Randy Reader of Canton, left, and his son Ryan hoist a limit of ducks shot Saturday at The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve near Havana.
Duck opener exceeds expectations
The clock read 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning, but we still wandered into a minor traffic jam. Three pickups cruising down the same dark road, all turning into the bottoms of The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve.
That was not a good sign. Not since we were hoping to draw one of 10 hunting stakes at Emiquon on opening morning of the Central Zone waterfowl season. By the time they started pulling names at 5:15, the crowd had swelled to 85.
Unfortunately The Farmer and I were not fortunate enough to hear our names called. Shame that, because hunting was good in Emiquon’s restored wetlands. Thirty-two lucky hunters combined for 121 ducks on the opener — topping Illinois River public areas with 3.78 ducks per hunter (dph).
But Emiquon was not alone in offering good shooting last weekend. “The harvest is better than expected considering the situations we’ve been through,” Anderson Lake staffer Scott Schlueter said.
He’s referring to a late flood that wiped out food, damaged roads and levees and wiped out hunting blinds.
Anderson Lake was particularly hard hit and many blinds were never built, forcing hunters to shoot out of boats. Even so, 127 hunters downed 251 ducks for a healthy 1.98 dph over the weekend. An impressive 68 percent of those birds came out of the West Point Unit, where The Farmer and I wound up Saturday.
We waded into a flooded timber hole well after the wood ducks had flown and waded out with no birds. But at least we got to hunt. Hey, I’d rather date an ugly girl than go stag.
Even so, it would have been nice to dance with the pretty girls at Rice Lake, where 214 hunters shot 434 ducks and five Canada geese in two days. Better yet were the Rice walk-ins, where 44 hunters shot 127 ducks (2.89 dph). Due to high water, walk-in hunters are alternating between two sites: Big Lake and a combination of the Voorhees and Copperas Creek areas.
Other top producers included Woodford (153 h, 300 d, 9 g, 1.96 dph) and The Nature Conservancy’s Spunky Bottoms (12 h, 32 d, 2.67 dph).
When it comes to surpassing expectations, nobody topped Spring Lake. After several lean years, Spring Lake cranked out 195 ducks and 20 geese for 120 hunters — a 1.63 dph that is the best for that site in many opening weekends. No question the lake has received a big boost from the Spring Lake Bottoms unit, where 13 hunters shot 48 ducks Sunday for an area-best 3.69 dph.
Sanganois (276 h, 436 d, 1.58 dph) also produced good numbers despite record low numbers of wood ducks. Marshall (159 h, 151 d, 1.01 dph) and Powerton (81 ducks) were respectable.
The only areas below one duck per gun were the Duck Ranch near Henry (27 h, 20 d, 1 g, 0.74 dph) and Banner Marsh (141 h, 92 d, 10 g, 0.65 dph).
How long good shooting will last remains to be seen. Typically after the first few days, local ducks get wise and hunting slows. But many observers said Sunday’s wild northwest winds brought new birds into the valley.
That could make for another good shoot at Emiquon today, since that site is hunted only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Now all a guy needs is good luck in the drawing — the season-long lament of most Illinois duck hunters.