Associate Editor and Correspondent
Madison For several years, Wisconsin has had the option of
having a split duck opener to satisfy the desires of hunters in the
south and the north, but until now, there’s been no need to
exercise that option.
This year, though, it’s quite likely hunters in the north will
get their first crack at ducks a week earlier than their
counterparts in the south. For northern waterfowlers, that date
could be Sept. 21, a date proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS) earlier this year.
“The question was asked at the Conservation Congress hearings
this spring, and in general, the hunters in the north wanted the
earlier opener,” said Scott Walter, acting DNR migratory game bird
“In the south, it was more divided.”
Some southern Wisconsin hunters at the hearings favored a Sept.
28 opener with a split season. Others favored the same opener with
a straight season.
A number of meetings will be held in the next couple weeks
before the state Natural Resources Board convenes Aug. 14 in
Manitowoc to resolve the matter, Walter said.
But first, the Wisconsin DNR will meet with state conservation
groups such as the Conservation Congress, Wisconsin Waterfowl
Association, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wings Over Wisconsin,
and the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance Aug. 2-3 in Stevens
Point to review information from flyway meetings.
Those meetings will be followed by public meetings in Wisconsin,
slated for Aug. 5-8.
All public meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. at the following
locations: Aug. 5, Rhinelander, at the DNR Northern Region office;
Aug. 6, Green Bay at Green Bay City Hall; Aug. 7, Pewaukee at
Comfort Suites; and Aug. 8, La Crosse at the administrative
Earlier, criteria wildlife officials consider when determining
the duck season pointed to a possibly more restrictive hunt than in
recent past year. However, Walter said that recently “much more
talk is of a 60-day season.” That also could mean a six-bird limit,
including just four mallards, only one of which could be a hen. The
wood duck limit would be two daily. Whether or not there will be a
canvasback limit hasn’t been determined, Walter said. Last year,
the state was granted a 20-day season for canvasbacks within the
regular 60-day season.
“Nobody knows for sure if there will be a (canvasback) hunt,” he
Drought conditions in some duck breeding areas also made a more
restrictive season possible.
Until this year, a duck hunt beginning as early as Sept. 21
wouldn’t have been considered, but southern states lobbied for a
season that would tack days onto the back end of their season, this
year securing language that allows for a season close nearest Jan.
“Once southern states got the option to close late, there was
rumbling in the north,” Walter said. “(Northern states) wanted
equity in the harvest.”
Still, some officials fear an early opener in northern states
may not be in the best interest of ducks. The earlier opener offers
the possibility of a greater harvest of local ducks, they say.
Furthermore, dull plumage early in the year may make it difficult
to distinguish drake mallards from hen mallards.
While Wisconsin duck numbers were the highest in 29 years, the
FWS relies on mid-continental mallard counts as the basis for its
season framework and bag limits. According to the FWS, both
wetlands and ducks in the U.S. and Canada “duck factory” are
The total population of breeding ducks in parts of Canada and
the northern US fell to approximately 31.2 million birds. That’s a
decline of 14 percent from last year’s population of 36.1 million
birds, and is 6 percent below the long-term average since surveys
began in 1955. The breeding population estimate for mallards in the
traditional survey area, at 7.5 million birds, was largely
unchanged from last year and remained near the long-term
Meanwhile, surveys of mallards conducted in the Great Lakes
states (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) indicated the
population had increased from 780,000 in 2001 to 1 million this
year. The combined estimates of mallards from the traditional
survey area and from the Great Lakes states (8.5 million) are used
for setting duck hunting regulations through the Adaptive Harvest
Dry conditions were reflected in a 41 percent decline in the
number of ponds found during May surveys in southern Canada and the
north-central U.S. May pond numbers fell to 2.7 million, from 4.6
million ponds last year, 45 percent below the long-term average.
The 1.439 million May ponds found in southern Canada this year was
the lowest number since that survey began in 1961. May ponds in the
U.S. portion of the survey were down 32 percent this year compared
Youth duck hunt set
Walter said the youth waterfowl hunt already has been scheduled,
for both the southern and northern zones, for Sept. 14-15. For the
most part, Hwy. 10 separates the north from the south in
Walter expects the goose season, which still has to be
formalized, to look much like last year, although spring population
estimates of the Mississippi Valley Population (MVP) of Canada
geese increased 40 percent from 2001. About 80 percent of
Wisconsin’s goose harvest is comprised of MVP geese, according to
leg band recoveries, making their population key to Wisconsin’s
goose hunting seasons.
That 40 percent increase likely won’t lead to a comparable
increase in goose harvest quotas, according to Michelle Lehner, the
DNR’s assistant migratory game bird ecologist.
“While MVP goose population numbers were up 40 percent from
2001, there were also more nonbreeders present and the number of
nests declined by 13 percent,” Lehner said.
Since the FWS sets maximum allowable harvest for MVP geese based
not only on estimates of the spring population, but also on gosling
production, the DNR suspects the 2002 goose harvest quota will be
similar to last year.
One difference, Walter said, could come in the Horicon Zone.
Last year, hunters there were allowed to shoot at least one goose.
About half the hunters were allowed to shoot a second. This year,
he said, hunters likely will be able to shoot two geese each.
In 2001, the exterior zone Canada goose season, excluding the
Mississippi River and Rock Prairie Subzones, ran 70 days with a one
goose per day bag limit. The Horicon Zone last year had a daily bag
limit of one goose per day, with over 50 percent of hunters
receiving only one tag.
The early September hunt is scheduled to take place Sept. 3-15,
with harvest limits much the same as last year five geese daily, 10
in possession in Zone A, and three daily, six in possession in Zone
The regular season Canada goose quota has tentatively been set
at 44,000, up from the quota of 41,000 last year.
The regular goose season opener hasn’t been determined yet.
State officials have asked the FWS to allow a goose opener that
coincides with the duck opener in the northern and southern zones
of the state.