Hunters get duck ‘days,’ lower bag

By Tim
Spielman

Associate Editor

St. Paul – Duck hunters in Minnesota will face tighter
restrictions than waterfowlers in other Mississippi Flyway states
when the season opens Oct. 1.

Minnesota DNR officials this week announced a season with a bag
limit lighter than the federal frameworks would allow – four
instead of six ducks, including just one hen mallard. The drake
mallard limit remains four birds. The season length, however, will
include the entire 60 days allowed under the federal liberal
framework.

The season will begin Oct. 1 and run through Nov. 29, the DNR
said.

Other changes include:

€ A 60-day season, one-bird limit for pintails;

€ A 60-day season, two-bird limit for scaup;

€ A 70-day goose season in the “remainder of the state, metro
and southeast;

€ A 40-day goose season in the West-Central Zone.

The restrictive duck season likely will turn the most heads in
waterfowl hunting circles. So why the more restrictive season?

“It’s probably not for biological, but more for social reasons,”
said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist in Bemidji. “Our
hunters have reported that the regulations have been too
liberal.”

The DNR had gathered public comment on how the duck season
should proceed at earlier meetings, as well as via letters and
emails. A group known as the Concerned Duck Hunters Panel, which
consists of waterfowl experts like Art Hawkins, Harvey Nelson (both
former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists), and a host of
other notables, advocated for more restrictive hunting regulations.
More recently, a task force that studies how the USFWS sets duck
hunting frameworks recommended creation of two regulatory
alternatives (instead of the current three), with the “standard”
being about 50 days with a five-duck limit, and the “conservative”
alternative being about 34 days and four ducks.

Hunter feedback indicated to state officials that Minnesota
waterfowlers, if asked to sacrifice, would prefer a lower bag
limit, but the full complement of days.

“It (a shorter season and full bag limit) would be hard to
sell,” Cordts said. “Hunters can better understand a longer season
and fewer birds (in the bag).”

In Minnesota, with the exception of the past few mild falls,
season length sometimes is a moot point if early cold freezes up
water bodies.

However, no Mississippi Flyway state other than Minnesota
supported more restrictive regulations after the USFWS’s liberal
package was announced. In the past, some states have taken a more
conservative approach, said Steve Wilds, USFWS chief of the Region
3 migratory bird office. Last year, the states of Arkansas,
Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee had a limit of just one hen mallard;
all other flyway states allowed a daily limit of two.

Cordts said despite what some hunters – and biologists –
contend, the liberal package was biologically viable based on the
USFWS’s Adaptive Harvest Management strategy for setting season
regs. The mallard breeding count this spring was the lowest it had
been since 1993, when the duck hunting season was a mere 30 days
with a three-bird daily limit, six in possession.

Overall, duck breeding counts were down about 1 percent from
last year. The mallard count was down about 9 percent. But the duck
total, combined with very good pond counts which could mean an
increase in production and survival, made a liberal season an
acceptable option, federal officials said.

“Whatever we do, the message is not so much a biological one –
that liberal seasons aren’t justified this year, at least for
midcontinent mallards,” Cordts said. He added that there are
several species-specific concerns for bluebills, canvasbacks, and
pintails.

The spring survey showed an 11-percent decline in the bluebill
population(scaup); long-term, the scaup population is down 35
percent. Because of the further decline, the daily bag in the
flyway has been reduced to two scaup. The past several years the
limit has been three. The goal is to decrease scaup harvest by 25
percent, Wilds said.

Canvasback numbers fell about 16 percent this spring and remain
8 percent below the long-term average. A 30-day “season within the
season” will run Oct. 8-Nov. 6.

Pintails made a good showing in the spring surveys, with numbers
increasing 17 percent over last year. The species remains 38
percent below the long-term average, but the spring counts were
enough to allow a full season with a one-bird daily limit. The past
three seasons have included a 30-day season within the season for
pins.

In a daily bag, there’s also limitations on black ducks (1),
wood ducks (2), and redheads (2).

Wilds said there is some interest in determining how adjusting
season length could affect species of special concern.

“The Mississippi Flyway wants to look at whether the long season
is having an adverse impact on species other than mallards,” he
said. “If we dropped back to 50 days, would there be fewer times
when we’d have to have the season within the season?”

While data exists on species like scaup, pintails, and
canvasbacks, it would be a challenge to analyze the effects on
species like wood ducks, he said.

Other points of interest:

€ The Northwest and West zones’ goose season will run 40 days,
Oct. 1-Nov. 9, with a one-goose daily bag limit;

€ The West-Central Goose Zone will include a 40-day season, with
a one-bird daily bag. The season will run Oct. 20-Nov. 28;

€ The goose hunt in the remainder of the state, including the
Metro and Southeast zones, will feature a 70-day season, Oct.
1-Dec. 9, with a two-bird daily bag;

€ The Oct. 1 duck opener will get under way at 9 a.m.;

€ Restrictions on all motorized decoys and devices are in effect
opening day through Oct. 8:

€ A prohibition on motorized decoys and devices is in effect all
duck season on state wildlife management areas;

€ Youth Waterfowl Day is slated for Sept. 17 for kids age 15 and
younger. See regs for specific hours and waterfowl limits.

Categories: Hunting News

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