SIKESTON -- When it comes to duck hunting, Arkansas' loss is Southeast Missouri's gain.
"In the last few years, those guys are really upset that the ducks are staying here instead of going on down," said Leven Cox of Sikeston, an avid waterfowl hunter and hunting club operator. "Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois are really beginning to be where the ducks are stopping. Year after year it seems like they're stopping here instead of continuing down to Arkansas."
While weather is a dominant factor in migration patterns, conservation efforts are apparently paying off.
"The extensive wetland restoration efforts that have taken place over the last 15 years have really benefited waterfowl," said Leother Branch, Scott County conservation agent. "There's over 25,000 acres of public wetlands and 100,000 acres of private wetlands in the state."
And benefits for waterfowl mean benefits for hunters.
"The habitat has really changed," Branch said. "Flooded crop fields and flooded timber, harvested corn fields and other dry crop fields, streams and drainage ditches -- all these areas play a really important role in the opportunity for duck hunting."
Branch said the number of ducks here this year is 15 to 16 percent higher than last year. "Overall there's a good number of ducks using our areas," he said.
The opportunities presented by having prime waterfowl hunting grounds right in their backyards have not been lost on local hunters.
"I've been going almost every day," said George Gilmore of Sikeston. "Living in Southeast Missouri, I can get up in the morning, go out hunting and get back in at 8 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and be at work."
Rain last week meant good hunting, Cox said, although that tapered off as the river dropped and the backwater receded.
"Now they're migrating in big mass -- yesterday we saw thousands and thousands," Gilmore said.
Cox said he recently heard from a hunter in the St. Louis area, however, who passed along bad news for their hunters but good news for this area's: "Their ducks have left," he said, explaining this means they are likely to show up here soon.
Additionally, the weather forecast looked favorable for the days following Christmas, according to Cox. "That's a good thing -- we're ready," he said.
On the Net: www.levencox.com