Duck Season Doesn’t End with Closing Day | Post Season Wetland Management Waterfowl hunters, regardless if they prefer shooting mallards over dozens of duck decoys in the marsh or watching geese drop into the spread of Elite full body goose decoys, are an extremely passionate group of sportsmen that truly embrace the concept of habitat management and conservation. While the end of waterfowl season might mean that it is finally time to put the duck decoys away, hang up the waders, and clean the Berreta, it doesn’t mean that it is time to forget about waterfowl all together. On the contrary, when it comes to wetland management your work is only halfway over. If you are lucky enough to own your own piece of waterfowl paradise then there is a lot you can do to ensure that there is plenty of forage and habitat available for ducks and geese as they make their way northward this spring. Doing this ensures there are plenty of birds to chase this fall. This article will cover the importance of wetland and waterfowl habitat management for the spring migration and what you can do as a waterfowl hunter to improve and better manage your waterfowl hunting areas for ducks and geese this spring. Why is wetland management for fall migration important? Regardless of the species, all wildlife have a wide range of habitat and nutritional needs that can change throughout the course of the year. Waterfowl are certainly no exception. During the fall migration, ducks and geese are really only concerned about a couple of things, the first being food and the second being pair bonding. While this list is not intended to be all inclusive and there are certainly other factors that ducks and geese will consider during this time, finding reliable food sources are critical to all migrating waterfowl during the fall and winter, while pairing up with a mate is certainly second on the list. A duck or goose’s nutritional need will vary somewhat during the fall migration. The migration itself will require a large amount of energy, while at the same time, when the weather turns brutally cold, waterfowl will utilize a high amount of energy to maintain their body condition as well as maintaining their roost area. Keeping an open hole of water requires more energy than one might think, and when the cost of maintaining the roost becomes more than the ducks or geese can afford, they will move on. During the fall and winter months, foods that are high in protein and carbohydrates are very important to waterfowl and waterfowl hunters. This is why hunting over moist soil marshes or cereal grains such as flooded corn fields or soybeans can be so effective, especially when the temperatures really begin to drop. Cereal grains provide an excellent source of carbohydrates and nutrients for ducks and geese and can provide waterfowl hunters an excellent opportunity to put some ducks or geese down in the Hard Core decoys, while moist soil species such as smart weeds and millets provide an excellent source of nutrition for waterfowl and can prepare them equally as well for what lays ahead. Waterfowl needs for spring time migration The biggest mistake that waterfowl hunters can make in terms of wetland management is to begin to drain or “pull the boards” on their wetland impoundments shortly after the close of waterfowl season. In many cases, waterfowl hunters will have the best of intentions in terms of dewatering their wetlands however, may not realize that they are removing a critical piece of stop over habitat that can equal more ducks the following duck season. Typically, the number one reason that waterfowl hunters will drain their wetlands early is in attempt to dry the area out in order to ensure that they can access the pool in an attempt to work the ground the following spring to prepare the area for planting of cereal grains. While it has already been mentioned that having cereal grains within your wetland pool can be incredibly important, equally significant is the ability to provide the habitats required by waterfowl on their trip back northward. Much like during the fall migration, spring migrating waterfowl will seek out areas where they can find critical food sources such as moist soil plants (smart weeds and millets), as well as food sources such as snails and other invertebrates. If you have every made the observation of waterfowl utilizing areas in the spring that they never seem to utilize in the fall, chances are you are observing this difference in habitat selection from spring verses fall. While the food sources from fall verse spring are fairly similar, the major difference between fall and spring is the selection that is made by the waterfowl. A waterfowl’s selection of its food source during the spring migration is based upon a couple of major factors. The first reason being the migration itself, much like the fall, waterfowl will be expending a large amount of energy to make their way from the wintering grounds to the breeding grounds. As a result they will be in need of high energy foods, such as millets and smartweeds. The second concern of waterfowl during the spring migration is breeding condition. Ensuring that ducks and geese are well fed, and in top shape once they reach the breeding grounds will ensure that they are in the best possible position to have the largest clutch of eggs possible. As a waterfowl hunter, this factor alone is incredibly important and is the single most important reason for holding the water in your wetland habitats and doing all you can to provide the habitat required by waterfowl through the mid-spring months. Wetland management tips and techniques Regardless if you are a “fall only” wetland manager or if you are interested in creating habitat for waterfowl for the spring migration, wetland habitat management really consists of the same management techniques regardless of your objectives. A “year” in terms of wetland management really begins in mid-spring, depending on where you are in the country. For example, those in the Midwest this would typically be between April and May. Those in the gulf coast areas; this would be a little earlier. The primary means of managing wetland habitats regardless of your objectives will involve water level management or the manipulation of water levels to one degree or another as well as successional management practices such as disking, herbicide applications, prescribed burning or mowing. While the decisions that you make as a wetland manager are based solely on your objectives, and are therefore never wrong, wetland managers who tend to “pull the boards” earlier will miss out on an excellent opportunity to diversify their wetlands in terms of habitats and will fall short on providing habitat for spring migrants. Natural wetlands tend to rise in terms of water level during the spring months, making new habitats available for wildlife such as moist soil plants and invertebrates. As the water slowly disappears during the late spring and early summer months, it stimulates the germination of a wide array of plant species. Fall rains would then fill the wetland up in preparation for the fall migration of waterfowl. As wetland managers, it is important to mimic this natural process as best you can. One of the easiest and most effective ways to better manage the communities in your wetland while providing spring habitat for waterfowl can be water level management and manipulation. Typically, a wetland pool will be at its fullest capacity to correspond with the peak of fall migration. So, consequently, holding that water at that level all winter and into the spring months will provide migrating waterfowl plenty of food come spring. For those in the mid-west, beginning in mid-April, begin dropping the water level by no more than 1 inch per day. This will mimic the natural process and assist in stimulating the regrowth of beneficial wetland plants will beginning to expose crustaceans and mudflats that are of benefit to many migrating waterfowl during the spring. Again, this timing will vary depending upon where you are in the Country; however the process is the same no matter where you are. Providing spring time habitat for migrating waterfowl only requires a little bit of planning and forethought topped with a little bit of hard work in order to provide an buffet of high energy and high protein foods that will ensure that the ducks and geese that utilize the area will be in the best possible condition as they make their journey northward. There is nothing more beautiful and exciting than watching ducks and geese working a spread of duck decoys in a flood corn field or moist soil marsh, or watching a group of geese lock right up on a spread of Hard Core Decoys in a grain field in the snow. If this gets your blood pumping, and you have the ability to provide some spring time habitat for waterfowl on your pieces of wetland utopia then do what you can to ensure that ducks and geese that make their way over your personal fly way this spring have everything that they need to make their way on northward. The future of waterfowl and waterfowl hunting is in the hands of everyone who throws on their Realtree Max-5 and hits the water in search of wings on the air. Thanks to wetland managers across the country who have taken the time to provide both fall and springtime habitat, through their hard work and efforts waterfowl hunters have enjoyed the fruits of their labor for many years now and with any luck will continue to do so for many seasons to come!