Ducks dodged hunters across much of the West Tennessee region during last weekend’s opener.
The lion’s share of waterfowlers got off to a sluggish start, as reports filtered in from disgruntled hunters in many popular public hunting areas.
From Kentucky Lake wildlife management areas under management of TWRA came reports of tough sledding for most of Camden Bottoms, the largest WMA in the region.
“It was slow, as duck numbers were down and much below average,” TWRA area manager David Uldrich said. “A few blinds had light shooting, but nothing like times past.
“Dover Bottoms over on Lake Barkley was also slow,” he said. “The areas had plenty of food and ample water, but ducks just weren’t using the units, as overall sightings were down.
“Gin Creek WMA was the one bright spot, as the small unit doesn’t offer many blinds, but hunters there did pretty good compared to other units across the region,” Uldrich said.
One sore spot for hunters was Big Sandy wildlife management area. Due to a baiting issue, a portion of the area was closed down for the second year in a row.
Four of the area’s best blinds — Nos. 5, 10, 11 and 12 — were shut down to hunting opening morning by officials from TWRA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The specific type of baiting violation was not released by the agencies, but a portion of the unit will remained closed pending word from FWS agents.
No doubt hunters drawing blinds in that sector and others walking in or planning to hunt from boat blinds or temporary setups were and are quite frustrated.
Because of the actions of a few or perhaps even a single individual, several innocent and law-abiding hunters lost both opening weekends and more of their hunting season.
Hunters there are anxiously awaiting word from FWS on the future of the hunting season there in a portion of the Big Sandy unit.
West Sandy WMA, referred to locally as Springville bottoms, did not fare well, either. Duck numbers were low in the unit’s open water and flooded timber sectors.
A few blinds bagged wood ducks, but mallard numbers and other puddle duck numbers were low in the overall harvest.
Some private hunt clubs were holding a few ducks and managed to have decent shoots, but that varied by location across West Tennessee, too.
Popular areas west around Dyersburg and Bogota area experienced poor shooting overall as duck numbers were down there, too.
It was the same story in most of the Obion and Forked Deer River bottoms where hunters usually have good opening weekends.
It seems ducks were in the region in decent numbers two weeks ago during the early cold weather blast of mid-November, but must have moved back north or scattered to other regions.
West Tennessee was not alone in its duck dilemma, as waterfowlers across the bootheel of Missouri had great expectations for the Thanksgiving Day opener, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Hunting there was well below last year at this time.
Western Kentucky areas were mediocre, as well, in the four-day opener that kicked off on Thanksgiving Day.
It seems all areas had a few blinds that hit it lucky, whether in Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky or Arkansas — and that’s always the case.
Arkansas reportedly had good numbers of mallards, as season opened there last week, and most of the eastern portion of the state had a pretty good start to the season there.
Meanwhile, helping tell the waterfowl story locally is the low number of waterfowl using the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge at this time.
Aerial surveys taken Monday by waterfowl biologist Robert Wheat reported only 44,733 ducks estimated on the entire refuge, which is comprised of the Duck River, Busseltown and Big Sandy units. There also were 21 eagles spotted.
The Duck River unit was holding 34,327 ducks while the Big Sandy had a mere 9,262. The tiny Busseltown unit had 1,144 ducks.
Mallards topped the species list at 29,604, followed by gadwalls at 6,947. There were 2,900 greenwing teal to round out the top three species.
Tennessee’s second segment of duck season resumes Saturday for a 58-day straight stretch, taking it all the way through Jan. 27. So, hunters have a big window of opportunity ahead.
The season has been closed for five days after the weekend opener.
Meanwhile, it appears duck numbers across the region need to increase dramatically to improve the overall waterfowl picture.
That may not happen too soon, as temperatures are forecast to be in the 60-degree range this weekend!
STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is email@example.com.