Duck Creek to have 28 blinds on duck opener
By PAUL DAVIS
PUXICO, Mo. -- Renovation work is continuing at Duck Creek Conservation Area north of Puxico and because of the ongoing work, open positions for waterfowl hunters will be limited during the coming duck season.
The work began in 2009 and has frustrated some hunters, but when completed it eventually should create more hunting opportunities and less maintenance costs for managers, said Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Biologist Keith Cordell.
Duck Creek normally offers up to 45 hunting blind positions and some limited walk-in timber hunting in Mingo National Wildlife Refuge's Pool 8, depending on water conditions, but this year Cordell expects about 28 positions to be available on opening day, with more opening later.
Pool 2, on the area's east side, has 17 permanent blinds for duck hunters, and all are expected to be ready and available for the season opener on Nov. 5.
The heavily-timbered Pool 3, on the property's south end, will be flooded gradually, Cordell said.
"I'm hesitant to put water in there early because the timber is in a declining state," said Cordell, who noted red oak decline is especially noticeable in Pool 3.
The slow flooding is designed to keep the trees in the area healthy by allowing them to senesce before standing water can affect them negatively.
Consequently, four of Pool 3's 13 blinds (X4, Y2, AA3 and BB4) are expected to be available on opening day, Cordell said, though the others "should be available by mid-November and definitely by Thanksgiving."
Up to 40 hunters should be able to hunt Pool 8's wade-and-shoot timber area after it's flooded sometime near the middle of the 60-day duck season, again depending on how much precipitation falls in the watershed.
"The staff at Mingo is expected to close the gates in Pool 8 in the first weeks of November," Cordell said.
The late flooding of Pools 3 and 8 has upset some hunters in recent years, but mallard harvest data shows those areas have the lowest hunter success in the early season, according to Cordell.
Additionally, MDC Wetland Ecologist Frank Nelson said, in the early season, ducks prefer the more open areas where they can find bugs and seeds to eat.
Later in the season, they begin pair bonding and seek more energetic food sources, like acorns in the timber. Essentially, they spend more time in the timber later in the season.
For those who prefer to hunt open water with a chance to take diving ducks, two positions on the south end of the 1,800-acre Pool 1 will be available, but the number of hunting days will be limited in those areas.
Most of this year's renovation work has been focused in the open Unit A and Unit B areas in Duck Creek's northwest corner, and with work continuing there, those units are not expected to be available to hunters this season, Cordell said, though that could possibly change late in the season.
"If the contractors pull out and don't come back because of wet conditions, we'll put some hunters in there," Cordell said, "but there's not any food for the ducks there after the dirt work."
Elsewhere on the area, food sources for ducks appear to be in great shape, Cordell said.
"Our acorn crop is above average," Cordell said, "and the moist soil in the blind openings looks good. The millet in the north end of Pool 2 is doing well."
Nelson added the entire Duck Creek/Mingo basin experienced a "phenomenal pin oak acorn crop."
Outside of the main Duck Creek property, some hunting positions will be available at the Dark Cypress Unit to the northwest.
"That area has WRP ground and some timber, but the hunting is in flooded fields," said Cordell. "We'll start off with two spots and could get up to seven, but that place is also dependent on rain water."
Reservations from hunters were not taken at Duck Creek this year, Cordell said, because MDC needed to know how many he could offer in July, and at the time, he wasn't able to say.
"We might have offered some reservations and then end up not being able to offer enough spots" because of construction or lack of water, he said.
Nelson asks hunters to show patience as the renovation progresses.
"It's kind of like a house renovation with great plans. You want to get it all done quickly and then things come up," Nelson said. "Because it's a wetland area, and we're dealing with wet conditions, we just can't do it all at once."
Hunter access, Nelson said, should be more normal next year.
"I really think after this season, we should be over the hump as far as hunter access goes," he said. "Please be patient because we're trying to do it right."
Nelson also has posted a series of four online videos, which help explain the renovation process and how it's expected to benefit wildlife and hunters once completed. The videos can be found at www.youtube.com and searching for "Duck Creek CA Renovation."
Recorded blind availability and drawing information will be available during the duck season by calling Duck Creek Conservation Area at 573-222-3337.