Duck hunters are probably frustrated with the lack of ducks in Eastern Colorado. While U.S. Fish & Wild Service and Ducks Unlimited field counts show that most duck species numbers are constant or up from previous years. Colorado’s Division of Wildlife is at a loss as well, as to why more ducks are not seen along the South Platte River basin. Concern has led the DOW to conduct a three-year study, specifically along the South Platte River from Greeley to the Nebraska state line.
While the study goes on, we who hunt have to be more crafty and clever. Here are a few suggestions I have learned over the years (some good, some bad years) that have proven helpful.
The mallard, Colorado’s most common and popular migrating duck, likes to operate from large reservoirs that provide open water and ample protection from hunters and predators. The mallard has some unique habits water fowlers need to keep in mind when searching them out in mid to late season, when temperatures drop and standing water freezes.
The mallard seeks out open, moving water. Rivers, warm water sloughs and spring fed creeks are the duck’s destination. In addition, ducks consume more food in cold weather. Targeting cornfields is another worthy location for duck hunters, especially corn fields close to larger reservoirs and river bottoms.
The stretch of the South Platte River from Greeley to the state line is prime duck area. There are numerous larger reservoirs in this region. Riverside, Empire, Jackson, Perwitt, North Sterling Jumbo are the key impoundments. All attract big migrating flocks of ducks.
Most of these reservoirs seep water from the dam and that water is warm, rich in aquatic plant life and typically flows across miles of farmland to the river. Seep ditches attract mallards wanting protection from the wind and cold and looking for food sources.
The South Platte River has considerable stretches of underground slough water that surfaces on either side of the main channel. Warm slough water will typically be found close to the main river channel. More often than not, ducks will select the warm water sloughs over the open river water.
There are thousands of acres of corn in this 200-plus mile stretch of the river and most cornfields are conveniently close to the river itself. Mallards devour corn. Flocks leave the large protective reservoirs searching out picked cornfields and settle in at both breakfast and supper time. Locating cornfields and securing permission from the farmer will open up some good duck hunting.
The DOW has secured leased land along much of the South Platte River basin and opened the land under the State Wildlife Area program, for public hunting. Considerable amount of the warm water sloughs are within the various SWAs, as are the main river channels.
Weather is a major contributing factor to good winter water fowling. Keep tabs on the five-day forecast. Mallards are very active in cold, windy weather. The ducks feed more aggressively and move to the open, warm waters when temperatures drop below freezing.
That is when moving water and cornfields are the place to find cold weather ducks.