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Fowl play is fair play for state hunters

John McCoy
Thick gloves and heavy camouflage clothing are par for the course with West Virginia's duck hunters, who spend the lion's share of their time afield during the wintry December-through-January segment of the state's waterfowl season.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's duck and goose hunters could have a lot of fun over the next few weeks.A series of winter storms has pushed a smorgasbord of waterfowl southward into the Mountain State, just in time for the season's final segment."There's not much doubt that all this weather has moved some birds south," said Steve Wilson, waterfowl project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. "One of the benefits of that is that we get some duck species we don't usually see here."For hunters accustomed to seeing mostly mallards, black ducks and Canada geese, that's good news indeed."When the weather is right, hunters can see a little bit of everything," Wilson said. "Ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, goldeneyes, widgeon, scaup, gadwalls, shovelers, canvasbacks, and even a scoter or two. Chances are you wouldn't see any of those species in big numbers, but you could definitely see them."Dave Hackathorn, who runs a duck- and goose-hunting guide service in St. Marys, confirmed Wilson's observations."We're getting a shove [of birds moving south]," Hackathorn said. "I scout every day, and I'm seeing some James Bay geese and even a few migrating snow geese and tundra swans."I'm also seeing lots of black ducks and some widgeon. I saw a raft of bluebills this morning, along with some ring-necks, buffleheads and mergansers."Some of the most accurate reports of waterfowl movements come from birders who post sightings on the Internet.
One recent report showed a flock of 50 gadwalls, a sizable flock of hooded mergansers, four ring-necked ducks, a northern shoveler, a redhead, a green-winged teal and a greater scaup hanging out on the Kanawha River near the Winfield Locks.Another birder reported seeing a flock of 300 Canada in the Ohio River near Gallipolis Ferry, along with 25 green-winged teal, 15 black ducks, a dozen ring-necked ducks, nine redheads, six ruddy ducks, a pair of pintails and a canvasback.Several reports from Cheat Lake near Morgantown included sightings of long-tailed ducks, ruddy ducks, buffleleads, lesser scaup and tundra swans in addition to the usual mallards and Canada geese.A Raleigh County birder reported the best "duck count on Stephens Lake in years." The tally included roughly 250 lesser scaup, 46 tundra swans, redheads, gadwalls, mallards, ruddy ducks, buffleheads and ring-necked ducks.The current weather pattern has Hackathorn hoping that "winter keeps doing what winter is supposed to do."When we get a lot of birds pushed down here from the north, our hunters generally have a good time," he said. "We average about 3,000 birds when the weather is good. When the weather is not so good, you can cut that number in half."
The weather doesn't always cooperate. During unusually mild winters, few migrant waterfowl venture into the state. Duck hunters know from experience, though, that a string of "Alberta Clipper" winter storms can add both numbers and variety."That's why hunters want as many days at the back end of the season as they can possibly get, and that's why we try to oblige their request," Wilson explained.This year, 47 days of the 65-day waterfowl season have been scheduled for the winter segment. That segment, which began on Monday, will end on Jan. 31.Reach John McCoy at 304-348-1231 or
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