Outdoors Digest: Kansas duck season opens Saturday, but where are the ducks?

Duck hunters in Kansas could have a tough season if it remains warm and dry.
Duck hunters in Kansas could have a tough season if it remains warm and dry. Kansas City Star file photo

Duck hunters in central Kansas are praying for rain — and a big cold front that comes with it.

A spring and early summer of too much rain has evaporated into a hot, dry early fall. And that has clouded what once was an encouraging outlook for the Kansas duck season.

When the season opens Saturday in the Early Low Plains Zone, many of the managed public hunting areas will be dealing with too little water and too few ducks.

The crown jewel of that zone, the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area near Great Bend, Kan., is the perfect example. The area had ample moisture in the spring. In fact, conditions were so wet that workers were unable to get into pools to control cattails.

But after months of hot, dry weather, the wildlife area is hurting for water. And many popular hunting pools are choked with cattails.

The result? Less-than-ideal conditions for the opener.

“It’s going to be hard for hunters to get large duck boats in,” said Karl Grover, area manager at Cheyenne Bottoms.”We just don’t have the water.”

Water is about one foot deep in Pool 4B and 8 inches deep in 4A. But other pools have less water than that.

Grover estimates there are 10,000 to 20,000 ducks — mostly blue-winged teal, shovelers and mallards, plus some resident wood ducks — using the marshes. In comparison, there were 40,000 to 80,000 ducks using Cheyenne Bottoms on last year’s opener.

But Grover knows fortunes can change quickly. One good rain and one good cold front that could trigger a major migration could change things quickly.

“We’re still holding out hope that we’ll have a good duck season,” he said.

Other areas also lacking ducks

Other managed public hunting areas in the Kansas Early Zone also are waiting for the first good migration of ducks.

The Jamestown Wildlife Area in north-central Kansas had 1,000 ducks in the latest count. Water conditions are fair, with moist-soil food conditions fair. An early-August flood wiped out stands of food in some pools, but others were largely unaffected. Wildlife officials advise hunters to do some scouting before the season opens Saturday.

The McPherson Valley Wetlands also have low duck numbers. The latest count, conducted the first week of October, came up with 860 ducks using the area. Water conditions are fair, but there is plenty of moist-soil food in the pools to attract migrating birds.

A valuable fish

A bass worth $71,500? No way.

Well, yes, it’s true.

When Jon Hertzler of Wichita competed in the Big Bass Bash last weekend at Lake of the Ozarks, he caught a 6.88-pound largemouth — the biggest of the big weighed in. That earned him a giant paycheck.

He caught the bass while flipping a one-half-ounce Omega flipping craw near the 36-mile marker of the lake.

Pheasant hunting zone expands in Missouri

Pheasant hunters in Missouri no longer will have to pay attention to zone boundaries.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has opened hunting to the entire state, starting this fall. In the past, hunting was restricted to the northern half of the state and a portion of southeast Missouri.

Why the change? Wildlife biologists explained that it would simplify rules for hunters without having a significant impact on the pheasant population.

Brent Frazee: 816-234-4319, @fishboybrent