More Ducks in Canada Means More Ducks in Virginia

by Travis Stauch

  Every year serious Virginia duck hunters look to brood numbers and early hunting in Canada to find out what the season will hold as far as potential. If there are more ducks in Saskatchewan, it usually means more ducks in Virginia. 

   Fresh off his Canadian hunting season, W2’s Waterfowl Editor; Travis Stauch has returned with some good news, but we’ll leave that for him to explain in this look at Virginia duck numbers for 2023-24.

  “The severe drought of 2015 made me very concerned for the future of waterfowl hunting and how it would affect our harvests at home,” the thirty-something champion duck caller and duck guide told W2.

  Stauch explained Canada has been hit with over 10 extreme, multi-year droughts in the last century. Besides the obvious impacts on its agriculture, it caused a significant decline in waterfowl survival, producing only the toughest and smartest birds for migration. 

   This created a significant lack of water for the overwhelming number of potholes on the Canadian prairie. During a drought only the biggest bodies of water survive and hold birds. Duck behaviors and patterns started changing, making them much harder to target. 

  “These ducks are supposed to have yolk and eggshells still on their beaks, not diplomas and graduation gowns!” Stauch jokes.

   In simpler times, all you needed to do was locate the mass feed, noted Stauch, and this pretty much guaranteeing a beatdown the next morning. 

  “During the drought years, you had to consistently be on your A-game, patterning their morning flight from the roost to the loaf time in the field, and timing everything with precision. We had to adjust to the limited amount of birds we would find, learning to deal with the morning ducks and taking chances on the afternoon ones. Trafficking was a very popular method for freelancers and guides.”

   If you aren’t familiar with trafficking, it  basically means you’re aiming to direct birds into your field and decoy spread — birds that otherwise have a better place to go. You can do this with large, X-shaped spreads that draw the birds to the center.

  According to Stauch, in present day Saskatchewan, the northern and eastern regions are proving to be quite healthy and thriving with an abundance of water. And where there’s water, there’s life! 

  “Duck numbers seem to be higher than I’ve witnessed in the last five years on the prairie. It reminds me a lot of the 2012 season where we had some of the best numbers and success.” Stauch told W2. 

  “The growing number of May Ponds will provide more nesting grounds for most duck species. And the proof is in the pudding, with more water brings more ducks! I cannot wait to see how this year’s population will show itself down in our neck of the flyway in Virginia.”

   We asked the long time waterfowl guide when area hunters can expect the first migration of ducks to Virginia.

  “The big ducks show up at the end of October to early November for Virginia. We see bluebills, mallards, pintails, gadwalls and black ducks,” Stauch said. “A second migration happens in mid-December where the mass amount of bluebills show up as well as the canvasbacks.” 

   The most common migratory duck Staunch sees when hunting in Virginia are bluebills.

  “These are by far is Virginia’s most common migratory duck, but we also get a healthy amount of gadwalls. Sadly, our mallard numbers haven’t been the same since the 90’s, in my opinion.”

  So what factors combine to create a waterfowl migration? That’s the $24K question we all wanted Stauch to answer so we can check the weather and call in sick the next day.

  “The formula for migrating ducks is a full moon, northwest winds, snowfall on grain fields and frozen bodies of water,” according to Stauch.

  Just for kicks we thought it might be interesting to know what a professional hunter chooses to shoot with; the firearm, choke and round. Here’s what W2’s Watefowl Editor said:

  “I prefer an Otus arms SMX 12 gauge with a modified choke tube. Hevi hammers are easy on the wallet and pack a MONDO punch to ensure you didn’t come this far to miss!”

   Virginia early duck season is October 6-9. The next segments are November 15-26 and December 19 through January 31. Youth and Veterans Waterfowl Hunting Days are October 21 and February 3.

Contact Stauch at or call him at 703.209.9989 and book your trip this season on the tidal Potomac and surrounding areas he hunts.

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