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Long time Florida duck hunters, were we just spoiled?

PinmanPinman Posts: 3,030 Captain

I have had this conversation with a few people.  All long timers.

If you were lucky enough to Duck hunt just about any wetland in Florida in the late 70s to about the 90's, consider yourself as one of the lucky few. And you know what I am talking about. Seminole. George. Tampa Bay. Kissimmee. St Johns. Merritt Island. Okeechobee. Biscayne. All of those places are now a shell of what they were then.

But was it all just the way it should be or was it an outlier, fueled by the growth of an aquarium weed? 

Other than what my Dad has told me about his youth, I don't know what Florida duck hunting was like in 1940, 50, 60.. But my friends Dad and his friends, guys who grew up Duck hunting Western Tennessee, Southern Mississippi, frequently said it would take them a whole day of sitting in the blind up North to equal the success we had on Lake O in an hour. This was back in 1980.

The curve topped out about then IMO. Then, aided by the spray war on the weeds the curve has, hopefully, now bottomed out?  Is there a middle road, a "normal" down the road?  I don't see how the natural vegetation can grow back in my, or even my kids lifetime.

Maybe we are at the bottom of the curve and come back to a "halfway point"?  IDK.  I'm not really optimistic.

But I do believe now, looking back....that it wasn't they way it was meant to be. And we got a bit spoiled.



  • MaysportMaysport Posts: 229 Deckhand
    Perhaps your assessment is correct.  I mainly hunted North Florida, and didn't think it 'easy'.  There has been a sharp decline though over the past 10-15 years.

    I'm not sure it will return even if all spraying is stopped.  The amount of public land has decreased, public presence/use/pressure has increased and access has decreased with permits limiting hunting.

    On the Eastern Shore, we typically sat in our blind all morning, left for lunch, and then hunted most of the afternoon.  Limiting out in an hour was infrequent after opening weekend.  However, the whole Eastern flyway numbers are down now compared to years past, and the lesser numbers that do make it to Florida can perhaps be pickier of where they stay (i.e. is there food here?).
  • ANUMBER1ANUMBER1 Posts: 12,232 AG
    Chas up to Crystal river in the late 60's thru maybe 1980 was awesome, all the divers with pins, widgeon, and florida mallards (mottle)

    I remember migrating mallards back in the 1960's..

    not much nowadays though bluebills and redheads showed up en mass this week.. as usual.
    I am glad to only be a bird hunter with bird dogs...being a shooter or dog handler or whatever other niche exists to separate appears to generate far too much about which to worry.
  • osprey11osprey11 Posts: 1,315 Officer
    How does 2015 fit in?   Was a pretty darn good year.

  • Big MakBig Mak Posts: 4,242 Captain
    Legend has it that the duck hunting used to be so good in the glades that Eisenhower came down to hunt post WW2.

    My dad used to hunt South Florida extensively from Okeechobee, South in 40s-70s and said it was significantly better then than what we had in the 70s-90s.... Just  a small part  of my perspective. 
  • drgibbydrgibby Posts: 1,697 Captain
    25-30 years ago on our family property between Brooksville and Dade City ducks were literally everywhere. During wet years the borrow pit held a lot of water, there were blue bills, ringers, redheads and mergansers on the deep side and mottled ducks, blue and green wing teal on the shallow end. With the occasional pintail and others. The ponds on the lower end of the property were loaded with wood ducks as they had a large amount of oaks surrounding them. The 100 year high water record that was set in the late 90`s or early 2000 killed all the surrounding oaks. Since then there has been a fraction of the wood ducks. I used to take 6 or 8 friends and everyone would shoot their limits in a matter of minutes in the morning. Now my boys are lucky to kill 2 or 3. I know the drowning of the oaks led to the decline of the woodies, but the borrow pit has been full several times in the past 15 years and still no significant amount of birds.
     This year it has been full since October. Some whistlers raised a clutch and left as soon as the weather got cool. There was one pair of mottled ducks hanging around, one blue winged drake, and three hooded mergs. Certainly not enough for me to buy a duck stamp for! 

    Just my $.02
  • H20dadH20dad Posts: 2,487 Captain
    No winter weather, poor habitat ducks will stay north. 
  • OGBOHICAOGBOHICA floridaPosts: 514 Officer
    Ever since Capt Jeff stopped his helicopter reports its been down hill since :) Weather patterns IMO dictate where the birds end up. Wind,and temp but only 1 person really knows whats going on!
  • MissedMissed O-townPosts: 460 Deckhand
    I get a kick out of the weather thing - we've had a bunch of cold and nasty weather up north this year.

    I'm of the thought that we just don't have as many ducks as we did 20 years ago - development and farming in the duck factory, various little worms & snails that kill ducks, and God knows what.

    It isn't just FL - look at the guy from LA and his reports, Arkansas isn't what it used to be, etc...  

    Last year was the first year I did not shoot a duck since 1984.  Up north we could count on 1 or 2 opportunities a day - hunt all day to shoot twice.  Then came down to FL and had a lot of fun for a while. 

    This year I got 10-12 in 2 weekends but don't put forth a lot of effort anymore.  Not worth the time & effort to fight everyone over the "hot spot".  One spot had 16 rigs the last Saturday of the season - probably comfortably hunt 5 or 6.
  • cracker4112cracker4112 Posts: 901 Officer
    This is in regards to Florida, other places have other issues.

    Here, its population. Both ours and the ducks. While the population of birds seems like it may have dipped overall the last couple years, there is no shortage of birds all over this state where they cannot be hunted.  Look no further than your local retention pond.  Every new development is required to save some green space, create some, or mitigate.  Much of this new/created wetland is attractive to ducks.  The mantra  "open more lands" sounds great, but you'll never hunt the retention pond outside Bass Pro.

  • micci_manmicci_man Somewhere in FLPosts: 14,833 AG
    There are many planted/flooded duck ponds around here and they didn't have any to speak of. The ducks just didn't make it to the south this year. I've read DU bought lots of property mid country and created duck heavens with no hunting. KS, OK, S/ND were covered with ducks this past season. I even read some talk about the Miss flyway maybe shifting ( I know are ducks don't come from there) more to the west last couple of years. Miss, AK, LA was very poor this year. The first and last weekends were good here. In between sucked.  
    Common Sense can't be bought, taught or gifted, yet it is one of the few things in life that is free, and most refuse to even attempt to possess it. - Miguel Cervantes
  • meateatermeateater south flaPosts: 730 Officer
    heres my limited experience   20 years ago or so we duck hunted every year the area which is now sta 2       tons of ducks    teal, merganzers ,few woodies    every type of duck out there         i remember it was cold most mornings  40s 50s   not this 65 67 puppy spit      so maybe its the lack of winter weather or the building of the sta but that area sucks compared to years ago.  even the sta which ive hunted a few times on a good day cant compare to the amount of ducks that used to be out there.
  • ANUMBER1ANUMBER1 Posts: 12,232 AG
    lots of diver have shown up in Citrus county in the last two weeks
    I am glad to only be a bird hunter with bird dogs...being a shooter or dog handler or whatever other niche exists to separate appears to generate far too much about which to worry.
  • PinmanPinman Posts: 3,030 Captain

    Thanks for the comments. 

    My point is that if you hunted in the 70s to 90s, you hunted in an environment that was totally un-natural for Florida due to Hydrilla being everywhere. We were spoiled with 6 bird limits in an hour, heck even 30 minutes.  Now the pendulum has swung in the total opposite direction with decades of spraying and we have had terrible years.  Maybe "natural" is somewhere in the middle and some of us might be lucky to see it one day?   Is this the case?  Were we just spoiled by Hydrilla? 

  • buckfeverbuckfever Posts: 170 Deckhand
    It's not just FL and plants. Nationwide duck numbers have been declining over the last 30 years.  But this year the decline was more drastic.  Friends from all over are reporting the worst season in memory for ducks. Tn, ar, mo, ca, mt and fl are all reporting significantly less ducks.  Geese seem to be doing fine.

  • SaltygatorvetSaltygatorvet TallahasseePosts: 5,807 Admiral
    I have a buddy that was covered up in ducks ( mostly mallards) all season, in Kansas. He said it’s incredible.

    to the op. I only started duck hunting on the Kissimmee chain in 1997.  It’s been a steady decline. Last 4 years were pitiful especially this year
    You should have been here yesterday
  • MRichardsonMRichardson Posts: 10,455 AG
    Global warming, er, I mean climate change, is likely affecting the numbers at this latitude as well as the weed control (or lack thereof).
    I have never seen live bones, but I know that they are often used by rich people to decorate the interior.
  • indamarshindamarsh Posts: 58 Greenhorn

    Here in panhandle we have Lakes that used to be great for ringers.  Food is still there but no ringers. Even this year with very little pressure no ringers.  Haven't shot em good for 5+ years and we've had weather that should of stacked them up.  They just don't come any more.  

    Birds have learned to stay as far north as weather permits.  And once forced south, they have learned the pathes of least resistance.  In other words paths that have least hunting pressure.  They will often fly back north on warm ups to return to a previously found area of refuge to the north.

    Also seems to be new feeding habits developing.  We are seeing more nocturnal feeding in our lease fields in Arkansas.  Now there seems to be much more night feeding even on new moons.  This was not the case 10 years ago.  

    But we still seeing the sun come up with friends and family!

  • TGunnTGunn Posts: 1,921 Captain
    There is certainly more nocturnal feeding.  We had a heckuva time patterning some birds this year and it was routine to have twenty in the decoys at 4:00-4:30am, but almost no “first light” flight pattern. 

    I agree that it’s not as easy as it used to be in the late 80s/early 90s.  

    But now running the boat is easier, spots are easier to find in the dark, and areas are easier to scout online with digital maps, etc. 

    I believe the most disappointed hunters I know of are the ones that hunted back in the 80s/90s, and still continue to hunt the exact same way today.  I don’t hunt where birds are; I hunt where I believe they will go based on pressure.  And with the exception of the usual dip in success between The Christmas to New Years pressuring and the second week of January, I was killing single man limits through the end of the season. 

    This year suffered from a couple of things that some of you may disagree with me about. 

    First, the youth day prior to the season is not good overall for the season because instead of jackasses running birds off with mud boats and airboats for the week before the season, they run them off for two weeks before the season. I have a little boy and can’t wait to take him hunting—-but I’m fine hunting with him every day of the regular season.  I don’t need youth days pre season. 

    Second, the split was only for five days.  Weekdays. The birds never got a weekend off.  That was bad; they never regrouped.
  • RedneckFshin'RedneckFshin' Posts: 153 Deckhand
    TGunn, I completely agree. For the last 3-4 years I've routinely had a poor opening morning hunt, often the worst hunt of my season as of late, but things pick up as quick as Monday/Tuesday after opening weekend. The amount of "scouting" is insane 10 days before opener, and the additional youth weekend surely made things worse. To each their own, but my scouting starts Thursday before opening weekend, same routine every single year. Two days is plenty of time for me to scout my areas, and I try my best to never cross through an area twice, especially if I saw ducks. The rise of the internet scouting has created a new era of hunters, they are certain you must start scouting 2 weeks in advance and they do their best to run every duck out of huntable areas. They get in their blind as sun sets and spend the entire night out there, along with a few hundred other new era hunters. Oh well, I will still show up at 3 am and try my best to get away from the crowd, but this was never the case 5+ years ago in my areas. Although I do see reports from Arkansas/Mississippi where hunters are piled on-top of eachother and lined up heading out, so I know this isn't a "Florida" thing.
  • micci_manmicci_man Somewhere in FLPosts: 14,833 AG
    The public water I hunt has been absolutely covered in birds the last 4 days and coming in 2 hrs before sunset. Some may be new birds but most are birds that realized the pressure has stopped and they are not setting on bait ponds all day now and coming to roost at normal times.

    Sure wish I could find a youth to take Saturday..... 
    Common Sense can't be bought, taught or gifted, yet it is one of the few things in life that is free, and most refuse to even attempt to possess it. - Miguel Cervantes
  • Reel TealReel Teal Posts: 3,963 Captain
    edited February 2020 #23
    Some people scout by running their boat until they scare the ducks away. To them that is successful scouting. I prefer to use my boat to travel, not scare the birds and hunt them where i leave them. Its not always preventable but my god to kick every bird up and call that scouting is counterproductive. We already have fisherman and airboats doing that, why would hunters contribute is beyond me. Especially when the areas are the same ones we typically hunt year after year. But no one wants to get up early and watch and listen, its all about riding fast, looking cool and booze cruising mid day or better yet they run them off so others wont see them. Nothing like public land hunters screwing themselves. 

    How did yall scout in the 80s and 90s? I didnt duck hunt then but used to hear the booms, but maybe there were so many ducks it didn't matter.

    Myself the beginning of the season was great shot 55% of my birds the first 8 days. January sucked for us but not bc of birds entirely, mostly crowded marsh conditions and skyblasting creates for tough chances to decoy ducks. I felt like the species mix in my area didnt change from November to January except the blue wings left and didnt seem to appear again which is odd bc its a duck i can usually expect to be harvested all year long.

     To me we didnt get many new birds that weren't already here migrating on photoperiod. Saw the same flock of 60 ringers by my house mid October through the whole season and they disappeared last week. Plenty of big ducks were here prior to the opener. With pressure and not so many new ducks it gets difficult. Only takes them a week to figure it out it seems.
  • Big MakBig Mak Posts: 4,242 Captain
    edited February 2020 #24
    I guess I'm one of the spoiled ones.....  because the last several seasons have been about as bad as it can be. 

    There are not nearly as many ducks around from Okeechobee south. The habitat is completely decimated from aquatic spraying or severely overgrown cattail/willow/woody plant monocultures. What little habitat that is left gets pummeled into oblivion by a ever DEcreasing hunting population. These are the facts.... I'm not talking about this from a 5.9/day bird perspective either. I'm talking big picture. To argue against this is sheer silliness.

    Sure you can run around 5 different areas in two days and find one hole to shoot a few ducks on days 3 and 4 and repeat it every week, then say things are just fine in February, but that's not the way it ever was in my last 50 years of duck hunting. The glades arguably look better than ever in many places but when you can run 100 plus miles in a morning and only kick up 20 ringers, and do it a few more times, something is woefully wrong. To me, this isn't about the isolated hot spot giving up a few limits to a few guys. There should be clouds of ducks scattered around all over, and they shouldn't be getting shot out or run out after only a morning hunt or two of shooting/scouting.

  • micci_manmicci_man Somewhere in FLPosts: 14,833 AG
    I've been watching these birds (mentioned above) from a bluff on shore about 100' higher elevation than the lake surface.

    I agree about the riding/scouting and getting them up. Not good.
    Common Sense can't be bought, taught or gifted, yet it is one of the few things in life that is free, and most refuse to even attempt to possess it. - Miguel Cervantes
  • osprey11osprey11 Posts: 1,315 Officer
    Hell at Guana 10 hp max  FWC routinely runs their airboat the entire lake the day before the hunt.    Excuse is bird count.   Crazy!!

  • TGunnTGunn Posts: 1,921 Captain
    TGunn, I completely agree.... To each their own, but my scouting starts Thursday before opening weekend, same routine every single year. Two days is plenty of time for me to scout my areas, 
    No offense but your scouting routine is part of the problem.  By yourself, it's not a big deal, but coupled with everyone else doing it, it is.

    My scouting is essentially OVER on the Sunday 13 days prior to season.  After that, all I'm doing is manicuring holes with a hedge trimmer or machete, opening up holes in the grass for my jerk strings, and getting my gear ready.

    Wherever you find a decent concentration of birds two weeks before the season, is where they will be when the season starts.  If there are 50 two weeks before, there might be 250 on the day of, maybe more maybe less, but who cares?  That's where they will all be.  They won't change locations until the season starts, unless everyone runs them off on the Thursday and Friday prior to the opener---which is exactly what you're doing.

    This past year I brought a buddy out on Lake O on the weekend of Nov 9.  We just sat in an open bay.  He saw thousands of birds; his mouth was agape.  He'd never seen anything like it.  

    They next weekend there were maybe 35% of the same number, and the weekend of opening day I'd say there were 10%, maybe, after they'd been run over for two weeks.  The Thursday-Friday pre-opener scouters are really the final nail in the coffin.

    Not jumping on you; it's just a reality.  
  • OGBOHICAOGBOHICA floridaPosts: 514 Officer
    I agree running them up will make them cut out, but the glades are abig area and nobody this yr reported atleast any huge numbers not this or many yrs past. The glades lox U name it have changed drastically. Ya some guys hammered em good in one area of 3 this yr good on them but thats merely a nat on an elephants ****.
  • duckmanJRduckmanJR Posts: 21,246 AG
    ANUMBER1 said:

    not much nowadays though bluebills and redheads showed up en mass this week.. as usual.
    And guess what.... there are still huindreds...and on some lakes THOUSANDS of divers in southern Michigan.
    My buddy Jeff just sculled up 6 Honkers who were sitting on some shelf ice at the mouth of the Muskeegon....but the lake was open and held a bunch of birds. Unless those lakes freeze up....there is no reason for those birds to move. 
    There are many roads to travel
    Many things to do.
    Knots to be unraveled
    'fore the darkness falls on you
  • duckmanJRduckmanJR Posts: 21,246 AG
    drgibby said:
    Certainly not enough for me to buy a duck stamp for! 

    The stamp money is used for the conservation of breeding property up in the prarie pothole region where those ducks you shot are raised....maybe you should buy one of those stamps anyway. 
    There are many roads to travel
    Many things to do.
    Knots to be unraveled
    'fore the darkness falls on you
  • duckmanJRduckmanJR Posts: 21,246 AG
    After nearly 3 decades of " Liberal" seasons ( 6o day 6 bird ) seasons we need a few " Restrictive " ( 30 day 3 bird ) seasons.  People who hunted back in the early 90's remember how well that thinned the herd....and I can't even tell you how many times I heard " It just ain't worth goin' "  

    The rise of the "mud rig" allowed people to "scout" by driving around and knocking birds off to all those retention ponds mentioned in another post.  Go up in an airliner and look at what is below you...Florida is nothing but water.
    And while some bemoan the habitat...birds will load up in lesser habitat that has RESTRICTED ACCESS.
    Now me being a well known restrictionist....that it comes as no surprise that I support that.
    It was in years gone by that you could get restricted access just by being willing to work harder than the next guy.....Hard walks....long paddles...pushpoling great distance..... But that is far less the case now.

    Now you can still do well...but not with old tactics..... 
    There are many roads to travel
    Many things to do.
    Knots to be unraveled
    'fore the darkness falls on you
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