Last week winter came in earnest to most northern states, clamping an icy lid on ponds and marshes, prodding laggard flocks of ducks and geese on their southward way and cheering the hearts of gunners shivering in ten thousand pits and blinds along the four major fly ways. For the epicures there were plump mallards and rice-fed "cans." At the bottom of the gourmet's list there were scaups and scoters and old squaws. There were pintails and baldpates, teals and buffleheads, blacks and ringnecks. And for a few fortunate waterfowlers there were geese: majestic honkers, garrulous cacklers, snows and blues and brants. Here's how it looked, along the flyways, to SI's crew of duck watchers:
British Columbia: Alternate floods and heavy freeze-up have made B.C.'s duck season chaotic to date, but birds are generally plentiful. Most hunting concentrated on flats at Fraser River mouth, flooded fields and swamps in lower valley. Snow geese numerous. Excellent mallard and goose shooting in Cariboo Highlands. Main Pacific flyway resting place, Tofino Inlet on West Coast, V.I., now crammed with lesser Canada geese in thousands, canvasbacks, mallards, pintails, teals, widgeons (baldpates) and most other species.
Heavy rains and floods following thaw should certainly produce season's peak shooting in next two or three weeks.
California: First half of split season ended November 18 with best hunting since opening due to large flight of pintails, scaups, widgeons and mallards in wake of heavy storms. Season is terrific even on public waters such as Big Bear Lake and Salton Sea. Early season hotspots are Tule Lake and Butte Sink, with pintails predominating but also good flights of mallards.
Second half of split season starts December 10, ends January 15. In Colorado River region season started October 28, ends January 15.
Idaho: Present hunting conditions excellent, will peak December 1 to 10. Goose hunting fair to good. Northern geese started to arrive November 15, and shooting should pick up from now on. Canadian honkers show greatest numbers, followed by brant and snow geese. Best hunting in Idaho for geese and ducks is from Weiser on Oregon line to approximately Twin Falls in Snake River Valley. Best shooting has been from opening time to about 9:30. Last year approximately 37,000 waterfowlers; this year about 40,000. Seventy-five percent of the birds going through are mallards; pintails, 10%; baldpates, 5%.
Oregon: Every creek, slough, pond and river is playing host to hunters who are out to enjoy one of the greatest flights of ducks and geese the Willamette Valley has had in years. Peak should be about Thanksgiving Day. Along Willamette River and in corn areas it is almost 100% mallards.
Large flights of western Canada honkers have arrived in the Corvallis and Monroe area and also in Rickreall area in central Willamette Valley Old-timers are anxiously awaiting opening of jack-snipe season November 27. Eastern and central Oregon is poor on waterfowl.
Washington: Western Washington waterfowl gunners are having a banner year. More ducks have come in and they are staying. During cold spell some gunners set decoys right on the ice and made limit bags; others used laundry bluing spread on ice to simulate open water.
At Lake Terrell hunters crept out on ice under bed sheets. Pass shooting in Lummi and Bellingham bays successful for mallards. Snow geese abundant at Fir Island, Conway and Stanwood.
Nisqually and Skagit flats plus Chehalis Valley and coastal salt water areas have flights of pintails, mallards and baldpates. Some teal at both spots plus a few homely shovelers. Vanguard of another big flight arriving now, right on schedule. Goose gunners enjoying excellent sport at Skagit Flats. Gunning expected to reach peak Thanks-giving Day. Shooting in northeast Washington currently bad.
Colorado: There are more geese and ducks in Colorado at present than in many years. A department count shows approximately 14,000 geese on Two Butte reservoir, 4,000-7,000 on Queen's reservoir and large flocks on John Martin reservoir and Blue and Meredith lakes. Shooting is good both in pits and fields in the southeast.
Jumbo reservoir reports 50,000-60,000 ducks, Bonny Dam reservoir, 800 geese. On Colorado's western slope, ducks are plentiful, especially along the Gunnison between Delta and Grand Junction.
Montana: Hunting excellent in central and western part of state. Though main flights have passed, hunting will continue good till season ends December 21. Limits of five greenhead mallards now common. Canada goose shooting good in Great Falls area, fair elsewhere. Ducks definitely more plentiful than last year, geese and hunters about same.
New Mexico: Greatest concentration of migratory birds in the state is at Elephant Butte reservoir and in the Pecos Valley. Roswell area, good. Mallards are in majority, with a few pintails, shovelers and several other species.
Success to date is approximately 2 birds per man. The season will not reach its peak until December 20, if the weather runs true to form.
Arkansas: Seldom, if ever before, has the number of birds or the quality of the shooting at Stuttgart been equaled. It's all private shooting (and expensive, too), but hunters are even figuring out ways to prolong the time it takes to get their limits. Some swing only on the fat ones, others stick to smallgauge guns or single shots and many bury themselves in thick pin oak woods so they'll have only lightning quick chances at ducks through the treetops.
Louisiana: It is estimated that there are 15% more ducks in Louisiana than when the season opened first week in November. At that time the estimate was 1,010,000 ducks. There are 10% more geese now than the 350,000 counted at opening.
Migration is proceeding on schedule. There'll be a second big wave between December 7 and 9.
Michigan: On December 9, Michigan's 140,000 duck hunters will close books on their best season in two decades. Along the state's major flyway, St. Mary's River down to marshes of Lake Erie, gunners have enjoyed capacity hunting. A midweek storm gave goose hunters at the Fennville marshes in Allegan County two days of fine shooting. Some of the state's best duck hunting is at the Point Mouillee Marsh.
Minnesota: Last of duck flights (mostly mallards and greater scaup with some goldeneyes) leaving state as all lakes freeze up. Temperatures near zero in Minneapolis latitude November 15, and two snowstorms since have covered ice. Only open water would be on Mississippi from Hastings to Winona.
Missouri: Largest duck flights this season in 10 or 12 years, particularly in the eastern and central parts of the state. At this time hunting is almost entirely mallards.
Best estimates figure about 50,000 ed-hunters out, 5,000 to 10,000 more than last year.
The big migration began about mid-October and the mallards boomed in November 8 through November 10. New flights of mallards are still moving down. Duck shooting is at its peak now in north Missouri and central Missouri. Anticipated peak in south Missouri from December 1 to mid-month if weather continues normal.
Tennessee: Reelfoot Lake in west Tennessee is the hottest duck hunting spot in the state right now, although good kills are reported at Kentucky, Dale Hollow and Center Hill lakes too.
Flights are good size for this time of the year, and peak shooting still to come on all lakes.
On opening day, November 7, 90% of hunters checked on Reelfoot had limit kills; on Kentucky Lake, the second-day hunter averaged two birds. Other hot spots are in the Obion, Forked Deer and Loosahatchie River bottoms. On east Tennessee waters, results spottier.
A few Canada and blue geese were being taken throughout the state, but though early results near Hiwassee Island in Chickamauga Lake were not up to par, prospects are improving.
Wisconsin: Early Canadian freeze shoved ducks and geese southward sooner than usual. Goose population was 27,952 (by aerial survey) on Horicon and 1,300 on Thornton Farms. The duck kill on Horicon was down a little this year, 3,375 against 3,644. Duck population (now mostly mallards with some pintails and widgeons) is also down. Earlier there were a lot of bluewing teals. Present hunting conditions: temperatures in the 20s and low 30s, light snow cover, ice on the marsh.
Florida: Duck hunting is best in years, and even Canadian geese have shown in some numbers on Lake Panasoffkee, 70 miles north of Tampa.
Duck season opened November 7; four day limit until end, January 15.
Best duck areas are Lake Panasoffkee, the Chassahowitzka River, backwaters of the Withlacoochee River, 20 miles north of the Chassahowitzka, Lake Kissimmee, south of Kissimmee, and Lake Okeechobee. Peak expected between now and Christmas.
Maine: Flights include blacks, native and migratory mallards, blue and greenwing teals, goldeneyes, pintails, redheads and a few canvasbacks. Merrymeeting Bay has offered excellent sport since the season opened. Black duck shooting now rated as excellent. Prevailing conditions very promising. Oddly, fewer duck hunters are out than in other years, but big game season still on.
Massachusetts: Blacks in greatest numbers in years, as are all other species, down around Plum Island (off Newburyport), best north shore area. Good flights of Canada geese dropping in most every evening. North-shore hunting now approaching peak as big flights of fat mallards, northern blacks beginning to come in. Reported 22,000 of them and assorted others on Merry-meeting Bay in Maine.
New Jersey: Fair to good gunning for scaups and brants continues on Great Bay, Barnegat Bay and the marshes at Brigantine. The state fish and game department operates a free ferry at 5 a.m. daily from Mott's Creek to that portion of the Brigantine federal wildlife refuge which has been opened to hunting. The best of the hunting there is for scaups, but some black ducks are also taken.
New York (Chautauqua Lake): Excellent duck season fast moving toward peak. Large numbers of native mallards, blacks and wood ducks and a few green-winged teals provided good early shooting. Jump hunting on area streams and ponds has been very good. Excellent shooting expected until season's close, December 23, as the migration reaches its peak.
Watch out for illegal prey: a flock of whistling swans estimated at over 1,000 were reported on Chautauqua last week.
Long Island: Winter flight of Canadian black ducks not yet arrived at south shore of Long Island except for small vanguard, but local blacks are providing fair sport, and pintails more than usually abundant. Great South Bay has largest concentration of scaups in last five years but they're still rafted solidly unless last Saturday's snow flurries and freezing temperatures broke them up.
North Carolina: Corolla on Currituck outer banks about 35 miles north of Nags Head area reports plenty of geese, all varieties of ducks and unusual number of swans.
Nags Head sector reported normal duck crop of baldpates, pintails and teals. Hunters are getting limits each day when weather conditions right. Canada geese flocks in this area not quite up to normal. Official count showed a total 37,413 all species waterfowl.
Mattamuskeet Lake, in Hyde County, reported between 80,000 and 85,000 Canada geese this year, largest number since 1952. Hunters in lake and field blinds having no difficulty getting limit daily.
Gunners in Pimlico Sound west of Hatteras are having good luck with Canada geese and brants, shooting from stake blinds.
Pennsylvania: Duck hunting slightly better than previous years. Right now there are blacks and mallards still left. The opening date was moved ahead five days this season.
There have been more geese in the area than in recent history. Charley Lucas, Columbia, got three Canadas in one day and also brought down a rare—for this area—blue goose. Season closes December 17 in most of state.
South Carolina: Mild weather kept ducks at about same number as last year or lower, despite optimistic reports from north. As always, mallards most numerous but wood ducks, increasing yearly, probably now run second. Others include scaups, blacks, teals, gadwalls, widgeons, with fair numbers of canvasbacks in some coastal sections. Geese increasing slightly.
Virginia: There are considerably more ducks in Virginia this year than last, despite the fact that few diving ducks have come in. There are at least 20% more Canada geese than last season.
Senator A. Willis Robertson spent two days at the Pocahontas Club at Back Bay and got his limit both days (see page 26).
Bags are mostly mallards and black ducks with a good many greenwing teals. Shooting will be at its peak in mid-December, but before if there is freezing weather.