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Waterfowling Tips for After Season- Schuyler County, IL 460 Acres for Sale

March 6, 2017 // Posted in: Farms For Sale

Waterfowl Property for Sale: Schuyler County, IL 460 Acres

  • Turn-key waterfowl property
  • Endless miles of levee and drainage ditches in place
  • Pumps, tractors, everything included to start hunting
  • Super nice 4 bedroom, 1 bathroom cabin
  • Morton building with heated floors
  • $318, 696 income over the next 14 years
  • Over $500,000 in levee improvements are done
  • Great fly-way location across from Saganois SFWA

 

When it comes down to managing wetlands and “duck holes”; I have grown up hearing an old adage that I think will benefit some to hear – honestly, I have failed miserably at trying to prove wrong. “If you can get the Wood-ducks started early you will get the Mallards late”. I already know what your thinking; What does that mean, and how do I do it?  STAY WITH ME, I’M GOING TO EXPLAIN.

Waterfowling Tips for After Season

As my duck hunting season comes to a sudden and abrupt end in Central Illinois, my brain often times tries to figure out what I could have done better or differently and would it have increased my overall success?  It is now that time of year when waterfowl managers need to be preparing for next season and figure out what steps are necessary to increase next years productivity.  One mistake I often times see is an over zealous manager starting the wetland draining process as soon as their season has ended.  I have heard several reasons and excuses for this management tactic; ranging from soil compaction to the idea of planting crops sooner in the spring.  I caution the waterfowl manager to think this through, they could be missing out on a spring migration which could ultimately increase fall flight numbers through “imprinting”.

I have seen the power of imprinting work on several occasions one of the most relevant situations was with a newly constructed wetland approximately eleven miles North of the Illinois River located in some reclaimed strip-mine ground.  The wetland was about thirty floodable acres, surrounded by a tremendous amount of rest ponds and large lakes, but the simple mentality of “If you build it they will come” was not working.  We decided to leave the wetlands partially flooded throughout the winter and the amount of birds in the spring was simply astounding.  Within the first two years of leaving the wetlands flooded in the spring, our fall hunting became something that many hunters only dream of ever seeing, and it became our new normal with results we began to expect each and every year.  The ducks that came through in the spring seemed to remember where the food was and brought their offspring back in the fall.  Our rest lakes, ponds, and roost wetlands were holding approximately thirty-thousand ducks each fall, and all of them were using and feeding in our flooded wetlands throughout the entire hunting season.  We started seeing Green-Wing Teal, Northern-Shoveler, Ring-Neck and Pintails early in the hunting season followed up with tremendous amount of Mallards and Giant Canadian Geese later in the hunting season; It was magical and only turned that way after we started using the spring migration to our advantage.  There are multiple scenarios to consider to determine if this tactic will work for you, so let us take a look at those now and maybe your property can benefit from this management scenario in the future.

 

Feed, Floods, and control structures:

The first and probably most important part of the equation is to determine whether or not your control structures are suitable to retain water throughout the winter freeze.  I have seen wetlands with a simple screw-in cap on the back side of a piece of pipe.  The pipe was simply dug through the levee and offered a cheap and easy way to drain the wetland, but  the pipe is usually exposed to the cold air on the back side of the levee allowing the water inside the pipe to  freeze creating problems in the spring when it thaws and busts the pipe.  To prevent this one can simply stack straw or other types of insulation around the pipe preventing it from freezing, but one thing is for certain a little preventative maintenance and thought right now will save a lot of repair work in the very near future.  Make sure your control structures are designed to with-stand cold temperatures.

Another important aspect to this process is based on potential flooding in the spring.  This can be two types of flooding and both of them can create major headaches and severe damage to your levee systems if not carefully thought through now.

 

For those of you in or around a major river system or tributary to those rivers that frequently flood in the spring, your best line of defense to save and salvage your levees is to usually open your control structures in order to allow the river to  flow in and flow out of your wetland as naturally as possible.  By opening the control structure you create a path of least resistance and a less probable scenario of the river rushing over your levee and cutting a ditch or weak spot that you will need to fix before next fall.  Luckily for these types of properties, mother nature usually puts a desired amount of water in your wetland during the spring migration, so any feed left will be found and used by the birds headed back north to nesting grounds.  In these situations I have found that erring on the side of caution is best and you should just open your control structures and let Mother Nature do its thing.

 

For those properties not found in a direct flood plain, you need to be assessing the total water level in your wetlands at this current point in time.  Are you pushing maximum capacity?  Can your wetland sustain and hold snow melting, and often times heavy spring rains?  Could a large amount of rain or snow melt push your water capacity over your levee system in the spring?  If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions I would recommend to play it safe.  One option would be to drain your wetland to approximately half of its total water capacity.  By draining to half capacity you might even be able to get a tractor and mower on the drained portion while frozen this winter, and make some of the left over feed more available in the spring.  (Caution: Make sure you are not driving the tractor or walking on shelf Ice.  Sometimes the wetlands are already in a deep freeze when they are being drained.  The ice will hold up and look like earth especially with a snow on; when in fact there might be two feet of air gap between the ice and actual ground.)  By mowing the outside perimeter of the wetland you will make more seed available and need less water to give birds access to the feed in the spring.

 

How much feed is still readily available in your wetland?  This is likely the least important question that a waterfowl manager needs to answer or assess for this scenario.  There is certainly less scientific information available regarding the nutritional needs for waterfowl during the spring migration as opposed to the needs of waterfowl in the fall migration.  Studies have shown that lipids are important for waterfowl during both migrations and are usually derived from seeds, invertebrates, and other plant materials.  Does leaving your wetland flooded in the spring help ensure a better migration and nesting success in the spring?  I don’t know the answer  to that but it can sure make things more exciting in the fall.  By leaving your wetland flooded in the spring, waterfowl will find some form of nutritional value out of it, whether that is from left over corn, millet, natural vegetation or invertebrates.  I would let the ducks and geese determine if your wetland has any nutritional value left for them.  They know more about their needs than we do.

Matt Cox is an experienced wildlife property manager and a broker for LandGuys, LLC. You can reach him at matt@landguys.net