As the second split of the north zone waterfowl season arrives this week, I can’t help but share my frustration with the local waterfowl season dates missing another major migration yet again.
I hunted through the warmth of the first split dealing with golfing weather instead of duck hunting weather. That is to be expected with the early part of the season. However, just as the end of the first split arrived in early November, along came the cold fronts and north winds we had been waiting for. The past two weeks, while the waterfowl season has been out, has been filled with nasty winds from the north pushing a big chunk of the birds through this area. Even the swans have been seen passing through this past week on their trek for warmer grounds to the south.
I don’t know what it is, but more times than not, the week of Veterans Day (second week of November) tends to be filled with cold north winds. In fact, some of those Veteran’s Days have been filled with gale force winds. The famous Armistice (now known as Veteran’s Day) Day blizzard occurred on Nov. 11, 1940. A total of 145 deaths were blamed on the storm, with many of them being duck hunters.
Many duck hunters had taken time off from work and or didn’t have school because of the holiday. A storm was predicted but forecasters had not predicted the severity of the oncoming storm, and as a result many of the hunters were not dressed for cold weather. When the storm began many hunters took shelter on small islands in the Mississippi River and the 50 mph winds and 5-foot waves overcame their encampments. Some became stranded on the islands and then froze to death in the single-digit temperatures that moved in overnight. Others tried to make it to shore and drowned.
Duck hunters constituted about half of the 49 deaths in Minnesota alone. Those who survived told of how ducks came south with the storm by the thousands, and everybody could have shot their daily limit had they not been focused on survival. In Lake Michigan, 66 sailors died on three freighters. Thousands of beef cattle and over a million turkeys intended for Thanksgiving perished in the upper midwest as well.
Then there is the famous sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Nov. 10, 1975 on Lake Superior. Winds were constantly hovering in the 50 mph range and gusts were in the upper 80s. Twenty-nine sailors were lost that day. Old timers tell me that the duck migration that day was phenomenal.
Probably one of the greatest migrations I have ever witnessed and certainly one of my greatest hunts occurred on Veteran’s Day in 1998 when we we had a major front come through. I hunted Knox Lake with friends that day and was awe struck with duck migration that I witnessed. Flock after flock decoyed that morning. I was told later on that the wind was so fierce that day, that Sandusky Bay was nearly blown dry as the water was pushed out into Lake Erie.
I really do miss duck hunting the second weekend of November. More years than not, it usually ends up being the week where many of the divers (scaup and ringnecks) and early migrating puddlers will push through. Now we will end up spending the next several weeks staring at empty skies and waiting on the last of the holdouts to start migrating, the mallards and black ducks. There won’t be a big push of those ducks until the marshes and smaller waters start to freeze up and you never know when that is going to happen.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy waterfowl hunting with family over the Thanksgiving holiday but the hunts are usually a bust. I’d gladly give up Thanksgiving duck hunting if the Division of Wildlife would give me back the second weekend of November.
• As Ohio’s duck and goose seasons begin again, hunters are encouraged to familiarize themselves with waterfowl identification before heading out, according to ODNR. Ohio waterfowl hunters frequently encounter a variety of species of birds when in the field and marsh, and some species of ducks, geese and swans may look similar.
The ODNR Division of Wildlife would like to remind hunters that it is important to identify birds before pulling the trigger. Some species, like the state-threatened trumpeter swans and occasionally migrating tundra swans, are protected and may be encountered.
Although waterfowl hunters in Ohio rarely encounter snow geese, hunters should still be able to distinguish between swans and snow geese. With proper species identification and attention, there should be little confusion between the species.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.