Head southeast for late-season ducks, geese


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LA JUNTA, Colo. — John Martin and Rocky Ford State Wildlife Areas in southeastern Colorado offer waterfowlers a chance at late-season goose and duck hunting, each with different shooting opportunities.

Rocky Ford SWA is river bottom hunting, while John Martin SWA offers reservoir shooting action.

Both SWAs can produce some good late-season waterfowl action if you're there at the right time.

Watch the weather projections and time your hunts with the passage of "nasty weather." Dress warm and score on late-season waterfowl hunting.

Rocky Ford SWA

Rocky Ford SWA consists of two different blocks of land, one consisting of 552 acres and another of 660 acres, connected by a 96-acre strip of land on the Arkansas River.

"We probably have a little over 3 miles of continuous property along the river," said Don Lewis, Property Technician for Rocky Ford SWA.

"Usually during the late season, it can be a good place to try your luck."

The cold weather that usually accompanies this time of the year can help load up birds in the SWA.

Reservoirs in the Rocky Ford area, such as Lake Meredith, freeze over, forcing ducks to seek open water that can be found on the Arkansas River in the SWA.

Of course, even without ice conditions the river bottom provides lots of small ponds and backwater areas for ducks to rest and roost.

"There is always a little water (in the river), some years a little bit more than others," said Lewis.

"We have 11 ponds on the wildlife area. Ducks like the smaller ponds."

"Historically, until the ponds freeze over, hunters usually have done real well on them."

"Good duck hunting areas have been in the La Junta and Las Animas areas. Hunters put out three or four-dozen decoys, hunker back into the weeds or tamaracks and wait for the ducks to come in."

"Occasionally we will pick some geese up coming down, landing in fields adjacent to Lake Meredith," said Lewis.

"Normally there has always been a lot of grain for the geese in the close proximity. The geese come and stay for a little rest and they're off again. They usually go further south to the big agriculture fields, wheat fields and corn stubble. There is some pass shooting that goes occurs on real ugly days," cold days with low clouds and wind, maybe some rain or snow mixed in.

"They (geese) are low enough to get some shots at. If it is a real nasty day, instead of going back to the reservoir, they will go ahead and pull into the river and rest there."

Dave Williams, who lives in the area, hunts the Ford SWA regularly. "We normally hunt fields, scattered around the area," he said.

"Most of the geese in this area stay on Lake Meredith. The fields that they feed in are from Pueblo to Lamar, along the river bottom."

Williams and six of his regular hunting buddies rely on massive decoy spreads, consisting of a mixture of shells and rags, to lure the birds into shooting range.

"We put out about 1,000 rags," said Williams.

"To get the numbers you need for snow geese you almost have to use rags or be a millionaire. Between the beginning of the season and now, there is not much of change in the way we place the decoys, it's pretty much a numbers deal. Wherever the first bird sits down, that is where they all go. They are tough to decoy."

"Weather is a big factor for snow geese also," Williams said.

"When it's a clear day, they fly so hard it's hard to decoy them. If you can get some wind or some clouds then the guys have a pretty good shot."

He and his buddies garb themselves in white and settle in among the white rags and wait for the birds.

John Martin Reservoir

John Martin Reservoir SWA can be very good duck hunting.

"It's a reservoir that was created by the damming of the Arkansas," said Steve Keefer, District Wildlife Manager.

"When we have a lot of water it is the largest lake — surface-acreage wise, 12,000 surface acres — in Colorado."

Like many reservoirs in Colorado, the water is drawn down for crop irrigation.

"Right now there is a large marsh at the west end of the lake that has several areas of open water that has been holding ducks off and on," said Keefer.

"Consistently there have been a few thousand ducks, sometimes closer to 10,000, sometimes to 1,000."

The Fort Lyon area has ponds that are ice-free pretty much all winter that often hold birds.

"The river, depending on the weather, will often hold birds," said Keefer.

"If it gets real cold you have a lot of ice floating through it, pushing them out. But ordinarily, the river has birds."

"The river actually tends to be better hunting late in the season. Those warm water sloughs and open areas created by the river really hold the ducks."

Keefer hunts early morning and evening hours over decoy spreads.

"Definitely try to go in early, using decoys, to bring them in. Decoys are real effective, especially in the marsh areas."

"A canoe or jon boat, something like that, is a much better way of getting in and out instead of trying to wade through. You have a marsh that is over a mile wide and it has a real soft bottom."

"That mud can be pretty nasty. There are a lot of little puddles, some of which you can walk in on pretty easy. Midday we do a lot of jump shooting around here on the ponds."

According to Keefer, the best goose hunting tends to be on private agricultural land, where the birds are feeding off the farm fields.

"They move around to what is available," he said.

"Another thing that does influence where the geese fly is that we have Queens, Neenoshe, Neegronda to the northeast of John Martin in Kiowa County that often hold a lot of geese."

"We get movement between those lakes and John Martin. Hunting depends more on where they are feeding more than anything else."

Material from Fishing & Hunting News
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