Duck-o-meter better explained in print than on TV

For the past several weeks, I’ve been giving a weekly duck hunting report on KATV. KATV Sports Director Steve Sullivan shows up at my office every Wednesday with a camera, and I rattle off an impromptu duck hunting forecast, including a numeric score on a scale of one to seven, for the recurring feature called the Duck-o-meter.

I initially embraced the idea of providing a weekly hunting forecast for the state’s hunters. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m afflicted with the incurable disease that is duck hunting. I have all the typical symptoms – sleep deprivation, poor domestic relationships, an unnatural fixation with weather patterns, and so nauseatingly on.

But giving the weekly duck forecast hasn’t been all I thought it would be. Regardless of the score I assign each week, my phone invariably rings or a text message alert buzzes within seconds of the conclusion of the segment’s broadcast.

If I give the forecast a high number, someone calls or texts that I’m doing irreparable harm to the weekend’s hunting by encouraging hunters to pour into the fields and woods, thereby increasing hunting pressure and diminishing the hunting experience for my friends.

Lower numbers on the Duck-o-meter bring different calls and messages. They’re often accompanied by pictures of friends posing with big piles of mallards. The captions typically are some version of how successful these so-called friends have been on recent hunting trips.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been called many names, most of which aren’t suitable for publication.

But please allow me to elaborate on duck hunting conditions in this forum, which affords greater opportunity to go into detail than a 30- to 40-second sound bite.

This duck season began with great optimism on the part of Arkansas hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual report on the status of breeding ducks revealed the highest duck population since the breeding duck survey began in the 1950s. But hunting success in Arkansas hasn’t materialized in the wake of the big numbers from the prairie breeding grounds of the northern U.S. and Canada.

And it’s mostly the result of the weather. Now, duck hunters are known to complain. It’s too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry.

This year, it’s too wet. There’s water everywhere, and that means ducks can escape hunting pressure with relative ease. With so much available habitat, the birds have a lot of places to go. A symptom can be found in the hunting reports I’ve been hearing for several weeks, many of which are some variation of “here today, gone tomorrow.”

Another issue is the source of our weather systems. Even though we’ve had some cold air in Arkansas this season, we haven’t had many periods of prolonged cold weather, and it really just hasn’t been very cold. One reason is that most of our cold fronts have been Pacific in nature, rolling in from the West Coast. We haven’t had a plunging Arctic air mass dip into the mid-latitude states to our north, forcing ducks southward on strong north winds.

Naturally, you’d think the coldest days of the season are still ahead of us. So maybe we’ll yet feel the chill of an Alberta Clipper and read reports of blizzards striking the northern plains. And then, if we’re lucky, we’ll have the great days we’ve all anticipated since learning of this year’s record duck population.

Maybe, too, I’ll have a chance to give a duck report without expecting phone calls and text messages from my hunting buddies.