Duck hunting

Mallards are shown swimming on the northern edge of Horseshoe Lake. Duck season just wrapped up. Hunting was below average in state-managed areas this season.

Les Winkeler, The Southern

It wasn’t a stellar duck season in Southern Illinois … at least not at Illinois Department of Natural Resources facilities.

Duck season ended Jan. 9 in the South Central Zone, Jan. 21 in the South Zone.

The best hunting was found at Mermet Lake and Union County Refuge. Hunters harvested 1,821 ducks at Mermet, about 1,800 at the Union County Refuge hunting area and approximately 500 more at the “Firing Line” on the refuge.

“1,800 ducks is a good season for Mermet,” said Chris McGinness, site superintendent at Mermet. “I’ve seen years where it was as low as 400 and I’ve seen 3,500 too. I’ve seen a lot of fluctuation.”

Ice-out conditions limited the harvest at virtually all sites.

“The last few weeks we were pretty much froze up,” McGinness said. “With us not having real good crops, we had plenty of water. We go through this every year, you have one component missing. We had guys hunting every day except for two. We would keep pumps running and keep water open, but it was a small area.”

Only two days were totally iced out at Mermet during the 60 day season.

“We did pretty well,” McGinness said. “We had hunters when nobody else did. I would say 2,000 plus hunters.

“At one point, we had over four inches of ice. The boats couldn’t even break through it. Until we started moving water around, they just couldn’t even get through there.”

Joey Thurston is the site superintendent at both Horseshoe Lake and Union County Refuge. Ice created difficult conditions much of the season at Horseshoe Lake, where harvest was limited to approximately 500 ducks this year. The ice was six inches thick in some parts of the hunting area.

Because of the levee break at the Mississippi River, Horseshoe Lake has been susceptible to flooding in recent years. Thurston said the last good year of duck hunting was 2012.

“I just think not being able to get a lot of crops planted, the public hunting area were hit and miss if we could get crops in,” he said. “This year we got hurt early with the flood. My honest opinion, until something happens with the levee we’re going to struggle to have one good season every three or four years.

“It’s been years when we’ve had good crops and it got us. I think it is going to be a struggle. Then, the freeze, at Horseshoe, the water is quite a bit deeper and the blinds are a long way from the water source, you would have to pump so much.”

In the meantime, Thurston said good crops and the ability to move water around easily resulted in a good season at Union County Refuge.

“A food source and open water made a huge difference,” he said.

Pyramid State Park also experienced a sub-par hunting season. Site superintendent Cha Hill said the harvest was about 2,000 ducks, a below average number.

A variety of factors were at work. An extremely dry late winter and fall, late arriving ducks and freezing termperatures.

“Our shallow water wetlands were frozen, but the big lakes, it takes a lot to freeze them,” Hill said. “That’s where (the big lakes) people were killing them. It was off and on, they were probably frozen out from the middle of December on. It was kind of an unusual year this year.

“It was slower than normal until the last few weeks when everything else was freezing up, the birds got here and we had a good last couple weeks of the season.”

While most of the harvest at other state locations primarily consisted of mallards and gadwall, Hill said Pyramid hunters took good numbers of teal, pintail and canvasbacks as well.

les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

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