The first snippets of snow fell this week, making most people frown, but put a smile on the faces of Kentucky waterfowl hunters. The cold weather the week before the waterfowl season opener on Thanksgiving Day is a good sign.
“Waterfowl hunting in Kentucky is nearly 100 percent weather dependent,” said Wes Little, migratory bird biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We will have more birds to hunt if we get cold weather to the north of Kentucky. If we continue with this cold weather, we should have a good opener.”
Little said fantastic habitat conditions for waterfowl await those birds. “The moist soil vegetation such as wild ryes, annual smartweeds, millets and sedges are looking great across the state. The habitat is here and population wise, we are living the glory days.”
A slight dip in duck numbers in 2018 resulting from adverse weather conditions during breeding season in the prairie-pothole region on the northern Great Plains and Canada in 2017 should not concern waterfowl hunters. “We are still well above the long term average for duck numbers,” Little said. “This trend is basically a blip and should not impact hunting at all.”
New public waterfowl hunting opportunities on Sloughs Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Henderson and Union counties offer a chance for excellent hunting each week of the season. Little explained hunters who have not put in for a quota hunt on the area may try for a minimum of 10 slots via a weekly draw each Monday night of the season.
“Nine of those slots are on the Jenny Hole Unit with one on the Sauerheber Unit,” Little explained. “More slots may be available if those drawn for quota hunts on the area don’t check in on the Sunday before their hunts.”
Waterfowl hunters on Ballard WMA in Ballard County, an anchor of Kentucky waterfowl hunting for decades, no longer have to hunt from blinds. “For the first time, a few boat-in hunting spots are available on Ballard WMA,” Little said. “There are many wade and shoot opportunities as well.”
Boatwright WMA, also in Ballard County, and Doug Travis WMA in Carlisle and Hickman counties, offer daily walk-in waterfowl hunting. For more information on these opportunities, refer to the 2018-2019 Kentucky Waterfowl Hunting Guide available in a printable PDF format at the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife webpage at www.fw.ky.gov. There is no longer a paper version of this guide.
Little said Cedar Creek Lake in Lincoln County, Barren River Lake in Allen and Barren counties and Green River Lake in Adair and Taylor counties offer some of the best waterfowl hunting in the central Kentucky region. He also recommended Cave Run Lake for duck hunting in east Kentucky, especially later in the season. Goose hunting is not permitted on most of Cave Run Lake. The Ohio River also offers good later season duck and goose hunting.
Hunters without a boat and other gear needed to hunt large bodies of water should try farm ponds. “Farm ponds always provide opportunity,” Little said. “You must get permission from the landowner. Do not be afraid to ask, many landowners with resident goose issues are open to waterfowl hunters. Do not forget to close the gate behind you; that is the number one way to lose hunting permission on a farm.”
Steel shotshells in No. 2 through No. 4 work well for ducks while those in BB through No. 2 make good goose loads. “The modern non-toxic loads with tungsten or bismuth allow hunters to use smaller shot sizes,” Little said.
“I mosttly use 3-inch, steel shotshells with 1 1-4 ounces of shot for waterfowl hunting,” Little said. Waterfowl hunters may not use or possess lead shot while hunting.
Duck, coot and merganser season opens Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22 and closes Nov. 25. This season opens again Dec. 3 and closes Jan. 27, 2019. Goose season also opens Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22 and closes Feb. 15, 2019.
As a reminder, waterfowl hunters must complete a short survey and get their Harvest Information Program (H.I.P.) confirmation number before hunting. Visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at www.fw.ky.gov and click on the “My Profile” tab to begin. The process takes less than 5 minutes.
In addition to the H.I.P. confirmation number, waterfowl hunters need a valid Kentucky hunting license as well as a Kentucky Migratory Bird – Waterfowl Hunting Permit along with a signed Federal Duck Stamp to be legal waterfowl hunters.
Waterfowl hunting provides a fun reason to get outside in winter while providing excellent tasting, nutritious table fare. A meal featuring properly cooked duck is as good as any expensive restaurant.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.