The 2015-16 Colorado waterfowl season is underway and, by most accounts, hunters have plenty to be excited about this year. Thanks to unusually wet weather and ideal nesting conditions across the Continental United States and Canada, duck populations have soared to the highest numbers in 60 years.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the total breeding duck population estimate in the traditional survey areas in the Prairie Pothole Region was 49.2 million birds — up 8 percent from last year, which is the largest population estimate since waterfowl surveys began in 1955. Mallards, the most popular duck among Colorado waterfowl hunters, posted a breeding population of 11.6 million birds, surpassing the all-time record of 11.2 million birds set in 1958. The USFWS also estimated gadwalls, redheads, teal and northern shovelers at or near record numbers.
So what does this mean for Colorado hunters?
Because the vast majority of ducks that winter in Colorado during the waterfowl seasons are migrant birds from north central United States and southern Canada, increased duck populations in these key areas could translate into a windfall for waterfowlers.
“We could see excellent numbers of migratory ducks and geese in Colorado this fall and winter,” said Jim Gammonley, waterfowl biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “The stage is set for what could be a very good year.”
Although anticipation is high among Colorado hunters, Gammonley says the success of Colorado’s waterfowl season is highly dependent upon the weather.
“As always, the key variable is cold weather to the north,” said Gammonley. “Although some duck species migrate south early no matter what the weather conditions, many mallards and Canada geese can stay far north of us until the cold weather forces them to move. Hunters need to watch for cold fronts to push birds south from southern Canada, the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming and plan their hunting trips accordingly. If you see snow and cold-weather systems north of here, plan to be in your blind as soon as possible.”
Even though Mother Nature will ultimately dictate when and how many ducks and geese arrive in Colorado and how long they stay during the hunting seasons, the good news is that water will be plentiful in most areas of the state when migratory birds arrive. Abundant wetlands, coupled with full lakes and reservoirs, should help keep ducks and geese here for the majority of the season.
For hunters who don’t want to wait for migratory ducks and geese, there should be plenty of action available in the early season as well. Wetland conditions improved over last year in North Park and the San Luis Valley — Colorado’s primary breeding areas for native waterfowl — indicating that a good, home-grown crop of ducks and geese was produced in these areas.
“Although dry conditions remained in many parts of southern Colorado, we had an unusually wet spring and summer in the northern half of the state, which created good breeding and nesting habitat for ducks and geese in local areas,” said Gammonley. “This means that locally produced ducks and geese should be available for hunters until the migratory birds arrive later this winter. With good water conditions in many areas heading into the fall, there are widespread waterfowl hunting opportunities on public and private lands.”
In summary: If there was ever a year to introduce someone new to waterfowl hunting, or if you’re an old veteran who has been away from the duck blind for a while, 2015 looks like a great year to dust off the decoys, grab the Labrador and high-tail-it to your favorite warm-water slough, lake or reservoir.
For more information about Colorado’s waterfowl hunting opportunities, season dates and regulations, click HERE.