Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni
If you woke up last Saturday morning with your windows open and live anywhere near Lake St. Marys, chances are you heard gunshots. Not to panic. The regular waterfowl season opened that morning a half-hour before sunrise. For those who listen for that sort of thing, there were also a few more shots ringing from the lake during the two-day youth waterfowl hunt a couple of weeks before that. Regardless, it’s another year that waterfowl hunters will try to bag a bird or two, and there’s really no need to call the law when you hear shots being fired.
As usual, local hunters and those who frequent the area are hoping for a banner waterfowl year. That means that both hunters and birds have to be at the right place at the right time. A good waterfowl season around here depends on many factors. For example, rough weather makes the birds move and waste grain left in harvested fields slows them down as they migrate through. For the first part of the season, from October 21 through November 5, neither will have an impact. Migration maps have birds staying well north of us and little corn has been harvested yet. Consequently, hunters will be dealing with local birds and some of them have already been educated during the youth hunt. There are reports, however, that some birds are moving into our area, and the ODNR bi-weekly aerial waterfowl survey shows a steady increase of birds in the Lake Erie marsh areas with duck numbers up 99% over last year at the same time. Some of these birds might filter through the area during the first 16 days of the season, but most will stay put until winter weather brings on the ice.
When the duck season reopens in the North Zone on November 18, it will probably still be a crapshoot for hunters. Season dates are set attempting to put waterfowl and hunters in the same place at the same time. That’s hard to do. With the North and South Zones divided at the south side of GLSM, area hunters will have what amounts to an extended season since they’re so close to the boundary. This is assuming they are not only lake hunters but field hunters and have access to some of the decent spots available in the south and west portions of Mercer County. The way my numbers come up, duck hunters who hunt both zones could pick up an additional 28 hunting days. Since many birds feed in both directions, the lake/field hunters will have a distinct advantage.
Unfortunately on the negative side, harvested grain fields are quickly plowed under, for the most part, and those that aren’t have very little waste because of highly efficient farming practices and equipment. I think the ducks have figured that out as well since we no longer have the large flocks migrating thought the area. Hunters around my age recall seeing 40, 50, or more bunches of ducks flying out to feed. Some of these flocks might have well over 200 birds in them. During a good year, strings of mallards would easily cover a mile-long section. Those days are gone. The landscape has changed and migrating birds don’t have large expanses of adjoining harvested fields to search for a meal. Only an occasional unplowed cornfield or two remain in a section, and some have none at all. The same applies to the lake. Of course, the water level is much better than last year and that’s a plus. Much of the backwater areas no longer exist, but the new existing water treatment trains might someday make up for that. This will be especially true when all of the proposed filtering areas are completed.
As always, I’m looking forward to another waterfowl season although I haven’t shot at a duck or goose in almost 15 years. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there might be some old-time waterfowl hunters who understand. My dad started hunting in 1917. At the age of 11, he drove himself to the places he hunted in the family’s Model T truck, the same vehicle he used to deliver produce to area grocery stores. I started hunting at the age of 12 in the early 1950s and covered many of the same areas carrying a shotgun on my bicycle or just plain hoofing it. My, how times have changed. Today, if the majority of 11 or 12 year olds wanted to hunt ducks at all, it would be in the form of a video game. Even then, most wouldn’t because a duck hunting game isn’t exciting or challenging enough compared to destroying armies and controlling kingdoms. Of course, there are exceptions, but try explaining to the average kid why it’s thrilling to get up in the middle of the night, sit in a duck blind all day, and freeze to death hoping to fire one or two shots at a bird. They won’t buy it…but it is.