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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Water conditions improving in Western Kentucky for start of waterfowl season

Unseasonably dry conditions in the western third of Kentucky during the late summer and early fall caused many small river bottom wetlands and sloughs to dry up, but recent rains and snow melt in the Ohio River basin have greatly improved water conditions.

The National Weather Service at Paducah reported 1.25 inches of rain since November 5.

Shallow water habitat for ducks at Ballard WMA (Photo by Rodney Crice, Flickr Commons)

At 8,014-acre Ballard Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Kentucky’s signature waterfowl destination, water levels are getting back to normal with the rise in the Ohio River.

On October 31, John Brunjes, Migratory Bird Program Coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) said that the intake for the pumping system at Ballard WMA was five feet above the river level.

But with a rise in the river level, normal operations have resumed. The main source of water on Ballard WMA is a pump that pulls about 25,000 gallons per minute from the Ohio River. “We’re in the process of getting (that) pump turned back on today,” said Wes McFaddin, area manager at Ballard WMA, on November 15.

Water has been pumped in to Ballard WMA in recent weeks to combat drought conditions (Photo by Rodney Crice, Flickr Commons)

To combat the drought conditions in recent weeks McFaddin said water was pumped from wells and lakes on the management area onto some fields to ensure that there was shallow water habitat available to ducks. More than 60 percent of the WMA is considered a wetland habitat.

The low water or no water problem is not just in the lower Ohio River and Mississippi River in Kentucky. “All up and down the Mississippi River cypress swamps are dry, it’s not just here,” explained Brunjes.

To keep up with the latest news about water conditions at Ballard WMA, visit their Facebook page.

Brunjes said this season some of the most productive hunting is likely to be on rivers since many of the river bottoms are dry.

Drought Conditions in Western Kentucky

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

According to a graphic compiled by the National Drought Mitigation Center parts of seven counties in the Jackson Purchase Region of Kentucky are classified as being in a severe drought, with the river bottoms along the lower Ohio and Mississippi classified as in an extreme or exceptional drought.

View the Kentucky drought map www.drought.gov

2022-2023 Waterfowl Season in Kentucky

Here are the upcoming dates for waterfowl hunting season in Kentucky:

• Ducks, November 24-27 and December 7 through January 31.

The daily bag limit is six, of any species singly or combined, except the limit may include no more than four mallards (only 2 of which may be hens), three wood ducks, two redheads, one pintail, two black ducks, two canvasbacks, one scaup, November 24 through 27, and December 7 through 17, and two scaups, December 18 through January 31.

• Geese, Canada, Cackling, White-Fronted Goose, Brant, and Snow, Nov. 24 through February 15. The daily bag limit is five combined, including three Canada geese, two White-fronted geese, and one Brant.

• Special seasons include Youth-only Waterfowl, November 19 through February 11, and Military/Veteran-only Waterfowl, November 20 through February 12. The daily bag limit is the same as regular seasons, with the exception of a daily Scaup bag limit of two birds daily.

For the complete waterfowl regulations, visit fw.ky.gov/Waterfowl-Hunting.

Avian Influenza

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), commonly
known as bird flu, can be carried by migrating waterfowl, and has been found in Kentucky.

A Mallard drake in flight (Photo by John Brunjes, KDFWR)

Waterfowl hunters should take some basic precautions to help prevent the spread of HPAI. It can sicken or kill other birds, including chickens.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers the risk of human infection as low. but if you experience flu-like symptoms after handling birds, let your healthcare provider know.

KDFWR recommends some simple steps to help stop the spread of this disease:

• Field dress birds outside or in a well-ventilated area. Infected birds spread the virus through saliva, mucous and

Wear gloves when processing birds and avoid handling entrails. Don’t feed carcasses to your dog or let your dog handle a bird beyond carrying it back to you. Breasting out your birds is the safest way to prepare your ducks and geese. Remember that if you transport waterfowl, each bird must retain a wing or head for identification purposes.

• You can transmit the disease by handling carcasses. Do not eat, drink or smoke while cleaning game. Wash hands with soap and warm water after handling wild birds. Disinfect any surfaces (knives, equipment and tables) that contact with dead birds. Use dedicated tools for cleaning the game.

A Scaup duck (Photo form Flickr Commons)

• Thoroughly cook all game to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Properly cooked game is safe to eat.

• Report diseased birds at fw.ky.gov/AvianInfluenza.

• You can pass the disease onto your chickens and domestic birds, so don’t wear your hunting clothes and boots around your domestic birds. If you suspect avian influenza in your domestic or farm birds, call the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Sick Bird Hotline at 866-536-7593.

• Dispose of carcasses properly. Double bag carcasses for pickup in your garbage or bury them deep enough that animals will not dig them up. Do not handle carcasses of birds found already dead. Avoid harvesting game birds that appear sick. Diseased birds may appear unsteady or act strangely. Report clusters of dead or sick birds through the KDFWR reporting system. Go to fw.ky.gov, then search under the keywords, “avian influenza.”

Hunting waterfowl is exciting, but this season may be challenging in many ways.

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