
If you wish to attract geese, large open areas within the lake are better. Geese need a longer approach when landing, but ducks like it too.
Be prepared to buy lots of decoys and learn to use duck and goose calls. The more people in your group that can blow a call, the better.
If you don't have a place to hunt or someone willing to share their place, check out some of the following Conservation Areas. At some of them you draw for daily blinds and others are simply walk-in or take your own boat. Many are "Superfuges" that hold large numbers of waterfowl. It is always worth the trip just to see that many birds in one place. These public areas are best hunted (and less crowded) on weekdays. Hopefully one is located near you.
Missouri's Public Hunting Waterfowl Refuges
No matter how good your waterfowl season turns out, it won't be the very best unless you have added the secret ingredient in your recipe ... YOUTH. You owe it to them. It doesn't take much effort to take a youth to a trap range, teach them how to handle a shotgun and include them as often as possible in your waterfowl hunts. Not only will you feel the satisfaction of playing a positive role in their life, but you might just gain a great hunting buddy.
The youth of this country hold the future of waterfowling in their hands. What kind of decisions are they going to make if they never get the chance to hunt? This year, instead of waiting for the opportunity to come along ... as the kids say ... Just Do It!
And that's all I have to say about that.
Remember ... take a kid along, have fun, never take more than you need, always pack a camera and the best of luck in your search for the perfect website!