Steve Redlin waded out of a marsh at the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and paused to admire something out of a duck hunter’s dreams.
“What an awesome place,” he said, looking out at the expanse of water and flooded vegetation.
Many hunters had the same impression last weekend when the duck season opened at the giant wetlands complex in central Kansas.
Rarely has Cheyenne Bottoms, the jewel of the Kansas Plains, looked better. Large marshes filled with glittering water, vegetation and moist-soil food greeted hunters when the season got underway.
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Conditions like this are never taken for granted by those who know Cheyenne Bottoms. They remember many seasons when drought sucked the life out of the wetlands and turned the wildlife area into flyover country for migrating ducks and geese.
That’s why the near-perfect conditions were appreciated so much by hunters like Redlin, his son Steven, and two friends, David Knight and Evan Hiser.
“I was here last year and it was OK, but nothing like this,” said Redlin, 48, who lives in Ottawa, Kan. “You couldn’t ask for anything more this year.
“This is true duck hunting.”
He might have been a bit biased. He and his three hunting partners had just missed taking a four-man limit of six ducks apiece both days of opening weekend. And they had accomplished that within sight of their parked vehicles.
While others took duck boats into the center of the wildlife area or waded long distances. Redlin and his party took a different route.
“We did some scouting and saw that the habitat was great just 150 or 200 yards from the dike (in Pool 3B) and that there was a opening for the ducks to land in, so we decided to stay close,” he said. “We didn’t even have to put out decoys.
“We just hid in the grass and waited for them to fly past.”
Plenty of them did. With an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 ducks using the area, mostly blue-winged teal, the shooting was fast and furious.
Lots of ducks, lots of hunters, lots of shots.
By the time the smoke from opening weekend cleared, 800 hunters had visited the Bottoms averaging 4.7 ducks per man each of the two days. Maybe that was a fitting start for what is expected to be one of the best duck seasons in years at Cheyenne Bottoms.
Keep in mind that this is no hidden gem. Cheyenne Bottoms is one of the most prominent rest stops on the Central Flyway and it has attracted spectacular concentrations of ducks and geese in the past. It is part of duck-hunting lore, a public hunting area that offers thousands of acres of wetlands for ducks and hunters to splash around in.
Still, area manager Karl Grover of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism said, “I’ve been here for 28 years and this is the best I’ve ever seen our moist-soil food. We’re going to attract a lot of ducks this year.”
Grover attributes that to “perfect timing.”
Cheyenne Bottoms entered the year in drought and thirsting for water. That water came in the form of timely rains that fostered the growth of Japanese millet and smartweed, two of the ducks’ favorite foods. That scenario was topped off by late-summer rains that flooded the moist-soil food and set the table for migrating ducks.
By the time the season opened, there was plenty of flooded habitat for hunters to spread out in.
Jace Frizzell and his dad, Damon, both of Gardner and three of their friends — Evan Smith of Spring Hill, Justin Wilkinson of Edgerton and Garrett Fowler of Claremore, Okla.—were among those who waded out of the marsh with limits of ducks, mostly blue-winged teal.
“This is my first time hunting here and it is incredible,” Fowler said. “I’ve never seen any place that could compare to this.”
To reach outdoors editor Brent Frazee, call 816-234-4319 or send email to email@example.com.
Cheyenne Bottoms: Waterfowl heaven
▪ WHAT: Often recognized as Kansas’ most prominent wetlands, the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area covers 19,857 acres. It is part of a natural land sink that encompasses 41,000 acres. About 7,000 acres adjacent to the wildlife area are managed by the Nature Conservancy.
▪ WHERE: It is located in central Kansas, just northeast of Great Bend.
▪ CHARACTERISTICS: Cheyenne Bottoms is, for the most part, at the mercy of the weather. In good years, such as this one, wetland pools are teeming with water, moist-soil food and habitat. In bad years, drought often leaves the pools dry and unattractive to migrating waterfowl. Even in good years, the water in most pools is less than one foot deep.
▪ SIGNIFICANCE: Cheyenne Bottoms is recognized as one of the key rest areas for migrating birds in the Central Flyway. Not only does it attract tens of thousands of ducks and geese each fall, it also attracts a variety of shorebirds. In fact, biologists estimate that 45 percent of the Western Hemisphere’s shorebirds stop at the Bottoms during the spring migration when conditions are right.
▪ HONORS: Cheyenne Bottoms was designated as a Wetland of International Importance in 1988 by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Only 35 wetlands in the United States have received that recognition.
HISTORY: During the 1940s and 1950s, the state of Kansas purchased land in the Cheyenne Bottoms area and took steps to build permanent wetlands. Dikes were built to impound water in five pools, and canals and dams were put in to divert water from the Arkansas River and Walnut Creek. Part of the area was opened to public hunting starting in 1952. An extensive renovation program in the 1990s subdivided some of the pools, and pump stations were built to help move and conserve water.