The fall of 2009 is one that I will never forget.
Yes, there was Brett Favre’s arrival in Minneapolis and the resulting frenzy of football fun for the following weeks, but the 2009 NFC Championship game the Vikings fumbled away has caused me to largely erase that entire season from my memory. (I’m not bitter, though …)
No, for me, the fall of 2009 will forever be remembered because of all the water — and all the ducks.
A series of September weather systems that year dropped heavy rains across portions of northeastern South Dakota, flooding thousands of acres of standing crops, and the ducks took little time finding the grand buffet made possible by Mother Nature.
Hunters found it, too, including a good friend from Georgia, who made the trip to South Dakota that fall to hunt with me for a long weekend. Whispers of ducks in flooded corn had reached my ears in the days before his arrival, so when he landed in Sioux Falls I loaded him up with plat books and pointed him north.
The scouting he did in that week of October generated three tremendous hunts for us, and it also greased the skids for weeks of unbelievable hunting for our mutual friends. In the bigger picture, the flooded conditions that attracted millions of ducks to South Dakota that fall created a season unlike any other in recent memory. I’m not sure we’ll experience anything like it ever again.
I learned a thing or two in 2009, including how a 10-foot length of conduit comes in handy when trying to get a motion decoy above the tallest stalks of corn. Most of all, however, I learned the importance of keeping a close eye on precipitation amounts across the state heading into the duck season. If there is new water on the ground, ducks will find it. It’s that simple.
In fact, on my first hunt in flooded corn that year, I shot a banded drake mallard. He was captured and banded just weeks before, roughly 200 miles south and west of where he decided to cup his wings and put his feet out over my decoys. Not your typical October migration, some might think.
What is becoming more typical is the arrival of these late summer or early fall precipitation events. It has happened again this year in parts of South Dakota, as well in parts further north and west in North Dakota and Montana, too, where ducks are responding to new water on the landscape.
Every year, it seems, an area gets hit with heavy rains, which flood crops and create thousands of acres of new habitat for ducks. The weather records may prove me wrong, but I don’t remember experiencing this when I was younger. Could it be a sign of a changing weather pattern?
Manmade manipulation of water levels on the landscape as it pertains to waterfowl hunting is nothing new. There is an entire southern culture of duck hunting built on flooding rice fields and green timber, and some of the best mallard hunting in the country today comes courtesy of heavily managed grounds in Missouri and Kansas.
Some have tried to do the same in the Dakotas, but the results seem to be less consistent. Unless located within an area historically used by a large number of ducks as they stage during their migration south, it seems the birds have a hard time finding these small, isolated pockets of flooded crops or grass. And those birds that do find the water seem to move to a nocturnal feeding pattern, making it hard to see a huntable number of birds during the daylight hours.
I don’t have a good explanation for why this happens, but it just seems that when it comes to flooded ground and ducks in the Dakotas, nobody does it better than Mother Nature.
Should this pattern of heavy precipitation in August and September remain in years to come, hunters in this part of the country are looking at a game-changing shift in terms of where and how to hunt ducks. Scouting, always an important part of the hunt, will become even more crucial to finding these areas of new water, particularly when the rains fall in places not typically associated with duck hunting.
If and when the rains come again, follow the water and you’ll find ducks will do the same. That’s what happened in 2009, when the rains fell and memories were made.
About the Author: Waterfowl columnist John Pollmann is from Dell Rapids, S.D. Follow him on Twitter @JohnPollmann.