Hunters who have grown accustomed to seeing lots of young, naive ducks over their decoys in recent years might see a change for the 2002-2003 waterfowl season, according to Dale Humburg, a Missouri conservation official.
Humburg says drought is likely to make life a little more difficult for duck hunters this year, and possibly in years to come.
Dry conditions prevailed this spring and summer in the prairie pothole region of the north-central United States and south-central Canada. This region produces most of the ducks that migrate through the Central Flyway each autumn.
The number of mallards in the region held steady this year, but Humburg said young birds will make up a smaller percentage of the birds coming south this year.
"Young ducks respond more readily to decoys and duck calls," said Humburg. "Older, more experienced birds tend to be more wary. Hunting those older birds could be frustrating for hunters this year."
Ultimately, the number of ducks that hunters bag depends on how many ducks there are. The main factor affecting duck numbers is the condition of their nesting areas.
From the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, precipitation was scanty in these areas. Marshes dried up. Waterfowl numbers declined drastically.
When normal rain and snowfall resumed in the mid-1990s, the habitat work of the Conservation Department, Ducks Unlimited and other organizations paid off. Duck numbers soared.
"We have been reaping the benefits of a long, hard battle to protect and restore wetlands, plus plentiful precipitation," said Humburg. "But wet weather never lasts forever."