The ducks are back

WEAVER — He's not yet a duck-hunting veteran, but Alex Nelson knows a good thing when he sees it. He saw a good thing, even a great thing, on the opening day of duck hunting.

Nelson, 14, of Zumbrota came into Weaver Landing near noon with his dad, Kevin Nelson and uncle David Nelson of Stewartville. With them were 12 ducks. "Got some good shooting, got lucky," the teen said. Like other hunters, he admitted that with better shooting, they could have come in with their limit of 18 ducks.

It was a bit cold and windy on Saturday, but he dressed right and had another way to stay warm —  shooting at ducks. "It's not that cold once you are out there shooting," he said. "The adrenaline is pumping."

Adrenaline was pumping for a lot of hunters Saturday at Weaver, and up and down the Mississippi River flyway. It was probably the best opener in a few decades, in part because of the wind and cold that kept birds moving. Also, the season opened earlier than it has in about eight decades, and there was a lot more food that usual. That gave  blue-winged teal, wood ducks, mallards and other birds had a reason to stick around.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which checked hunters at several landings on both sides of the river, said hunters at Weaver averaged 2.8 birds, "which is phenomenal," said Mary Stefanski, Winona District manager. Last year, it was 0.6 ducks per hunter.


The top place, however, was on the Nelson Dike Road between Wabasha and Nelson, Wis., where the average was 3.5 birds.

Most ducks in the bag were blue-winged teal and woodies, but Weaver had more mallards than any other place, she said. You can add some geese, shovelers and a few mergansers.

I've talked with hunters at Weaver, or hunted it, for a few decades and it was indeed great. What was also interesting was that every I hunter I talked to was from this area. In the past, I'd talk with Twin Cities hunters, too. Apparently, Weaver has lost some of its statewide allure.

Brian Pember, who was checking hunters for the service, said there were as many vehicles at Weaver Landing as last year, but in 2011, many were gone early. This year, hunters stayed. Having a lot of shooting will do that for you.

"Not a lot of limits, but quite a few people getting a lot of birds," he said.

The wind that helped keep birds moving also made it hard to hit them, said Jeremy Olson of Rochester who was hunting with Joe Campbell. They shot one duck but had a lot of shooting. "The wind really throws things off," Olson said. It was hard to know how far to lead them. Still, "we saw a lot of ducks," he said.

Getting out was harder than usual because of so much vegetation and low water, he said. "We didn't do any scouting, and that was our biggest mistake," he said.

Both of them like the split season this year. Here in the southern zone, it will end this weekend and reopen Oct. 13 and go to Dec. 2. "This is way better for the ducks," he said.


Brian Diedrich and John Ale of Rochester, found that the word is getting around about Weaver and the river holding birds. They were at the landing at 2:45 a.m., and seven vehicles with trailers were already there, Diedrich said. They saw some good flocks of teal, and they kept flying. "We hunted right up to the end" before coming in, Diedrich said.

At Dorer Pools in the Whitewater Valley, the story was much the same, except it was woodies that were the main birds in the bag, not teal. Joe Hewitt and his son Dillon Hewitt of St. Charles said they got their limit of six wood ducks, all hens. "They were landing in front of me non-stop," the dad said. But many went into cattails and were hard to flush.

Whether all the openers in future years will be as good depends on weather and farm commodity prices, Stefanski said.

With the drought further west, more ducks are moving down the Mississippi, she said.

If they get wet again, ducks might move back again.

Or maybe they won't. With so many thousands of acres of Conservation Reserve Program land being plowed back into cropland, and loss of wetlands, birds might still have to come this way, despite federal efforts to preserve and restore wetlands and prairie.

So it seems that for a bad reason, hunting might continue to be good along the river. "It's not the reason we would like to have good hunting," Stefanski said.

What To Read Next
Get Local