It says something about the local duck hunting scene when waterfowlers put down their shotguns and trade them for fishing poles.
Duck hunters in the Kentucky Lake region were hoping Ole’ Saint Nick would bring a bag full of ducks and better weather Christmas Day.
Apparently, waterfowlers had some bad behavior this year. Santa didn’t deliver on the ducks, as apparently waterfowl weren’t abundant at the North Pole, either.
Neither did the jolly ole’ man bring any North Pole weather. Christmas week weather this year was more reminiscent of late fall or an early spring.
Temperatures this week eclipsed the 60-degree mark a few days, and the thought of a white Christmas was nothing more than a distant memory.
Tennessee’s duck season is about to reach the halfway mark this week, and thus far it’s been below average for the lion’s share of waterfowlers in the Kentucky Lake region.
Other areas have suffered, too. From Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner of the state to the eastern areas of Barkley Lake, ducks have not descended in sufficient numbers to keep the supply line going for most dreary duck hunters.
Scanning empty skies has been the norm in some pretty popular hunting areas. Nearby, the Camden Bottom wildlife management area is experiencing one of its slowest season starts in recent memory.
Dover Bottoms over on Lake Barkley near Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge also has reported below average hunting thus far.
They’re not alone in their dilemma, as the popular West Sandy wildlife management area, better known as Springville bottom, has not had a good year, either.
There have been a few isolated success stories here and there, but the overall picture has been one of low duck numbers observed, resulting in poor harvest reports.
Big Sandy and Gin Creek WMAs have suffered, too, with a small percentage of blinds taking the biggest percentage of ducks.
Farther west, the duck picture also has been blurry, until you get to the extreme western portion of the state, where counties bordering the Mississippi River have fared better.
Some areas within the Forked Deer River drainage and portions of the Obion have experienced better hunting when compared to the rest of the state.
A few private hunt clubs have had good hunting at times, as heavy rains have inundated lowland areas to our west and most of the ducks appear to be using the western portion of the state.
Western Kentucky has done well as the river levels on the Mississippi remain high, and that’s attracted ducks to its parameters.
Some areas of eastern Arkansas and up to the Bootheel of Missouri have seen hunting range from fair to slow.
However, those areas are seeing big numbers of both snow and speckled belly geese migrating to the region thus far, but even their duck numbers are a bit sluggish.
Duck hunters across the four-state region endured a tough season last year and were hoping to rebound this time around.
Last year was one of the slowest in recent memory, as the whole region had above-average water flooding out thousands of acres of backwater that never froze, because of an extended spell of warm weather.
Although this season has been a little better for portions of the region, there are still a lot of hunters suffering from low duck numbers. Bottom line is you can’t shoot what you can’t see.
SURVEY DETAILS NUMBERS
Helping paint the picture of the present-day duck dilemma is the most recent aerial survey of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge.
Flown a week or so ago by biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the survey estimated 55,317 ducks and 4,207 geese using all three units of the refuge along Kentucky Lake.
To put things into perspective, duck numbers were 23 percent below a survey taken earlier in December. At a time when waterfowl numbers should be increasing, just the opposite was taking place.
When compared to the five-year average, the number of ducks is down 37 percent. The 10-year comparison was down 55 percent and the long-term 25-year average showed the duck count was down a whopping 59 percent for this time of the year.
A breakdown of species showed mallards topping the list as some 39,357 were estimated, followed by 9,036 gadwalls. Rounding out the top three species were ringnecks, estimated at 2,645.
The Duck River Unit was holding 32,684 ducks and 1,372 geese out of the total count. The Big Sandy unit was estimated to be holding 19,658 ducks and 2,535 geese.
Numbers of diver species such as bufflehead, goldeneye, scaup, canvasbacks and such were very low, which is a further indication of a sluggish migration to the area.
There were 24 bald eagles observed in the survey, along with a small number of sandhill cranes.
Meanwhile, as the season matures, hunters are hoping the second half is more productive. There’s still a lot of opportunity left as the season runs all the way through Jan. 31 this year.
STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.