Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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DNR early duck hunt plan draws criticism

Field Editor

St. Paul Avid waterfowl hunter John Schroers is not looking
forward to the proposed Sept. 21 opener for the ’02 Minnesota duck
season.

“I don’t want to hunt brown ducks in a T-shirt,” he says.

In response to extensions in the federal season framework, which
allows northern states to open earlier and southern states to stay
open later, the Minnesota DNR is proposing opening the duck season
one week prior to the usual Saturday. The agency is actively
seeking public comment on the proposal.

Last Friday the DNR announced a proposal to open the waterfowl
season at noon on Sept. 21 and hold the one-day, youth-only hunt on
Sept. 14. Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t
announced the season length and bag limit, based on a population
modeling technique called Adaptive Harvest, DNR Wildlife Director
Tim Bremicker says a liberal, 60-day season with a six-duck bag
limit is likely.

The proposed season would be Minnesota’s most liberal duck hunt
in decades and conservationists say it represents a significant
shift in management philosophy for the DNR. Minnesota has long been
a staunch opponent of earlier duck seasons, due to concerns about
possible harm to the state’s breeding ducks. Minnesota’s noon
opening time and the 4 p.m. daily closure are restrictions intended
to protect “local” birds.

Bremicker says those restrictions will remain in place for the
early season. He doesn’t believe the earlier opener will harm the
resource. Waterfowl managers will evaluate the effects of the
extended season through increased bag checks of Minnesota hunters
and USFWS band returns and wing collections. Nevertheless,
Bremicker opposed the extended seasons at the flyway meetings where
state and federal wildlife managers set waterfowl seasons.

“I did everything I could do to point out my concerns that
extended seasons increase the risk of more short seasons and small
bag limits over the long haul,” Bremicker said. “I led the charge
until it became clear that was not what the rest of the country
wanted.”

Bremicker still had the option to open the hunt on the
traditional date, the Saturday nearest Oct. 1 to Sept. 28 this
year.

Looking at the whole context for Minnesota, he didn’t see how
the early hunt would harm the resource, which led to the Sept. 21
proposal.

“I don’t think Minnesota hunters should have to sit this one
out,” Bremicker says. “Minnesota duck populations are in good shape
right now.”

He believes the extra September days will be welcomed by
northern Minnesota hunters, who often have their hunt cut short by
freeze-up long before the season ends. Good shooting for early
migrants such as blue-winged teal and wood ducks is likely. And the
Sept. 14 youth duck hunt will coincide with the general small game
opener.

Among duck hunters and waterfowl experts, not everyone agrees
with Bremicker’s positive spin.

“I think it’s terrible,” says retired biologist Art Hawkins of
Hugo, a patriarch of waterfowl management. “We’re putting the
heaviest possible pressure on Minnesota-raised birds. With the
exception of teal, hunters will be shooting locally raised
birds.”

Hawkins says that late-hatched ducks will be scarcely able to
fly, that ducks in the bag may spoil in hot weather, and that drab,
summer plumage will make it difficult for hunters to identify
birds. His concerns are echoed by others.

“For years the DNR has fought for protection of breeding duck
populations,” says Mike McGinty, executive director of the
Minnesota Waterfowl Association (MWA). “This proposal flies in the
face of what the agency has stood for.”

McGinty says the MWA state board of delegates will consider the
proposal at its meeting on Saturday. Speaking as an individual, he
says he is concerned there are indications wood ducks may already
be in decline, a situation that won’t be improved by September
hunting pressure. He is also troubled that the USFWS may recommend
a 60-day season and six-bird limit in a year when poor duck
production is anticipated across the drought-stricken Canadian
prairies.

“We’re in a ridiculous situation,” says Dave Zentner of the
Izaak Walton League. “The flyway debates about extensions are due
to Sen. Trent Lott’s attempt to lengthen the season in the South.
This is 99 percent politics and

1 percent biology.”

Ironically, Minnesota Sen. Mark Dayton led the successful effort
to squelch Lott’s legislative ploy to extend the southern duck
season last year. Opponents to the extension, including the
Minnesota DNR, argued that a longer duck season could have negative
effects on duck populations.

Duck hunter Schroers sees the DNR’s Sept. 21 opener proposal as
hypocritical and politically motivated.

“It’s too bad waterfowling has so damn much politics,” he says.
The DNR is accepting comments on the proposal at: Minnesota DNR
Division of Wildlife, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul, MN 55155-4007;
www.dnr.state.mn.us; or info@dnr.state.mn.us.

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