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2018 Duck Hunting Forecast For Georgia

Fall migration predictions indicate fewer birds than last year, but still way above average.

Daryl Kirby | November 5, 2018

Those record fall flight numbers from the feds don’t mean much for most Georgia duck hunters. It’s going to be wood ducks if it’s a successful morning in the swamp. Still, with record numbers of mallards, gadwall and teal heading south, maybe a flock will stray off and migrate right to my duck hole.

The numbers for migrating ducks are actually down a good bit this year from last year and the past several years, but duck numbers are still well above long-term averages.  

Greg Balkcom is WRD’s state waterfowl biologist. He’s also an avid hunter. 

“Over the years, I have come to realize that Georgia’s waterfowl seasons are generally very similar from year to year,” Greg said. “We typically kill about 130,000 ducks each year, with wood ducks being the majority, followed by ring-necked ducks, both species of teal and then mallards. However, there is some annual variation, probably based on weather and habitat conditions.  

“Georgia is definitely not a boom or bust state in regards to ducks—we are generally pretty even-keeled. That being said, 2017 was an excellent year. Based on USFWS data, Georgia hunters killed about 175,000 ducks—the increase from previous years being mostly additional wood ducks.” 

A factor in Georgia’s duck harvest increase is that there are more camo-clad hunters slogging around in waders these days. Unlike numbers for other types of hunters, which are declining, duck hunting continues to grow in popularity. 

“Active adult duck hunters have increased from 16,000 in 2012 to almost 21,000 in 2017,” Greg said.

The inventory of the breeding populations of waterfowl across North America estimate the 2018 total population of breeding ducks at 41.19 million, a 13 percent decrease over last year’s population of 47.27 million. Overall, the 2018 survey marks the lowest total breeding duck population since 2010. This year’s number is still 17 percent above the long-term average (1955−2017). The highest number ever came in 2015, when the survey showed 49.5 million breeding ducks.

Wigeon are the only index species that showed an increase this year, climbing 2 percent to 2.82 million, which is 8 percent above the long-term average. 

Following a record high two years ago, mallards declined 12 percent to 9.26 million but remain 17 percent above the long-term average. 

Only two duck species are below long-term averages. Northern pintails declined a concerning 18 percent to 2.37 million, 40 percent below the long-term average. Interestingly, the pintail limit increased from one bird to two. Scaup declined 9 percent to 3.99 million, 20 percent below the long-term average.

More 2018 duck numbers:

• Gadwall: 2.89 million, down 31 percent from 2017, and 43 percent above the LTA (long-term average from 1955-2017).

• Green-winged teal: 3.04 million, down 16 percent from 2017, and 42 percent above the LTA.

• Blue-winged teal: 6.45 million, down 18 percent from 2017, and 27 percent above the LTA.

• Northern shovelers: 4.21 million, down 3 percent from 2017, and 62 percent above the LTA.

• Redheads: 0.999 million, down 10 percent from 2017, and 38 percent above the LTA.

• Canvasbacks: 0.686 million, down 6 percent from 2017, and 16 percent above the LTA.

Greg is expecting Georgia will have a “somewhat better than average” season this year.

“For 2018, we should have good to excellent habitat conditions,” Greg said. “Rainfall associated with Hurricane Michael has filled up many of our waterfowl impoundments, and I suspect many beaver ponds and natural wetlands are full, as well. Spring and early summer rains occurred at the right time to stimulate natural vegetation for waterfowl foods. 

“For example, the impoundment at Rum Creek WMA has an excellent stand of fall panic grass and smartweeds—both wonderful duck foods—that are the result of proper habitat management and needed summer rainfall,” Greg said.

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