CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hunters who head afield Tuesday for West Virginia's duck-season opener should see plenty of mallards, wood ducks and maybe even some teal.So says Steve Wilson, waterfowl project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. "Most of our ducks are resident birds, and because we had lots of rainfall and abundant water this year, our mallards and wood ducks enjoyed pretty good duckling survival," he explained."Having lots of water gives ducklings more places to go and hide. I think we'll see that reflected in the number of ducks hunters see this fall."Resident birds play such a large role because West Virginia is located between the Atlantic and Mississippi migration flyways. Not many ducks migrate through the state, although Wilson believes this year might become an exception to that rule.
"The mild weather we've had might slow the teal migration down a bit, so hunters might get into some of those," he said.Census surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicate that green-winged and blue-winged teal numbers are what Wilson calls "way over the top," some 60 percent above the long-term average. Mallard populations are 36 percent above average.Black ducks, West Virginia's other relatively abundant duck species, aren't quite that abundant, but Wilson said their numbers are nothing to sneeze at."Black ducks are still below where we want them to be, but compared to the long-term average, they're not bad," he said.With all that factored in, Wilson believes the upcoming season will "probably be a little better than average."Some waterfowl hunters focus their efforts on major river valleys, because large bodies of water tend to attract ducks. Wilson said, however, that ducks - and especially wood ducks - are well distributed throughout the state."Most every slow-moving stream will have some ducks along it," he explained. "On the Tygart, the Hughes, the West Fork and other rivers of that nature, hunters are likely to see wood ducks around.""Jump-shooting" - walking the banks of those streams and shooting ducks when they flush - is the most popular and effective early season hunting method.Later in the year, when frozen lakes and rivers in northern Ohio and Pennsylvania force ducks to migrate south into the Mountain State, traditional "pass shooting" - setting out decoys, calling and waiting for ducks to fly close by - becomes more effective.A few locations in West Virginia offer good pass shooting early in the season. Wilson said the state-owned McClintic, Green Bottom and Meadow River wildlife management areas are all popular with duck hunters.Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.