While most folks despise the cold weather, freezing temperatures actually fire up area waterfowl hunters. Duck hunters who hunt the historical waters of Tennessee's Reelfoot Lake actually get to start tomorrow (Nov. 15), while other waterfowlers across the state have to wait until Nov. 22. Either way, hunters are gearing up as positive migration reports come pouring in.
Ducks and geese might be following their instincts, but in most cases, they won't start flying south until they have to. Bitter cold and snow to the north means good things for duck hunters below the Mason-Dixon Line.
"Hunting prospects are very good for the upcoming season, but the weather and local habitat conditions must cooperate to ensure birds in any particular location," Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited, said. "There are big numbers of ducks and geese on the landscape, and if the weather is favorable for a normal migration, hunters should see plenty of birds over their decoys."
Steve McCadams is a duck hunting guide on Kentucky Lake between Nashville and Memphis, much closer to the heart of the Mississippi Flyway. McCadams said, "We’ve had a huge influx of gadwalls, scaup and greenwing teal over the last two weeks, but this bitter cold may well move them your way, as it seems our early ducks hang around best in warm weather. Who knows?"
Kirk Miles, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Region III wildlife manager, said: "Obviously, this cold snap will help push them down here. Weather is such a big player in how many ducks we ultimately get. In fact, it's probably the biggest factor. Yuchi Wildlife Management Area manager Bernie Swiney [in Rhea County] said he is starting to see ducks at Yuchi and the other refuges. With the cold weather predicted to hang around, I would expect we'll see more and more."
One report filed from North Alabama Thursday via the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map said that numbers were up exponentially in the past week.
Waterfowl hunting has grown increasingly more popular, even in East Tennessee, not a traditional waterfowling area. According to records from the TWRA, there were about 20,500 duck hunters in Tennessee in 1994. More recently, the records show there are about 33,500, a 63 percent increase.
There is one special duck hunting opportunity available in Chattanooga for the handicapped that is underutilized. As part of the Moment of Freedom Program, wildlifers built a handicapped-accessible duck hunting blind on the Varner Unit of the North Chickamauga Wildlife Management Area in Hixson. It is available for reservation on any Monday, Wednesday or Friday by calling the TWRA Region III office at 1-800-262-6704 (or 423-931-9571). Miles said it is has not been reserved at this writing. Learn more about the Moment of Freedom effort here.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.