LSU’s Afton set to tackle spinning-wing decoy research study

Al Afton, respected scientist, avid waterfowler, and former
Minnesota DNR waterfowl biologist, owns a spinning-wing decoy, uses
it on occasion, and has had mixed results with it.

Like many other hunters, Afton says the battery-powered decoy,
which has the waterfowling community in a dither, isn’t a silver
bullet. “There’s a lot of things that go into a duck hunt weather
conditions, decoy placement, calling, stuff like that that
determines its fate,” he said. “I used them (decoys) two or three
times last year. During the early part of the season, teal were
killing themselves to get into the thing, and we couldn’t even
shoot because they were getting too close to it. But later in the
year, I pretty much turned it off because it wasn’t working.”

Afton, an adjunct professor at Louisiana State University, has
been hired by the DNR to study the effectiveness of the so-called
spinning-wing decoys beginning this fall.

The mechanical decoys, which have myriad brand names, have
spinning wings that simulate, as much as possible, the wing
movement of a landing duck. Studies have shown that their use
increases duck harvest, though to varying degrees and at different
times during the season.

Afton says that while other state wildlife agencies have
conducted spinning-wing decoy studies namely Missouri and
California his will be the most comprehensive of its kind and will
likely give DNR officials a “clearer picture” on the effectiveness
the new waterfowling technology.

Three states Pennsylvania, Missouri and Washington already have
banned the decoys, citing ethical and biological concerns. In
addition, California has limited their use to the second half of
the waterfowling season.

While the issue is quickly transcending regional boundaries and
fast becoming a hot-button national debate, Minnesota DNR officials
are still grappling with it. Late last year, Tim Bremicker,
director of the DNR’s Division of Wildlife, said the agency would
ask the Legislature to consider a two-year moratorium on the use of
the mechanical decoy. Bremicker said decoy usage had increased
dramatically in the state, and that he wanted biologists to study
its effectiveness.

Nearly a month later, however, the DNR reversed course,
announcing that it would not seek the two-year ban. Strong hunter
opposition, little biological data to support the move, and few
political allies ultimately caused the change of heart.

Said Steve Morse, DNR deputy commissioner: There was enough
opposition that if we were going to move ahead, we need to have our
ducks lined up. We need research in hand. We just didn’t have a
solid enough argument.”

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