Ep. 510 – Bonus: Great Plains States Habitat and Hunting Preview

00:00 Chris Jennings Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the Ducks Limit Podcast. I'm your host, Chris Jennings. Joining me on the show once again today is John Pollman. John, what's going on, man?

00:08 John Pollman Hey, just getting ready for duck season here in South Dakota. I'm happy to be with you.

00:11 Chris Jennings Awesome. I know. You guys are right on the doorstep right now. I wanted to bring John on. John is a contributor to Waterfowl360. He writes the migration alerts for ducks.org. If you're not subscribed to those, subscribe to ducks.org or go to ducks.org forward slash migration alerts. Subscribe to those. You'll get everything that John puts out. Putting out some great information. What we've got here is we've got a little preview for the Great Plains States, the Dakotas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma. John just got this out, just went out today. Um, so John, let's go ahead and break this down real quick. Uh, before we get to anything else, I do want to touch on the fact that South Dakota is open or will be open soon. And it, the youth hunt was last weekend. John, how did your youth hunt go? How'd your boys do?

00:56 John Pollman You know what, so it was my first duck hunt from my son, Miles. And we found a little piece of public ground that had just a boatload of teal on it. And so it was kind of a hoof in, it was about a half mile hike in with waders and decoys and doing it the old-fashioned way. So he was a little tired, I'm not gonna lie, he was a little tired by the time we got out there, but about six, seven minutes before shooting light, here they come, right? Birds just started landing in front of him, and then it was game on. And so he shot, he ended up shooting a six teal, a mix of green wings and blue wings, and it took us about 15 minutes. I mean, in terms of scripting a first hunt, I don't know if it could have gone any better. And so the way out, even though it was the same distance, I think he had a little more fun on the walkout So, great hunt, saw lots of birds.

01:44 Chris Jennings Now, just for reference, how old is he again?

01:47 John Pollman He's 12. He's 12, okay. So, he just completed, yeah, he just completed his hunter safety course for South Dakota Game Fishing Parks here last spring. And so, that means now that I can have a gun with him when he goes out. Now, he's a licensed hunter. So, it's his first real season of hunting and I'm pretty stoked. So, he wants to go out again, that's a good sign.

02:06 Chris Jennings Now, the problem is, now you're going to have to deliver those 15-minute limits.

02:12 John Pollman I know we kind of, I know we may have set the bar a little high for the first time, but you know, it's, um, I remember my first duck hunt and I, I shot almost, I shot over a box of shells and I didn't bring a duck home. So, you know, he's going to have a memory like I have my own memory. And over time, hopefully he will, he'll come to recognize that we don't shoot our limit in 15 minutes each time. But it's a great way. Yeah. A great way to start the day. He, you know, we just, a lot of TL, he missed some pin tails. We, um, we saw some mallards, the best flock of mallards of the day. He had knocked down a teal that it was getting away in the brush. And so I had the dog over working on it. And when I left the blind, I can't have a gun, you know, cause it's a youth owner. But I told him, I said, don't shoot at anything. I want to be here in the blind when you're doing that stuff. So don't shoot. I'm going to go work our dog over here, work Buddy on this bird, and I'll be right back. And so as I'm doing that, Buddy gets the bird. We're walking back. the best flock of mallards of the day, literally hovering over him at 10 yards. I can see a couple of green heads in there, their chests are already caught a little bit, you can tell they're drakes. And he looks at me, he looks at the ducks, he looks at me and he didn't fire. So to his credit, he followed the rules, he didn't follow the rules, but it was the best flock of ducks of the day and he didn't shoot. So, but that'd be one of those.

03:34 Chris Jennings Yeah, that's awesome. That is, that is a great story and that's a great way to kick off the season, which makes absolute sense because when you were sending the preview in and I'm kind of waiting on it to get there and I'm like, man, I'm curious, you know, how this outlook is going to be because you're hearing there's, there's some water in the Dakotas, but it got dry and then it got wet. Um, you know, things were kind of up in the air and, and I was like, oh man, I don't know if this is going to be. that great news. And sure enough, it came in and you were pretty optimistic. I think everyone was across the board. So now I feel like that youth hunt maybe carried over into this alert a little bit. You're a little more optimistic.

04:08 John Pollman Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I think they're probably, just thinking about the big picture, there's probably three main storylines in the Central Flyweight for this year. And, you know, last year was really dry. North Dakota, parts of South Dakota, extremely dry. Over the winter, we had significant snowpack, right? And so we came out of winter into spring with some snow on the ground. A surprising amount of that went into the ground, but we were so dry. And so there wasn't maybe as much snow melts as we thought there was going to be. But the first main storyline, though, is that we picked up some rain, both North Dakota, South Dakota, maybe not so much Canadian side of the Prairie Pothole region, but in North Dakota, South Dakota, we picked up rains in May, June, and July. It seemed like it was just perfect timing for the birds. And not only the timing of it, but where that rain fell. And so areas where we have some of the best remaining habitat left in North America. it caught these rains at the right time. And so it benefited, I think ducks like pintails, mallards that are early nesters, that it benefited them, saw some re-nesting efforts. And then late nesting species like bluing teal gaddies, things like that, I think it just caught them at the right time. And so we're seeing it already, not only in the teal that we saw a youth opener, but those early migrants that have already moved out of here. I know people down South that picked up a lot of birds out of teal and some pintails, stuff like that. But then you just drive around and you look at wetlands right now, and Chris, it looks good. I'm not going to lie. The wetlands where you're finding some water, there are ducks out there. And so main one storyline, top of the page story is that duck production in South Dakota, North Dakota this year is pretty good. And a lot of anecdotal evidence of it from my observations Had a buddy hunting sharktails in north central North Dakota here a week or so ago, told me he's never seen duck numbers on the wetlands and saloons like he did this year. And so the writing on the wall right now is that South Dakota, North Dakota, we had a really good year of duck production. So that's the first main big storyline. So that should have people excited.

06:14 Chris Jennings Absolutely. I mean, you got those duck producing areas there. When you get good news out of that, that's always positive. We have already discussed and referenced the brood survey that North Dakota Game and Fish put out. That was good news for Mike Szymanski, which you mentioned in your alert. But also you talked to South Dakota biologist, chief waterfowl biologist, actually Rocco Murano, and he was very optimistic as well. And to be honest, I know some people don't probably realize this, but it's very difficult to get some of these biologists to be so optimistic. You know, a lot of times they're like, oh, we'll see. You know, oh, we don't know. You know, they don't want to commit to anything. But, you know, it seemed like everybody's confident right now, and at least North Dakota and South Dakota are confident in the fact that they're going to be pumping out some ducks.

06:58 John Pollman For sure. Those guys will err on the side of caution. They will, because they don't want to paint a picture that's not realistic. And so when you get them to commit to saying that things look pretty good, I think things are pretty good. So yeah, Duck Production North to South Dakota, big storyline. Storyline number two that I was thinking of, not as positive, and that's just that dry conditions in some of our mid-latitude states. So Nebraska in particular just continues to fight some really, really dry conditions. They caught some rain over the summer. I'm talking to John McKinney, he's the senior waterfowl biologist for the state. They caught some rain in the Sandhills, which is kind of their duck production area. And so water levels out there are improved. But the Rainwater Basin, which is a key migration stopping point for birds, dry. Water levels there are pretty low. And then that continues on into parts of Kansas and Oklahoma as well. There are spots where they've gotten some good precipitation, but overall, the whole landscape, those Great Plains states could use some moisture. And so that's kind of the second storyline that I had in my head is that, good news in the Dakotas, but things get dry. On the flip side of that, though, is that the waterfowl managers that I've talked to in the flyway kind of all agree, though, that there's been some really good response in terms of moist soil production. So there are, in some of these managed areas, state areas, things like that, where they're growing smartweed and other moist soil plants. They've had good growth. The food is out there. And so what it turns into now is just kind of a waiting game, watching some of these storms and cold fronts that come through that may bring some rain, watching to see where that precipitation falls, because it would be a game changer for folks in Nebraska. And it would create a bunch of opportunities, I think, in Nebraska and, excuse me, in Kansas and Oklahoma as well, if they could just get some water on the ground.

08:47 Chris Jennings Yeah. Kansas, that story's been going on for quite some time now. I know we discussed it last year. Some of the larger public areas there, Cheyenne Bottoms, Jamestown, they were dry all year last year that just didn't have the water. And just going through your report here, it seems like they are also pretty optimistic that, like you mentioned, if they do get the water, they're going to have some really, really good habitat to hold birds.

09:10 John Pollman Yep, the food is there. They just need that. They need some water. And there, you know, you check at these different wildlife areas and you can, Kansas has great resource online in terms of checking for water levels and things like that. And so you can go online and look at those things. You know, and you notice that they have some water on the ground. They've been able to put some water on, but you know, it's just that there's a small difference between, you know, kind of there's a fine line between, you know, having enough to put some water on the ground having that water level that is really going to help attract and hold birds as they're moving south. And so I think that if you are a hunter in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, that's what you're watching here the next month or so is just to see if we get that precipitation, any rainfall. And then obviously watching up here to see what kind of weather happens in South Dakota, North Dakota, push the birds that we have up here south. So it's a wait and game like it normally is, but I think overall there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic for the fall.

10:04 Chris Jennings Awesome. That's exciting. And speaking of being optimistic, you know, you're kicking your season off Saturday, correct?

10:10 John Pollman Yeah, two days. Oh man. Two days from today. So we're, yeah, we're getting close.

10:14 Chris Jennings Yeah. I'm kind of panicking inside right now thinking that if duck season was two days away and what I'm not prepared for right now, man, I'd be scrambling. But, uh, you know, what, what's your approach going in? I know last year we brought you on, we kind of, you kind of talked about really having to work to find you know, suitable water, you know, and honorable water really. What's the difference this year?

10:35 John Pollman You know, those, those mud flats that you find around the wetlands, they're still there in large part, you know, things were dry enough that you are, you're still going to battle that. Um, you know, the youth opener with my son, Miles, we just, we had about 10 yards of mud. So we went pick kosher, you know, just big, tall, sturdy weed from, uh, from that back behind the grass. We just kind of be makeshift blind. That kind of approach, I think, is going to be something that if folks are looking to hunt water, they're probably going to need to have some sort of an A-frame or some sort of a mobile blind that they can put on that mudflat, layouts, whatever it may be, just so you can close the gap to the water's edge. So, that's one approach. The other is that because we've caught some rain, yes, but it's also been dry enough that farmers, the harvest is trucking along right now. Soybeans are starting to come out, small grains are all out. People are still kind of on the tail end of the silage season, but they're cutting corn for silage. And so, there are a lot of field opportunities out there right now. And so, that's what I'm focusing on. That's my scouting right now was finding those areas of water. And then if I can't be on the X, even getting close enough right now with a small grain field or a silage field and maybe try to run some traffic on birds that are running in between, usually there's enough hunting pressure the first couple of weeks of the season where birds are up and moving around. And so if you can get in a spot where you can catch their attention, just be visible, You stand a pretty good chance of trafficking birds even here in the early season. So, that's my approach right now. I'm going to try to stay away from water if I can, just because it's a little bit harder and concentrate on fields. So, that's what we're going to try to do.

12:08 Chris Jennings Are you looking for geese as well, or are you focusing primarily on ducks?

12:12 John Pollman I won't turn down a honker, huh, if we find one. I won't turn it down, but I think we're… I'm hoping this opening weekend here in a couple of days, my hope is to be on ducks, just because that's my favorite.

12:25 Chris Jennings All right. Man, that is fantastic. Good news. Again, if you're not getting the migration alerts that John and other freelancers contribute to ducks.org, please check out ducks.org forward slash migration alert. You'll find all the information there to sign up by email, by text. You can get the information to you. It's flyway based. You don't have to get them all if you don't want to, but you can. Once again, John, thanks for joining us on the show and we'll probably have you back on here soon to do another kind of an update as hopefully some of these areas get the water that they need. Absolutely. Sounds great. Thanks, Chris. I'd like to thank my guest, John Pollman, who does all the migration alerts for ducks.org. You can check those out at ducks.org forward slash migration alert. I'd like to thank our producer, Chris Isaac, getting the show together and putting it out to you. I'd like to thank you, the listener, for joining us on the DU Podcast and supporting wetlands conservation.

Creators and Guests

Chris Jennings
Ducks Unlimited Podcast Outdoor Host
Ep. 510 – Bonus: Great Plains States Habitat and Hunting Preview