Chattanoogan.com Outdoors has always been proud to share a running tally of waterfowling hunting reports submitted by area hunters in recent years. You may have noticed however that we have no such reports this year.
That's because area waterfowlers have virtually nothing to report.
Based on my personal experience, and anecdotal information from my waterfowling friends and contacts, we are experiencing one of the poorest waterfowl hunting years we've had in decades.
I personally began duck hunting in 1969. That means I have habituated the wintertime duck swamps for forty years. Granted, in recent years, my trips to the swamps are far fewer than they used to be... but I stay well networked. Outside of a few success stories with local wood ducks, area duck hunters continue to come home empty-handed day after day.
A close friend gave up hunting and took a day-long scouting trip on Monday, riding his boat up and down the backwaters along the Tennessee River in North Alabama.
He writes, "Bottom line is we have no ducks. I mean no ducks!"
Reports from the lands of waterfowling paradise... West Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri... have been good. In some cases, great!
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) conducts periodic waterfowl counts in all four TWRA Regions across the state and posts the results on its web page (PDF File).
The data for Region III (the Chattanooga region) however is poor to non-existent. Region III Biologist Ben Layton says that miscommunication with web masters fouled up the November data. And he says since then, the TWRA airplane has been out-of-service and unable to fly any waterfowl counts in Region III.
Layton says biologists in TWRA's other three regions do "ground counts" and don't have to rely on the airplane. Layton says he doesn't believe ground counts would be effective in our part of the state due to the terrain and habitat.
"Around here if you go into an area to count birds you're likely to flush them and then somebody in another area is liable to count the same birds all over again," said Layton.
Layton agrees however that anecdotal information indicates very poor waterfowling this year.
"Outside of a few good reports early in the season, hunters are not having much success," said Layton. "I can't give a real good explanation. With the addition of the Yuchi Waterfowl Refuge we've got more habitat than we've had before."
Layton says it is possible that weather patterns, or short-stopping to the North could be to blame. However he also expresses some concern that changes in migration patterns could be partly to blame.
"The ducks that have historically come through East Tennessee might be going other routes," he said. "If that's the case, it might be a long-term trend."
Which means this year's sad song could just be the first cut on a very long album.