This has been a year of extremes for Missouri duck hunters.
The weather in the first half of the season was too hot. Conditions in the second half have been too cold.
Taken as a whole, that has resulted in a disappointing season for most hunters.
Hopes were high going into the season, with federal surveys indicating high populations of ducks that would be migrating south. But conditions never cooperated with Missouri hunters.
Unseasonably warm weather delayed fights in the first part of the season. Climatologists indicated that this fall was the second-warmest on record in Missouri, according to the Department of Conservation.
Duck numbers were below average on Missouri public hunting areas in November, and hunting success was down from normal. Once the anticipated cold weather did arrive, it was too much of a good thing.
Arctic air sent temperatures plunging, and shallow marshes froze quickly. As the season nears its Dec. 27 closing date in the North Zone and Jan. 3 closure in the Middle Zone, hunting has slowed to a crawl at most public areas.
Ice covers most of the marshes and duck numbers have dropped dramatically. Even at areas that still have sizable waterfowl numbers, hunters have been largely unsuccessful.
Look at the Grand Pass Conservation Area along the Missouri River. Though duck numbers have fallen sharply in the last week, 60,000 birds still remain. But 19 hunters shot only one duck Tuesday, according to the Department of Conservation.
Ice covers marshes at other popular public areas such as Bob Brown, Fountain Grove, Four Rivers and Nodaway, and hunting pressure has been low.
Many are hoping that milder weather this week will at least allow for some of the ice to break, but biologists fear that many of the ducks have already headed south.
“Hunters were able to capitalize on a few good days in the field on Nov. 29-30, Dec. 5-7 and Dec. 10,” said Frank Nelson, a waterfowl biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “But for the most part, it looks like we were swinging from one extreme to the next.”