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Mississippi Flyway

Aerial Highway to the Mississippi Delta


Last updated : 03/18/2016

It is fall and the magic begins as if the “duck fairy” just flew over sprinkling her magic dust and beckoning the ducks to rise from the mist and begin their annual southward migration to duck paradise in the Mississippi Delta. In reality God’s wonderful and magnificent creation is beginning another natural cycle, affected not at all by the “duck fairy” and very little by man. Nature controls over 90 percent of the factors that affect the Mississippi duck season. The 2015 – 2016 El Nino` reminded us all as we threw out the rules and patterns from a typical season and buckled up for a bumpy ride.

 

So let us begin at the ponds and potholes of the upper Midwest and Canada. If water was abundant through the spring and summer providing good nesting conditions and predation was reasonable, then the population of ducks waking to the first passing cold front has been maintained from the previous year or increased in number. As they survey the ice forming around the waters edge, the first wave of the duck migration rises in the morning fog pointed south.

 

The Mississippi Flyway closely follows the Mississippi River to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Over 3,000 miles in length, it is the longest duck migration route of any in the Western Hemisphere. Uninterrupted by mountains or even a ridge of hills high enough to interfere with the duck migration movements, the flyway traverses over a region with ideal conditions for the migrating ducks and geese. Vast expanses of timber, bodies of water and flooded agricultural fields beckon the migrating ducks back to earth. Temperature, a safe place to rest, and available food are the main factors that determine the stopping off points. Ducks prefer to hang out right around the freeze line, so a cold winter means more Mississippi duck hunting days. The Delta duck hunters need a winter that is cold enough to push the ducks down, but not severe enough to send them to the warm refuge of the Louisiana marshes.

 

An estimated eight million ducks and geese migrate along the Mississippi Flyway. The hosts of migrating birds move in waves affected by species (mallards normally migrate later), nesting locations, and a host of other factors - known and unknown. Typically, the first migrating ducks come in early and give hunters a successful start. The degree of hunting pressure will determine how long the first group feels welcome before moving up and out. An early and continuously cold winter or a winter with continuous passing cold fronts will deliver wave after wave of duck migration to the Delta. On the other hand, in mild winters, hunters cannot depend on wave after wave of duck migration to replenish their hunting areas. They can encourage the early groups to stay longer by planting duck-friendly crops, flooding areas of duck hunting land such as harvested agricultural fields, and limiting hunting pressure. When hunting is limited to early morning and the hunts are spaced out, they will be more consistent in results. It is better to have a season full of three-to-four-duck day hunts than to have several early limit hunts followed by one shot and no duck hunting days. Another key to controlling the species in the bag is to stay with the hunt and be selective in shots taken.

 

We need to each do our part – attend church regularly, do not miss the fall “blessing of the hunt,” plant a lot of grain, close those water control structures and wait for our Creator to fill the Mississippi Flyway with wave upon wave of migrating ducks.