Ducks Unlimited Podcast

Well, here it is— a look back on what has been referred to as “one of the worst hunting seasons in memory.” Co-hosts Chris Jennings and Dr. Mike Brasher are joined by Jim Ronquest, Vice President of Development for Drake Waterfowl, to discuss the season from start to finish, north to south, and east to west. Numerous factors conspired to make the 2023-24 season a challenging one for even the most seasoned hunters, including low breeding populations, El Nino, widespread drought, limited snowfall, record low ice cover, and temperature swings from record warmth to record cold. As one season ends another begins, and the group looks ahead to dry conditions on the prairies and what is needed to turn things around.

Creators & Guests

Chris Jennings
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Outdoor Host
Mike Brasher
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Science Host

What is Ducks Unlimited Podcast?

Ducks Unlimited Podcast is a constant discussion of all things waterfowl; from in-depth hunting tips and tactics, to waterfowl biology, research, science, and habitat updates. The DU Podcast is the go-to resource for waterfowl hunters and conservationists. Ducks Unlimited is the world's leader in wetlands conservation.

Chris Jennings: Hey everybody, welcome back to the Ducks Limited Podcast. I'm your host, Chris Jennings. Joining me in studio today is Dr. Mike Razor. How are you, Mike? Doing well, Chris. How are you? Excellent. Also joining us in the studio today is Jim Ronquist, the Vice President of Development for Drake Waterfowl.
Jimbo Robinson: Jim, how are you? Wonderful. Better than I deserve.

Chris Jennings: Awesome. Well, today's episode, we're always excited about this one. It's post-duck season. We give Mike typically two to three weeks to kind of digest all the information that he collects, all the data points that he somehow finds throughout the country through either his biologist contacts- I just make them up.

Mike Brasher: You make it all sound special.

Chris Jennings: You don't make them up. There's maps, there's everything you could possibly imagine to pull together what we… Properly credited. Yeah. So what we refer to as the season in review and how Mike does this, he basically takes a look at everything we discussed as far as from, you know, that August 10th, 12th timeframe and the duck numbers drop all the way through the duck season, which ended this year in the South on January 31st. And now we get to take a look back. So we brought Jim from Drake in as well. We know that, uh, you have your pulse on the, uh, really on the heartbeat of, you know, waterfowl hunting and you travel a lot. You probably talk to a lot of people all over the country, so you probably have some really good perspectives on this. But Mike, if you want to go ahead and kick it off and just kind of, we can start out where, really where your timeline starts out as far as this season in review.

Mike Brasher: Uh, yeah, I can do that. Uh, Jim, it's great to connect with you here. We, we saw one another in, um, Nashville last week, I guess it was the last week. Yeah. It was last week. NWTF convention, my first time there. And we talked a little bit about this and getting you here. Uh, and great that you can make it in studio. You know, we earlier this year, we did the waterfowl season outlook, kind of looking ahead, what to expect. And this gives us an opportunity to do a sort of a retrospective, not necessarily where we write or where we, where we. were we wrong, but rather just in some ways reliving what was mostly misery this year, I think, for a lot of people.

Chris Jennings: But I think also what this does, it gives maybe some people who really don't look at other flyways, this really provides more of a continental perspective as to how duck season shaped up. It's not going to be specific to one person's blind. But really, a 50,000-foot overview of why maybe some Central and Mississippi Flyway hunters dealt with this or why some North Atlantic hunters. So, I think this is probably one of my favorite podcasts to look back on.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, the reference to a 50,000-foot view is important because there's no way that we can fully capture everyone's experiences or the way all the weather conditions or habitat conditions unfolded. even if we knew them. Chris, you mentioned I pull in some data. Most of the, quote, data that we'll talk about and that is included in this report, it is something that we produce, we publish, we circulate it to our board of directors, to a lot of our other volunteers, we make it available to all of our members, anyone that goes to our website, it will eventually be available there. It's something that I started doing a number of years ago because this time of year, we always get questions from folks saying, hey, what happened? What did you hear from other people? And it's like, rather than ad hoc this type of thing, let's get ahead of it and just make it a regular part of what we do. And the fact that it's been so well received is rewarding and that people look forward to it. And I enjoy this episode too, Chris. It's a fair bit of work to pull together some of these, the data points being weather related. And some population data, we go back to the spring and summer of last year, look at habitat conditions, population levels as informed by the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. Streamflow data, snow cover data, like I said, most of the quote data comes from meteorological, climatological data sets that are out there. But we summarize those, pull them all together on sort of a monthly basis and allows you to see how things unfolded. So this one, we added, as usually happens, these reports change a little bit. This year, I think last year, I had a segment in there about avian influenza, talking about it, what it was and what we saw. We don't have a segment on avian influenza this year. What we have is a short paragraph or two about El Nino. Because that was a big topic of conversation for a lot of people. And then also what I did is pulled together some reports from the field, anecdotal reports and observations from some of our staff, some of our volunteers, some biologists from each of the flyways, trying to just provide a few snapshots of what they experienced. And Chris, that speaks exactly what you're talking about. This report allows other people to see what other areas may have been experiencing. There were a few favorable reports, but by and large, I think, well, I don't think, I know, the overwhelming conclusion in what we heard from every flyway is that this was one of the worst hunting seasons in memory for most current duck hunters. And that includes duck hunters that are 25 years old and duck hunters that are 65 years old. And that, we heard that refrain from every flyway, from every type of person, including those that hunt public land, those that hunt private land. those that have very well-managed clubs or properties. There were struggles across the board. So if you're one of those folks out there that experienced a very, very difficult season, you're not alone. Jim, I know you're in that camp too, right?

Jimbo Robinson: Yes, absolutely. And fortunate to have what we had at times. The interesting thing that I've learned since duck season and during season was a lot of people had really bad duck seasons for sure. We knew that when new mounters were down. But a couple places, ironically, a couple properties had records set in years, are on record set in paces. Those places are typically very well managed. They manage pressure, manage habitat, have good food, have good rest areas. There's something to all that.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, but it wasn't necessarily a regional pattern. It's like you couldn't look to a certain area and say, oh, well, that portion of, I don't know, southwestern Missouri or that portion of the Central Valley of California did well. Because I heard it was just like localized properties or general areas that for whatever reason held birds, had birds that moved.

Jimbo Robinson: Hard to explain. Places right down the road, you know, within 8-10 miles of some of these places had horrible years, and they were on, there was one place that they would have set a record at if not froze up. So that's pretty cool. So there's always hope.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think the thing that really kind of saved my area, the area that we hunt, is we're Probably the farthest thing away from being mallard snobs. Hmm. So, you know, it's like we were shooting quite a few ducks But we weren't killing any mallards and that that was in Arkansas, obviously So, you know, I think that when we kind of look at would look at our numbers this past year and say oh, you know We had one of our better seasons, but probably our lowest for mallard. So I think like you said it was you know, just down the road and somebody's not shooting any. So that's super interesting to see who was shooting them, who wasn't. And that could have played some into it, you know, guys who are typically not shooting other birds other than mallards.

Jimbo Robinson: Correct. And that, one of the places that come to mind would be one of those. I know the places that we had last year were just that very thing of the ducks that were harvested, our mallard percentage was really low, you know, and I think that dials back into the B-pop and we need a hatch. Yeah.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, we definitely do that. Now, I went on a few hunts this year. I think I've detailed some of those on prior episodes. And I think most of those were multi-day hunts. And pretty much, I don't think pretty much, I think in every single case, There was one good day, but then the one after that was real quiet. Actually, matter of fact, though, I don't think we, when I hunted with you, Jimbo, I don't think we had one really good day. We saw a lot of birds each of those days, but the birds were stale, to use that word, which I'm sure we'll use again in this conversation. Saw a lot of birds, but they just didn't want to work. But you guys hadn't hunted that place.

Jimbo Robinson: We hadn't, and I think part of that issue there was dealing with the big rest area right close to us. We had a lot of ducks to look at. I don't care how good a caller you think you are, how good a decoy you think you've got, you're not going to beat the real thing that's swimming, flapping, and quacking all at the same time.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. But some of the other places where I hunted had a good first day, and then it was just really quiet after that, which tells me that you're hunting the same birds that have that have been around for a while, or they've been pressured before somewhere up and down the flyway, they figure the game out pretty quick, which speaks to what you're talking about, Jimbo, needing a good hatch so that you get good action, you get dumb birds.

Jimbo Robinson: The dumb ones always make you look better. Throughout the season, that's right. To that point, I just recently heard in the past couple days, a guy was telling me that he knew of I think it was six or eight bands from different places in the last week of the season after we had that big front. We picked up a lot of ducks. But all of those bands were eight years old or older mattered bands. So that's kind of unique. And, you know, I've, I've seen a few that's 11 and 12, but to hear of that many from different places kind of gives you an idea.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. I've heard Dr. Doug Osborne talking about some of that, what they've seen from their band recoveries this year, a high percentage, I think an unusually high percentage of older birds. Um, so. There's bits of information out there to kind of put together a bit of a picture of what we were seeing and what we saw this year, plus also what we've been seeing here over the past few years where we've not had multiple… Well, we haven't had a year where the entire prairies were wet and certainly haven't had back-to-back years where significant portions of the prairies were wet. in a long time, and I think we're seeing the effects of that. When you look at the breeding population survey results and the pond numbers over the past five or so years, you got a two-year gap in there, so we don't really know what those conditions were. Other than 2021, we know it was incredibly dry. We don't have a number for that year, but we know it was super, super dry. And yeah, so over those five or so years, we're kind of regressing back towards the mean, maybe a little bit below the mean for some species, and not unexpected. It's not satisfying, but when you've got habitat conditions the way we've had over that period of time, this is kind of what we expect, and that's what we talked about quite a bit last year leading into the season. The breeding population size, was just one of several variables, though, that conspired, I guess, to kind of put it that way, to make this an incredibly difficult and frustrating season for a whole lot of folks. I think a couple of superlatives on those breeding population numbers for For total ducks out of the traditional survey area, it was the lowest number in like 15 or so years. For mallards, it was the lowest breeding population estimate out of the traditional survey area in 30 years. So those were some eye-opening numbers.

Jimbo Robinson: High openers. And maypons weren't good. I know I've in the past gone back and looked at maypons and how that affects harvest. And you look, especially in our part of the world, if maypon counts are up, our harvest rates will be up. Yeah.

Mike Brasher: There were some unusual things going on with bird counts in Alaska, which is a really important area for the Pacific Flyway. Their total breeding duck numbers were down 50%, with some species down 60% or more, which is something you typically don't see. And I don't think anyone really believes that was a true population decline, but maybe more of a redistribution. The habitat conditions, breeding habitat conditions throughout the Pacific Flyway, well not throughout, in many portions of the Pacific Flyway this past year were improved over the prior year because they were recovering from that record drought of the prior years. So they saw a boost in breeding ducks in some of those western states. I'm sure that captured some of the birds that would have otherwise gone north. But then there were a few other… There's some speculation about the timing of the survey not being ideal. It was a late spring up there in Alaska, and so I know a lot of people in the Pacific Flyway were anxious coming into the hunting season, wondering if they would see the effects of that 50% decline in duck population estimate for Alaska. And I can't draw a line between two dots and say yes or no, they did see it, but you hear some people talk about, well, California. If you talk to people in Central Valley of California, they would say they might have seen an effect of that, but they can also tell you that that there was a general lack of weather that would have been… It's typically required to move birds out of some areas of Canada, and certainly out of the Pacific Northwest, and they just didn't see the birds in California the way they typically do, so it was a very frustrating season for them.

Chris Jennings: I think that was the one consistent thing throughout the season that I noticed, just doing the migration alerts. You've got freelance riders all over the country who are, you know, kind of trying to collect this information from waterfowl managers, biologists, whatever, but it was from Washington State to North Dakota, into the Great Lakes, even upstate New York, everyone was like, it's just slow. It was very consistent as far as… Now, granted, there were different weather patterns involved throughout the season there that did help, but the overall message was it was very slow, birds are stale, you know, there just wasn't that, like, one after the other as far as fronts coming in, weather systems at all. And that was pretty eye-opening all across the board.

Jimbo Robinson: Yeah. Well, I'm sure everybody saw the videos on social media where the guy was in Saskatchewan and it's dry and there's a field full of Canada geese in December and January. That's just not supposed to happen. Right. New Year's Day, I had a dandelion blooming in my backyard. We got to looking around, I found several of them. You know, that's not supposed to happen.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. A few other notable things on how late it was. Chris, I guess I will say, was it October? I have it in here. All these dates run kind of run together in my head right now, but I think the first appreciable cold spell was in late October. Yeah, it was right around Halloween. And everybody got excited about that. And it did move some birds into some mid-latitude states, those areas that had hunting seasons that were open, I think saw a push of birds and it was good for them. But then things warmed up, got stale, didn't see a whole lot of good temperatures and weather conditions to duplicate that, you know, to replicate that kind of movement. Fritz Reed provided some comments to me saying that things were so warm that in northern Alberta, wetlands were still open around Christmas time. He said normally that doesn't happen. There are also reports of people shooting, still seeing snow geese in North Dakota in early January. That normally doesn't happen. Speaking of North Dakota, they had a record-setting midwinter survey, record numbers of Canada geese, over 300,000, I believe, when typically they have somewhere between 100, 150 or so. Mallards, they didn't count a whole lot of mallards. They didn't count half a million or anything of that nature. But the number they counted was somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000, which is four to five times more than what they typically do. And predictably, they saw and counted some of those mallards on the Missouri River and on some of the other larger lakes that are typically completely frozen by the time they conduct that survey in early January. That was not the case this year, it was still open, and it wasn't until that mid-January series of arctic storms that it froze some of those larger bodies of water, froze the Missouri River, and ushered out birds, those final birds out of a lot of those areas.

Jimbo Robinson: Yeah, that was a unique… And very cool migration to witness. You know, I was going through some midwinter survey numbers yesterday, just kind of digging through some stuff and then thinking about when they flew the midwinter, it was really mild. And then we got that front, then we got a big rain event, and there was a couple places scouting. I found some really big feeds. I wish we could have got a picture of that in time from what we had to see how big of a shift we did have from the mid-latitude to Arkansas. right after that front, because we went from having no ducks to some really cool stuff going on. There's some folks that last week, that saved their duck season.

Mike Brasher: Absolutely. I know Mississippi hunters, and we're kind of jumping around here, but that's okay. It's just a nice conversation. We'll come back to a few things, but I know hunters in Mississippi, saw a very noticeable jump in the number of birds after that storm came through. Katie Burke, our co-host of the podcast here, her family noted a big increase in ducks in that area. Now, it was a combination of more water because after that front, we got a rapid warm-up and we got a bunch of rain. I noticed a change in some of the places where I hunt in Mississippi. I had a good, you know, for me, a good hunt. Shot four mallards and a couple of other birds and not a ton of birds around, but I had new water and it was definitely more birds than what I did have. But again, I had water when previously I had none because of how dry it was. Um, but yeah, I think the Mississippi late January survey also revealed what we're talking about. There were a lot of new birds that came into Mississippi between early January and late January. And as you would expect, still not huge numbers. Uh, but nevertheless, it saved, I guess, the latter part of the season for a lot of hunters. It may have, for many, it may have been the only opportunity they had to get out and hunt some of the places that had been bone dry for most of the season prior.

Jimbo Robinson: What was interesting, you just, excuse me, you just hit on it a little bit after the rain event and it thawed out and when the wind turned out of the south. watching the snow geese were leaving en masse. And they were, you mentioned earlier, we didn't get them until late. Normally we've got snow geese on the ground in good numbers by Halloween. Wasn't happening this year. And as soon as we had a chance to get out, they were gone.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. I told somebody I knew that was going to happen because those birds had been hanging out at northern latitudes. They were already gearing up to go back north. And so Some of those birds would not have wanted to leave and head farther south unless they absolutely had to. I posted a video online of a flock of 16 snow geese that I came upon in a dry soybean field where I deer hunt in north central Mississippi. And those birds were exhausted. They were looking for something to eat anywhere they could get it. I was able to walk within about 40 yards of those birds. They were not getting up and flying out. And there weren't a whole lot of groceries in that field either. So those birds… moved only because they had to, and they were on sort of their last gasp. And so, yeah, as soon as things warmed up and changed, I, I, I, yeah, that doesn't surprise me at all to hear that people were seeing those birds streaming north.

Jimbo Robinson: Mm-hmm. And Mallards, too. A lot of, we, a lot of ducks were leaving then, too. And that's, was another thing that I spoke about with some, as everybody's watching the weather and watching this front build, you know, in January, and it's every day. You see, what, what happened today? Did you see him today? Nope, not yet. But when they did move, they moved fast. What was interesting though, because it was so late in January, the photo period getting longer and longer every day, it's hard to wire them to turn south when they're really wired to go north.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, once they get going north, it's tough. You know, one of the kind of the anomalies in all of that is, you know, the Illinois River Valley, the Forbes Biological Station does a good job providing the numbers up there. And they had some periods of time in November where they were up like plus 250% over their long-term average. But you talk to the guys who hunt up there and they're like, yeah, we're not seeing them. The weather was so mild. But they're just not telling you.

Mike Brasher: They saw.

Chris Jennings: They just didn't want to tell you. No, stay down there, Chris. There's no birds out here. Yeah, there's no ducks. But, you know, their hunting was not very good, but they had record numbers of ducks holding in the area. And I think that a lot of that just played into those birds did shift a little bit south, not as far south as they normally would go, but they didn't have to go any further. It was so mild. They just hung out and they had no need. They weren't forced to go out and feed. You know, there was nothing pushing them around, so.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, exactly what they saw in Missouri, too, is that after that late October cold front, and I think there was another cold, push of cold air in early November around Veterans Day, prior to Veterans Day. And Missouri had estimates, counts on state and federal areas that were 70% above normal. You were talking about Illinois having numbers that were above normal. And so that was the early move of birds, but then if you look farther out at some of Missouri's numbers, you get into December, and their numbers are down relative to average, relative to normal. And that sort of tells you there was that initial move, and then birds just, they didn't have to do anything else after that. It warmed the rest of November. Record warm in December. It was just set records everywhere throughout the mid-continent, eastern portions of North America. I mean, December was just awful from a temperature standpoint, and I guess we got a few. Precipitation events, rain events in some areas in December, not a whole lot though.

Chris Jennings: I don't remember much of anything.

Mike Brasher: Maybe I'm thinking November when we started to get a little bit, but there, there was something early on that I remember starting to saturate. It's in here somewhere, starting to saturate some of the ground.

Jimbo Robinson: We did get one good rain. about a three-inch rain in that time period, somewhere towards the front of duck season, but it was gone pretty quick.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. So, you know, a couple of the other factors alluded to a combination of things that conspired to make this really difficult. We kind of touched on El Nino early, that being this large climatological pattern relates to sea surface temperatures out in the Pacific, and it has a pretty When it's a strong El Nino or a strong La Nina at the other end of the spectrum, they can have pretty profound effects on the weather patterns that we see here in the US or here in North America during an El Nino year, which this one turned out to be, as Noah described it, a moderately strong El Nino. I'm not really sure where it is right now, if it's starting to ease or if it's still intensifying. But in those years, typically what we see is warm conditions up in the northern latitudes. It can be wet down here in southern latitudes. It can be kind of cool down here in southern latitudes, which makes it a little bit confusing for hunters down here. If you're not looking at the big picture to understand what temperatures and snow cover is doing elsewhere, if you're just thinking, well, this is about an average year down here in southern latitudes for temperature-wise, why aren't we seeing ducks? Well, it relates to what's happening in other parts of the country. Let me see, what's the other? So yeah, warm up in the north, wet on the south, drier in the Midwest. Those are sort of the prevailing patterns for an El Nino. The wetness at southern latitudes certainly didn't materialize until January.

Jimbo Robinson: Exactly. I was fixin' to say it sure stayed pretty dry.

Chris Jennings: And it was dry in Arkansas, but really looking further south in Louisiana, it was really… Some of the guys on the coast down there just had a super tough year.

Jimbo Robinson: Marsh drying up, saltwater intrusion into freshwater marsh areas. That's scary.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, it sure is. Man, it's ran the cost of crawfish up on us now. We're paying the price now.

Mike Brasher: No doubt. That is true. So yes, that was one of the prominent early season stories is just how dry it was all along the Gulf Coast. I talked to Kevin Cry the other day, and I know you talked to him a couple of times in the season. He said the Gulf Coast of Texas just kind of struggled all year. The other thing that I'll say, though, which was a pretty uniform message during the early part of the season related to drought, how widespread that drought was. in the Central Mississippi Flyways and even on over into the Atlantic Flyway, is that if you had water, if you had the ability to pump water and manage water, you did pretty good. Now, it doesn't mean that you did good every time you went out because you didn't get a new push of birds, but you still had some birds. But if you're just relying on natural water, unmanaged water. You didn't have a whole lot of opportunities. And I heard stories, I can't corroborate this firsthand, of some places in coastal Louisiana, essentially, some clubs down there essentially having to cancel their season because the marsh is dry. There was no water in the canals. There's no water in amongst the marsh. And even when they did get water, Later on, there were no groceries there, because they had grown no submerged aquatics, there had been no seed production during the summer, they just wanted a whole lot of food resources. I think southeastern Louisiana in some places did pretty good.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, some of the guys that I talked to down there, one of the guys I fish with pretty regularly, he had a pretty good season. Even early on when it was, everyone was dry and everyone's kind of complaining, he was doing well. And he also said it was pockets. Yeah. You know, pockets of birds in the marsh here and there, but not, you know, not everybody was doing good down there, but you know, some of the dudes I knew down there did well.

Mike Brasher: The pattern, I think, was pretty similar in the Atlantic flyway. It was dry early on, kind of hit or miss. It was warm. It held birds north. It gave northern hunters a bit longer to chase some of those birds. But again, not a lot of new birds, not an abundance of young birds, so I think it was some tough hunting there. And then, you know, once they got a little bit of cold weather, I think it might have improved things in a few locations. I think some of the coastal portions of those states did okay early on. Maybe again, it's probably highly variable from place to place. But the other thing the Atlantic Flyway hunters always look to is a condition of ice on the Great Lakes. That was one of the more shocking things that I uncovered as I started pulling some of these graphs and some of these data, is just how little ice formed on the Great Lakes. And they were at virtually record low until January, into mid-January, whenever that Arctic, that big polar vortex disruption occurred, had multiple storms come through and plunged temperatures to record low, it started to make some ice, but then it warmed back up, and you see that ice cover, percentage ice cover going back down in the graph that's in this report. And I read the other day that as of mid-February, Lakes Erie and Lake Ontario, which I think are two of the shallow, I know Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, they're virtually ice-free. Mid-February, ice-free. And so whenever you have those big lakes open that late into the season, you're just not gonna get a, you're just not gonna get birds to move the way Atlantic Flyway, Southern Atlantic Flyway hunters are hoping they will. So they suffered from that as well.

Chris Jennings: That's a killer for some of those Midwestern states, too. Indiana, in particular, Ohio, you know, they really rely on, you know, the hunting really doesn't pick up until those lakes start forming ice, especially in the marshes on the edges. But with it being so mild, they didn't even get that.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, you talked to Jay Anglin a couple of times throughout the season. I can't recall what his assessment was. Did they have any good periods of hunting?

Chris Jennings: You know, he probably had some. You know, he gets after them pretty hard up there. So, you know, he bounces around Michigan and Indiana, but he said that, like, Harsens was holding a bunch of ducks. Some of these traditional migration areas held a bunch of ducks and they held them for a long time. And guys up there, I think Harson's, when he did the podcast with me, it probably would have been first, second week of November. And they had done pretty good. But I don't know how well that held up. The problem is, another problem for hunters in the South and even mid-latitude states, those northern states went out. Their season's closed. Yeah. Pressure gets off. They didn't have to do anything. Like, one of my buddies from Wisconsin, he was driving to North Dakota to go ice fishing because there was no ice in Wisconsin. And, like, he's like, I'm driving across the state, and he's like, there's not one lake that's covered in ice to ice fish. And this was, like, early December. You know, this is, actually, it was probably later than that, mid-December. And so that's, Pretty eye-opening.

Mike Brasher: What's the DU event that we hold in Minnesota, Ice Fishing for Ducks or something? Yeah, Fishing for Ducks. Fishing for Ducks. I think someone was telling me that… It's on Mille Lacs, I think. That they have canceled it. They've had to cancel it.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, they canceled it this year. They didn't have enough ice. So, that's scary. And that, you know, central Minnesota, borderline northern Minnesota has no ice. Yeah, crazy.

Mike Brasher: I've saw some people, I guess it was Montana. I mean, they were still hammering the Ducks in mid-January. Even when it was like eight below, it was seven below down here, they were still hammering the Mallards in Montana. It was like 20 below or something. Especially that time of year, man, heck, I'm not going. I don't have to. I'm already up here close to where I'm gonna be breeding.

Chris Jennings: But what was weird for those guys too, Montana, Wyoming, it's January and they're shooting Green Wings. You know, like they, some of those guys that I talked to a couple weeks ago when I was out there, they were talking about how they were just, they still didn't get tons of mallards, you know, that, you know, it was warm weather ducks that they were shooting.

Jimbo Robinson: How many people did we all talk to that shot blue wings in December? Oh yeah, we shot some. And normally I'd say, well, those birds are pushing back early, but I don't think, I think those were still just getting there.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. And guys in Montana were saying in early January, yeah, we finally got birds moving out of Alberta. Yeah. Like, wow.

Jimbo Robinson: That's not good. I remember one of the first times I got to go to Saskatchewan years ago and was hunting with a Saskatchewan resident. It was one of them pretty days, you know, north wind blowing, pretty chilly. And he said, oh, it's a great day for the northern birds. And I thought, my Lord, how far north do you have to go to get the northern ducks?

Mike Brasher: The other thing that I have heard some people say is that, and it's similar to what I said about the North Dakota survey, is that yeah, although some of those northern states held birds longer than they normally do, it's not like they were covered up with them. At least that's not the story that I—and we wouldn't expect it to be the case. given what we've talked about with the breeding population survey and the low number of ducks that we saw there.

Jimbo Robinson: You add it all together, and it's just a bad year. I don't want to be gloom and doom either, because my season did have some highlights. We had some pretty good hunts at times. That being said, it seemed like the wintering distribution of all ducks was really elongated. May pond counts were down, bee pots were down. Mississippi River was at all-time low levels. White River was low. White and Cache River basins didn't get water until late. It's cyclic, right? So it's just one of them years that, that hit, but it happens. You know what I'm going to do next year? That's right.

Mike Brasher: That's right. I think, uh, Kevin cry also told me that one of the bright spots in their state while the Gulf coast struggled, the bright spot was this area. They call the rolling plains, the panhandle up in some of those where they get a lot of playa wetlands. He said it was the wettest that it's been in about 10 years. Now it's a, it's a sparsely populated area from a human standpoint. And so you can… He didn't… I haven't seen their midwinter survey. Have you seen Texas' midwinter survey results? I don't even know if they're out yet. I meant to check on that before we started. I think Kevin did tell me their numbers in the Rolling Plains were up, which you would expect if they had water across a landscape that was otherwise dry for much of the season, you'd expect that. But I don't know that that area supports a lot of duck hunters, so you wouldn't… wouldn't hear much of what was going on. I don't think you would, but, you know, if you had birds this year, good for you. And I know, as Chris said, there were people that did, maybe right adjacent to other folks that didn't have them throughout the season. And that's the way it happens every year. Just this year is probably more that we were without than those that found themselves Yeah, enjoying what they saw and what they were able to shoot. You want to take a break right now?

Chris Jennings: Yeah. Should we do that? Yeah, let's take a quick break and we'll come right back. Hey everybody, we're back here with, I'm here with Dr. Mike Brasher, my co-host, and Jimbo Ronquist with Drake Waterfowl. We are rolling through the season in review, and I think we've probably, hopefully everyone listening is like, oh yeah, that's exactly what happened. You know, they're hearing the scenarios that we've kind of spoken about, and I'm sure everyone probably saw it. Sure, right on the money. Yeah, oh yeah. They're probably going to send you emails, Mike. You're so right. Haven't gotten that yet. I'm thankful for that.

Jimbo Robinson: Let me know when that happens. Yeah, let me know. Nice crowd.

Chris Jennings: Nice crowd. But Mike, you wanted to start off just kind of coming out of the break, talking snow cover. Obviously, big driver of migration, one of the many variables, and this year it just did not happen in some areas.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, it didn't, and as we alluded to earlier, we're kind of jumping around here, and that's fine, but, you know, if you were to structure this, you'd probably talk about four, I guess, broad themes that – or broad factors that, in combination, gave us sort of the perfect storm for a tough duck season, pretty much across the US. That'd be a low BEPOP, widespread drought, incredibly warm temperatures throughout much of the season, and then lack of snow. We've hit on all of those others, but we haven't really talked about lack of snow. But lack of snow, I mean, there's not a whole lot to talk about. We didn't have much. We had – there are some snow maps that I pull, daily snow maps showing snow cover. November 1st is one of – I typically pull from the first of every month, and I realize that fails to capture the full – I guess, depiction of snow that we may have gotten throughout the entire season, but it's a snapshot, right? So, no snow on October 1st. A good bit of snow there in early November across the northern prairies. stretching into Canada, but by December, all that snow had melted. There was a bit of a storm that came through, I believe, around Christmas that dropped some snow in South Dakota, maybe Montana. You're starting to get some snow cover in the mountains, but still pretty dry, pretty low snowpack in the mountains, even as of early January when you look out west. But then we go to mid-January, and that's when things change. We even got about six to eight inches of snow all the way down here in the mid-south, but a wide, wide swath of snow cover. And so it wasn't just the cold temperatures that were in our favor whenever that series of Arctic storms came across in early, mid-January. It was super cold temperatures and a lot of snow, a lot of mountain snow in the Pacific Northwest. It actually locked in a lot of people. They couldn't get out, couldn't drive, couldn't go to the places where they wanted to hunt because the roads were icy, the roads were snow covered. Across the Midwest, a lot of snow. Now, there is a gap there if you look at this map. up around Montana, Idaho, Western Dakotas, and that would be consistent with some of the photos that I saw from some of those folks that were still out there hammering mallards in mid-January. It's 20 below. Kudos to those folks that are tough enough for that. And then you look at February 1st, all that snow is basically melted. There's some snow still in the eastern, in eastern Canada, but across The northern prairies of US and Canada, by February 1st, everything had warmed up, that snow had melted. So, we did not have very many snowfall events that would have contributed to major bird movements by covering up food resources, which is what we rely on it to do, right? So we just didn't get it. Didn't get it outside of the two or three. Maybe a few more if you look out on the Atlantic coast and some of the snow that they received. But I think most of that was pretty isolated. Great Lakes got some snow a few times. But yeah, overall, just not a lot of snow. And that was sort of the the coup de gras of the factors that we hope for when we talk about major migratory movements. Just didn't get it.

Chris Jennings: I think one bright spot there was that mid-January when we did get the snow. Like you mentioned, Jim, like everyone's seeing ducks and, you know, picking up more birds. And so it just, I guess for me and some of the guys that I hunt with, it was kind of one of those, oh, they will move if we get the weather. It's like, oh, yeah. So, you know, next season we'll have tons of snowstorms. I hope so. We'll be in shape. You heard it here first.

Mike Brasher: Chris Jennings predicted lots of snowstorms.

Jimbo Robinson: Already. I do know there's folks that had really bad seasons, but that, that event made them have a, that saved their season. A lot of places lost 10 days, 12 days to being froze up, but there's a little, little water in White and Cache River Basin that helped a lot of guys. And as that thaw hit, there's some people had told me that's some of the most epic cunts of their life, but there was, It was short-lived, but they got to see some good stuff.

Mike Brasher: Were you able to, did you have much success during the freeze?

Jimbo Robinson: I did. I had an in-bite hunt with some folks on a big reservoir, had some water open, we shot some ducks, and then getting a little water in the white. One of my favorite days all year, I was by myself, you know, just me, me and my old dog. And that was probably one of the highlight hunts of my year. And I didn't even try to hide, didn't try to hide the boat, just stood there.

Mike Brasher: Man, I bet you enjoy hunting by yourself more now than ever. When you think about it, most of the time when you're hunting with other people, there's probably a camera around, there's pressure to post something, there's pressure to film something, there's pressure to say something. You know, you're always doing that stuff now. And that's a, you don't get many days where it's just you and your dog and you don't have to worry about any of that.

Jimbo Robinson: Oh, I loved it. I loved it. Got in the boat by myself, went up the river, shot my ducks with a 28 gauge, and they had to be just in the right spot. If they lit over there, no, I got to make you come past this tree and under that limb. And if you'll do that, you get to go home with me.

Mike Brasher: Did you shoot them Winchester Bismuth 28 gauge, Adam?

Jimbo Robinson: I did. I did.

Mike Brasher: All right. There you go. You like those things? Yes, sir. I tell you what, they're nice. They're good little pills. Chris, what do you want to do here now? You want to do sort of a flyway by flyway wrap up? We still on the back end of this need to do sort of a looking ahead.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, I think, you know, I think we did a pretty good job of covering flyway to flyway. I know I mentioned that, you know, we've kind of talked about California a little bit, Washington, Oregon. They obviously got a ton of water. Even they started out a little dry, then they got a ton of water. Then it just went into, you know, I think December for at least Central Valley hunters was pretty much the doldrums, you know. A lot of those guys, even late the last week in the season, we did the migration alert where those guys are talking about green wings, not in huge numbers. Bags were mainly consisted of shovelers and some widgeon, lots of geese around, but there was just no reason for those birds to move around a lot. So they dealt with that. Moving into the Central Flyway, I mean, we've really touched on that, too. Lack of snowfall in the prairies. I mean, you know, one of our migrational editors, John Pullman, you know, he was calling me in December, even early January, saying he's hearing about, you know, big numbers of mallards in Edmonton. Like, what are they doing, you know? And… Why haven't they left? Well, yeah. And so, like, that's just a pretty… I think that's the… the theme that kind of encapsulates all of this season. And it went flyway to flyway to flyway. I mean, Mississippi flyway was no different. Great Lakes issues, no ice up there. You move into the Atlantic flyway, obviously the Great Lakes play into that, but they had pretty mild temperatures throughout. And I think Chesapeake Bay area, a waterfowling historical region. They went from dry to super wet to dry. Some of the reports out of there were lots of wood ducks. Guys were shooting wood ducks in pretty good numbers early, but then nothing really materialized after that. It just was super slow for a lot of guys.

Mike Brasher: That's consistent with the report we got out of Molly Neese out of South Carolina. Wood ducks were pretty strong. Wood ducks have been a savior for Atlantic flyway hunters. Talk about a recovery story, a beneficial recovery story in the wildlife space, wildlife conservation field, and how it's saving hunting seasons for a lot of Atlantic flyway hunters. Think also about Florida. I don't have a good read on Florida outside of one little snapshot. I know our social media specialist, Mallory Murphy, went down there in early December, I think that was, and hunted with some folks down there. And I think on two days, I'm not sure if they pulled the trigger on a single duck. It was really slow. Didn't see a whole lot of blue wings. They were also trying to shoot some model ducks. Of course, they're resident down there, but they just didn't. weren't doing quite right for him. That's when they ended up shooting a few snipe, going snipe hunting. That's what led to the whole… That's what then sort of steamrolled into a series of social media posts about snipe hunting and eating snipe. We got into snipe in North Louisiana. That was always a fun thing. So that's how all that happened.

Chris Jennings: Shooting snipe is pretty cool, Mike, but you never hear about that during a good duck season. Yeah, that's right. And so that's probably why we talked about it. I'm not going to name names, but I hunted at probably one of the better clubs in Arkansas this year, historically. It's in a super great area. And we shot, and I was fired up, you know, it's timber. I was like, this is going to be good. We shot ringnecks and snow geese. Not what you were expecting there, was it? And I was like, man, this is good. This was fun. You know, so that was certainly interesting. But I think everyone had those days this year.

Mike Brasher: We need a good correspondent from Florida to kind of keep us in tune with the birds they got down there. There's a number of hunters down there in Florida.

Chris Jennings: I've gone down there to hunt a couple times.

Jimbo Robinson: Florida Mountains?

Mike Brasher: Yeah, for sure. But I would imagine their season was much like everybody else. There was nothing that I could imagine would be substantially different to make them have a super great year. I imagine they struggled. Not a lot of birds moving, not a lot of great weather to put a lot of birds down. Now, I guess the silver lining in much of this discussion is that survey numbers out of eastern Canada this year, this past year, were pretty stable. Black duck numbers were up. I haven't heard a whole lot of reports on how people did black duck wise in terms of the harvest of that, but I think they were expecting a pretty decent number of those to be in the fall flight. So, you know, that's kind of what we expect, though, out of the duck population, breeding populations in those eastern survey areas. A fair bit of stability, and we saw that last year. Mallard numbers continued to be up from a few years ago. in that region, so that's a good thing. And yeah, so I guess now we look forward, right?

Chris Jennings: Yep, I think that's all you can do. You know, you can't dwell on that.

Jimbo Robinson: Ready to put this behind us.

Mike Brasher: Happy to put it in the rearview mirror. I hope everybody out there had at least one or two good hunts, you know, to kind of keep you excited. I think that's what we said in that article we put in the magazine last year is that we didn't expect this to be a banner year, but hopefully you see enough birds and have enough, I guess, have enough opportunities to keep you optimistic about spending time in the field. And Jimbo, I know you always say that getting out, spending time with friends and family is more important than shooting birds.

Jimbo Robinson: Absolutely. We all like to smell burn powder. Have a heavy strap of ducks, watch your dog work, but it's about everything. It's about all of it, you know, and keep that in perspective. You know, there's too many people worry about just having a pile and that's all fun too. That's why we go, but it's not the only reason. You got to spend time with a lot of great folks and that's the best part of it. That's right. Of course, there's a lot of speculation now about the future. There is. Should we go there? Not just yet. I'm going to make another anecdotal deal. As you look at BPOP numbers from last year, you see pintails are up. Yeah. And just thinking anecdotally here, just from my little snapshot of where I was and where I hunted, I did notice, I think I noticed more pintails. Now, I don't hunt a lot of good pintail country, so I don't shoot many. That said, I seem to see a lot of pintails. I felt pintails were up a little bit.

Mike Brasher: I heard that too. I also wonder if we saw a redistribution of pintails from the Gulf Coast because of how dry it was because typically that's where they winter in large numbers. I have no data on that. I'm just speculating. One of the few times that we can do that and have fun with it and feel comfortable about it. We can tell a story around that. I don't know if it's true.

Jimbo Robinson: But that's a possibility.

Mike Brasher: I know there was not a lot of habitat there for them as it would be in a normal year or above average year. So, they had to go somewhere. Maybe they worked their way back north. We know they can do that. We know pintails can be and are a highly mobile species in that regard. So, don't know. But I heard that from other people as well. I noticed that some of the places where I was hunting, a lot of pintails. So, don't know though. It's always good to see an upbeat number in amongst a list of down arrows like what we saw last year in the breeding population survey, and so we'd welcome that again this year. Hopefully Pentails will find a place to settle and breed and be counted on the survey.

Jimbo Robinson: Yeah, buddy. Hopefully between now and End of May, a lot of good things will happen.

Chris Jennings: We're going to need it. Yeah, we're going to be kind of staying on the pulse of that as well with future podcasts. But, you know, just as kind of a snapshot, Mike, you know, from your perspective, looking at the habitat now, what's going to be needed to really drive that breeding habitat to improve?

Mike Brasher: A lot of snow, a lot of rain. There's a couple different data sets that we look at to get an idea of how things are shaping up. One is the North American Drought Monitor, and this report will contain a map from January 31st, and you look across Prairie Canada, you look across the northern tier of the U.S. prairies, it's abnormally dry all the way up to some regions classified as exceptional drought there in southwestern Alberta. Uh, maybe or in Southern Alberta, Southwestern Saskatchewan, uh, much of Southern Saskatchewan, Alberta is in some form of severe to exceptional drought. It's not good up there. Scott Stevens was on a, was on a call with him the other day. And he was saying he drove across Eastern portions of the prairies last week. Very little snow cover on the ground up there. There's some in a few areas, but it's not, it's not. I don't think it's very moisture-laden snow, and that's what, it's not real heavy snow, so I don't think there's going to be a big runoff factor associated with what snow is there right now. It's going to require a lot more snow, probably some rain too in the spring, and I think we always hope for some rain throughout the summer to keep those water levels, wetland levels high, because we need it. We need water in those wetlands to encourage birds to settle in those landscapes, but more importantly, so they can raise their broods once they hatch. So, combination of things that we need there, and I will tell you, you know, the tone of some of the conversations I've had with a number of people are not optimistic. It's just like there's about every conversation I have is that I drove through this area or I drove two hours from this location to this one. I saw very few wetlands that had any water in it. I heard one person say, if I went out and tried to go hunting tomorrow, if it was hunting season and I wanted to go hunting, I'd have to drive two hours to find a wetland that had water in it. You know, you don't like to hear those stories, and I'm not meaning to scare folks, but also, I think we have to be realistic about what we're facing up there, and so these are the natural variations in weather that we see. And when you combine these with all of the other forces that are acting against us and the things that we care about in terms of ongoing grassland loss, ongoing wetland loss, wetland drainage in many of the provinces in Canada, and a lot of other challenges that we're seeing across the prairies, it reminds us that our work is far from done. Because, you know, even if we had secured all of the land that we wanted to, you know, relative to our objectives through perpetual easements, voluntary easements, and so forth, and had a lot of other, had one or two million more acres of CRP out there. We still have to contend with the vagaries of nature and what it gives us on a year-to-year basis, and we're seeing that right now. And so our work is not done. The numbers that we're seeing certainly tell that story loud and clear. We'll keep an eye on those prairies, and hopefully we get a lot of rain. I mean, it's late February. There's still a couple of months.

Jimbo Robinson: There's still time.

Mike Brasher: So you're telling me there's a chance.

Chris Jennings: There's a chance.

Mike Brasher: There's always a chance. The other thing that I'll say is that when you look across the boreal forest there of northern Canada, it's pretty dry too. Last year was a record-setting year in terms of some of those, in terms of forest fires, evacuating communities and causing economic hardship for many, many communities and upending the livelihoods of so many people. You've got the human factor involved in all of that and we'd never like to see any of that, but that was a reality of what we saw, what happened last year. There are still drought conditions entrenched across the boreal forest. So I think there are a lot of folks in Canada that are kind of anticipating, unless something changes dramatically between now and the fire season, that they may see a resurgence of some of those fires. I actually was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago. and said, there are probably some of those fires that are still smoldering beneath the surface, and so when things warm back up, and it gets, it's just gonna, you know, because it's that deep, deep in that peat, deep in that carbon-rich soil, it's just the heat's just hanging in there, and it dries out and gets hot. those things can take off again. I certainly hope that doesn't happen. So there's that part of it, that question out there as well, what effect will that have on settling patterns for waterfowl? What effect will it have on the productivity of waterfowl that settle in that landscape? We know from past research that long-term and even short-term, ducks are quite resilient to fires in those landscapes. So, not too worried about that unless we see increasing frequency and severity, intensity of fires in those landscapes. That's when you might think about it a little bit different. The other thing that I've kind of picked up on, I don't have a good read on this, but Alaska. I've, I think they've, I know Anchorage has had one of its snowiest winters on record. It's been incredibly cold, maybe one of its coldest winters on record. I may be exaggerating that a little bit, but I know they're above average right for this date on, for snow, snowfall in that portion of Alaska. I know I've seen photos from a good friend of mine, Dr. Mark Lindberg. He's a photographer. Lives up there in Alaska some of the photos that he showed of of him out In that what did he say 40 50 below zero something like that just insane The images that he was able to capture so Alaska has been That's probably a topic worth worth talking about sometime in the future is like what all happened up there this year. I mean How bad was that winter? And what does that mean for habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl that head back to Alaska? Hopefully, we get a different number than what we saw last year. Hopefully, we get some noticeable, sizable return of duck numbers during the survey there in Alaska and get those birds cranking out some young'uns. And yeah, so it's like… It's a multi-step process here if we want to get back to high population levels. You've got to first recover from the drought that we're in, but then you've got to stay out of that drought for another year or two.

Jimbo Robinson: And you've got to hope you've got to… A couple years back-to-back of some wet springs.

Mike Brasher: Yeah, and you've got to hope we continue to keep some of that grass and maybe put some of that grass back on that landscape because ducks got to have grass to nest in.

Jimbo Robinson: And that's one of the opportunities though with the drought is getting the grass to start back and rejuvenating those wetland areas with good grasses and get rid of some of the not so wanted species.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think there's probably an opportunity for some of that as well.

Chris Jennings: You know, one thing we, the last couple of years with the Canadian prairies being as dry as they are, we really, you know, the U.S. prairies, North Dakota, South Dakota, really carried you know, production pretty well. Right now, it appears that North Dakota and South Dakota are in decent shape, better than the Canadian prairies, are they not?

Mike Brasher: I think they're better than the Canadian prairies, but the person that I was talking to recently was the one that was saying that if they were to go out and find a place to duck hunt right now, they'd have to drive a couple hours. I don't know where they were in the Dakotas, but you can actually look closely at this map, and there is drought in northern North Dakota. There's abnormal dry conditions there in Montana. There's some drought inching over into southeastern South Dakota. Prairie region of Minnesota and Iowa is dry. So, you know, it's fortunately Great Lakes from, well, I guess Michigan, Southern Ontario, Eastern Canada, they're probably in pretty good shape. I think they've had some beneficial rain. The other place that I guess would be worth talking about is kind of what's happening out west right now. I mentioned earlier that snowpack levels in the western mountains or the Cascades, Rockies, whichever mountain range you want to talk about. As of, I guess, December, November, December, they were well below average. But here recently, kind of since early January, mid-January, they've started to pick up quite a bit of snowfall in the mountains. And now I think California and Western states are in the midst of a series of those atmospheric rivers. It's bringing a lot of rain, in some cases too much rain. But that is beneficial. for locally breeding waterfowl in California and some of those other areas of the Intermountain West. I don't want to speak too exact about how it's shaping up in Washington and Oregon because I know they have several different portions of that state where that will carry breeding waterfowl. I'm not exactly sure how habitat conditioners are shaping up, but they've been getting some some recharge of that snowpack and probably going to put them in fairly decent shape for breeding waterfowl this year, which is good news. Good news. But yeah, it's another year. We never stop looking, do we? Nope. Ducks don't stop. I mean, they go from one part of the world, one part of the continent to another, and they're always trying to complete some life cycle event, and they gotta have habitat to do that, whether it be down here, whether it be in California, whether it be the South Atlantic, Florida. Prairies, boreal, Alaska, I could go on. They gotta have those good habitat conditions if they are to do what we want them to do.

Jimbo Robinson: They'll bounce back pretty quickly. I know there's a lot of folks, a lot of concern right now amongst the duck hunting public about our duck populations for sure. And while it's cyclical, it's certainly something to be concerned of. However, there's a lot of really good people looking after them too.

Mike Brasher: There are some super smart people looking after it. I will add this, you know, this comment here, just if people are wondering, because I actually had a good friend of mine text me the other day and ask this question, and I kind of thought he might, kind of was surprised to have him ask me this question. But he asked about the regulations for the upcoming year, 24-25. And they're already, the recommendations have already been made. I don't know where they are in that official process, you know, of getting it, of the formal recommendation from the Flyway Councils to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approving it. I'm not, not part of that decision, that decision process, so I don't know exactly where they are. I think I know, but I'm not going to guess. I'm not going to say it out loud. But the recommendations are in, they've been in for quite some time, and they're based on observations that were made during this past season. It follows from those rigorously informed matrices and models and adaptive harvest management, and the recommendation is for liberal seasons across the board, liberal frameworks, let me put it like that, liberal frameworks, in each of the flyways for the 24-25 season. I have no reason to believe that's going to change. No one has suggested that it would. I have not heard that. But that's not to say that it's final. It's not final until it comes out in the Federal Register, and I don't think that's happened yet. But, yeah, if somebody asked me what are we expecting for next year, liberal frameworks.

Jimbo Robinson: Yeah, me too. I was looking at that, you know, who knows. Everybody's worried about the next year. We'll worry about that in May. Yeah. You know, there's a lot can happen between now and then. And it's happened before, you know. There's up and down ways with ducks. It's been forever, just watch.

Mike Brasher: Absolutely, there always will be. If you don't like variation, I think Scott Stevens said this, if you don't like variation, duck hunting is probably not for you because you're going to get it. You're talking about the number of birds you see, the habitat conditions you see within a year, from year to year. There's not a lot of consistency. These birds move around. They're going to go to different places and they're going to rise and fall in numbers and habitat's going to go up and down in abundance and conditions. If variation is not your thing, well, I'd encourage you to try to get used to that and become a duck hunter, but if you can't get used to it, you're probably not going to be a very happy duck hunter. That's exactly right.

Chris Jennings: Well, before we get out of here, just something timely with this airing the last week of February. Jimbo, what did you see as far as snow goose numbers in the month of February? They were bailing out of there so fast that it is… We're trying to do the light goose conservation order updates, and this could probably serve as something for a snow goose hunter who may be listening. What were you seeing?

Jimbo Robinson: Man, that was fun to watch. So we talked about it earlier. After the freeze and thawed out, the wind turned out of the south. It was immediate. You started seeing big lines of snow geese and mallards mixed with them and speckled bellies going north. And I was like, golly dang, how many of them are there? Because they just keep going and going. And I live south of Interstate 40. And you can ride around and maybe find a goose somewhere. The past couple days, we've been doing some photo shoots and some duck banding on a place north of 40, Biodiview Basin, between Biodiview and Cache. and north a little bit. And there's still some geese trading around, there's still some folks hunting, there were some guys goose hunting doing very well. And then I heard up on the state line there were still a lot. But I made the comment really quick, like if you were traveling snow goose guide business or a group of guys that traveled chasing the spring conservation order and wanted to start in Arkansas or the Stuttgart area, February 2nd, whenever it started, you started out behind them. Oh, yeah. You were in the wrong place.

Chris Jennings: Yeah, there's guys killing geese over there in Arkansas still. Yeah, but more north.

Jimbo Robinson: Yeah, there were still several around. North of McCrory, that part of the world, all north. But it's been interesting to see that. I talked to Ira McCauley at the NWTF, part of Habitat Flats, and we were kind of having this same conversation. How was duck season? And they just had some of their first clients at Habitat Flats the week previous. And I thought, gosh, now y'all got to be covered up. But like he said, he said, typically, They're not there yet. You know, you don't get started yet. So they came late and left early this year. Came south early. They came south late. We didn't have snow geese on the ground. Like I said, we normally got a bunch of snow geese around by Halloween, but this year you didn't. But when they got there, they got there thick, but they left early. headed back north pretty quick, too.

Mike Brasher: It is an impressive sight. I've really only seen that once, a non-stop line of snow geese streaming north. I saw it a few years ago whenever Dr. Heath Hagee and I were headed over to hunt in western Missouri, and for hours, driving on whatever road that was. I mean, it was just nonstop. And look, I've seen a lot of birds in my life. I've never seen anything like that. I was just craning my neck constantly looking at these birds. Are they ever going to stop? Ever going to stop? And it was strong south wind. Man, it's impressive.

Chris Jennings: It is. Yeah, I've seen that in Nebraska and outside of the Rainwater Basin, and then we're driving back south, leaving the area. And as you're driving, you just, I mean, it's not like the Atlanta airport. They're just lines lined up one after the other, as far as you can drive. As far as you can see.

Jimbo Robinson: Oh yeah. It's cool. It's very cool. I've seen that. I get to see it a lot. I've seen it. with snow geese coming south also, you know, the other way. So it's, they're, a lot of people don't like them. I don't chase them real hard. Waiting around in a muddy rice field, you know, sitting 10,000 snow goose decoys is not necessarily my thing. Now, if a bunch of guys want to go sit, make me a spot, I'll come help shoot, you know, but they're really fun to watch. And a lot of, like I said, They're, anecdotally, they're kind of hurting maybe some of our duck energy days and kind of wading off into our mattered habitat some, but they are fun to watch.

Mike Brasher: They are one of North America's most spectacular phenomena, I would say, just in terms of their sheer numbers, the noise they make, what we're just talking about, their migrations when they get on that, when they get going north or heading south en masse. I think we take them for granted. People that see them a lot, I think we take that for granted. You get other people that see them for the first time, you get people that see them for the first time and they're just in awe. I would kind of liken it to our reaction if we would go to the Serengeti and see a big mass migration of animals over there. It's just a spectacular event to see them.

Jimbo Robinson: You see it all the time where I live. We'll get a bunch of geese on the ground or the field by the house or something. People will stop on the highway or stop on the road and get out and take pictures.

Mike Brasher: Yeah. It's unfortunate that we kind of vilified them the way we did. You know, I understand all that kind of stuff.

Jimbo Robinson: Oh, I got buddies that are scared to the earth. But man, they are.

Chris Jennings: But they're eating their duck food. Well, yeah. In that perspective, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, yeah.

Mike Brasher: But incredible, incredible sight to see.

Chris Jennings: Yeah. And the surprising thing, just talking about the weather and how warm it was, how it warmed up quick. The guys that I'm talking to who normally guide in South Dakota were down in Missouri 10 days ago. Just hunting for fun. And they looked up and those geese weren't stopping in Missouri. They packed all their stuff and went north. They're in South Dakota already.

Jimbo Robinson: Yeah.

Chris Jennings: I mean, that's right. I mean, they're just like, yeah, show's over. We got to get up there. If they wanted to be on the leading edge, they had, they'd better be in South Dakota.

Mike Brasher: What was it? I saw a post from Lois Bluff's National Wildlife Refuge. 1.6 or 1.8 million birds or whatever it was.

Jimbo Robinson: I talked to Mickey Heitmeyer yesterday. Him and I had a big chat and he was telling me about the 1.6 the other day and they picked up a bunch more. He said, I wouldn't surprise me if it's over two as of yesterday.

Chris Jennings: Well, the surprising thing about that is they were reporting like 8,000 birds on like January 28th and like February 1.

Jimbo Robinson: They had a half a million geese at least. You could see it, but it was crazy.

Chris Jennings: Fun to watch. Very impressive. Well, this has been good. Anything else you want to add, Mike or Jim? I think we've covered a good majority of it.

Mike Brasher: I would say stay tuned. We're going to be talking to a lot of other folks, especially over the next couple of months as we get closer to the breeding season. We'll be keeping a very close eye on on the prairies, other landscapes. I think we should try to get somebody to talk with us about what happened in Alaska. Maybe Dr. Mark Lindberg, if he's listening, consider yourself, somebody else out there, kind of put on notice. We're going to try to get in touch with you, talk a little bit about Alaska. But yeah, stay tuned. We're going to have a lot more information coming and it feels like we're just getting started, although we're just ending one season.

Chris Jennings: That's right. Here we go again. That's right. I'd like to thank my co-host, Dr. Mike Brasher, for joining me today in studio and just providing the update for the season review. I'd like to thank Jim Ronquist for joining us today from Drake-Waterfowl and providing his insight and just the entire landscape of Waterfowl. I'd like to thank our producer, Chris Isaac, for putting the show together and putting it out to you, and I'd like to thank you, the listener, for joining us on the DU Podcast and supporting wetlands conservation. Peace.