Sitting in my blind while the drizzle slowly rusts my shotgun, I am reminded of the booming goose hunting industry that once was southern Illinois.
The face of waterfowl hunting in the southern Midwest has been gradually changing for the past few years. Once primarily a goose hunting area, many are turning to duck hunting for expanded opportunities.
A change in emphasis from goose to duck hunting has greatly relieved the financial woes of farmers and hunting club owners. This year it may also assist the waterfowl hunter in finding a place to enjoy his sport.
With the reduced bags, some hunters question whether it is worth the effort. Traditional goose hunters are turning to ducks to expand their day afield.
Geese have been getting to the area later each year. With the end of the season seemingly etched in stone at the end of January, the number of hunter days is diminished.
The change has not been cheap for the landowner. Wells had to be constructed so that standing corn could be flooded. The club owners seemed to come to the same conclusion at the same time. As a result more birds are being held in the area.
The flooded corn attracts large flocks of mallards. Hunters report harvesting other species such as wood ducks, gadwall, widgeon, pintail, teal and shovelers.
The levees around the fields and wells in them have been a considerable expense. But, they yield results in increased hunter days. Foul weather or not the ducks will come and stay for the full sixty day season.
The geese stay up north as long as the weather permits. The ducks will move south regardless of the activity of the geese and the weather. The more reliable supply of birds makes duck hunting more popular with the club owners and hunters. Many goose hunters who quit coming to southern Illinois are coming back to go duck hunting.
There are two basic types of ducks that visit here in the Ohio River basin: dabbling ducks and diving ducks. The first to arrive are the dabbling ducks. They include such species as mallards, pintails, black ducks, wood ducks and the teal. These are the ducks that are found in shallow, weedy slews, ponds and streams. They feed on the aquatic plants and seeds.
Later the diving ducks join the dabblers for the rest of the winter. These ducks like the deeper water where they feed on aquatic plants and invertebrates that they find beneath the surface of the water. They will dive to depths of three to seven feet in search of food. This class of birds includes the canvasbacks, redheads, scaup, ring-necked ducks and goldeneye.
Whether one enjoys the haunting call of a goose or the comical quacking of a mallard hen, the dawning of a morning with the streaks of orange across a grey sky can make waterfowl hunting a very pleasurable experience. The display of flight geese arriving from the north, or the impressive flocks of mallards exploding from the water, provides the hunter with a quality outdoor experience. Matching ones skills with gun and game call against the natural wariness of the waterfowl provides a challenge unmatched in other sports.