CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Conventional wisdom dictates that mild winters equal lousy late-season duck and goose hunting.
While that's a good rule of thumb, it isn't always right.
Last winter should have been disastrous. There was almost no snow, and temperatures stayed fairly moderate. The bitterly cold two- or three-week period that usually pushes waves of waterfowl south into West Virginia never happened.
It stands to reason, then, that hunters should have had a really difficult time finding ducks or geese.
"I was kind of surprised when we did our midwinter waterfowl survey," said Steve Wilson, waterfowl project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources. "Before we started counting, I figured we wouldn't see many birds at all. The numbers turned out to be down a little, but not a lot. We counted considerably more than I thought we would."
The survey took place in January. Wilson overflew all the areas of the state where waterfowl tend to congregate - along the Ohio, Kanawha, New and Shenandoah rivers and on Tygart and Bluestone lakes.
Waterfowl tend to congregate there in January because that's where most of the unfrozen water is.
Last year, nothing was frozen. Not only did birds not come down from the north, but birds that were already here stayed scattered around the small streams and ponds they normally inhabit.
"Still, we counted more than I thought we would," Wilson said. "I've seen mild years when we didn't count many birds at all, but last year the numbers were decent."