Four ducks, or six?

Minnesota DNR weighing upcoming duck-hunting
season bag limit options

By Tim
Spielman
Associate Editor

St. Paul – Last year, while hunters up and down the Mississippi
Flyway were allowed a daily bag of six ducks, hunters in Minnesota
– mostly because of concerns raised by fellow hunters – saw their
daily bag limit drop to four.

DNR officials say the reduced bag was largely supported by state
hunters.

This year, following a federal duck season framework proposal
that’s again ‘liberal’ (in which a six-duck bag is allowed),
waterfowl officials from the state still were in discussions
earlier this week about whether or not the four-bird bag would
remain for 2006, or if hunters would see a return to a six-bird
limit, like the other 13 states in the Mississippi Flyway. They’re
also determining if there will be a daily bag of one hen mallard;
under the liberal framework, two may be taken, but last year state
officials opted for a single-bird limit.

A season framework announcement was expected later this week,
following the federal announcement late last week.

‘We haven’t been able to get all the right people together to
make some final decisions on what the Minnesota package will look
like, said Dave Schad, director of the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife
Division.

The daily bag and the hen mallard limit were the remaining
points of discussion.

‘It’s the whole idea of offering less to Minnesota hunters than
other states offer to their hunters,’ Schad said Tuesday. ‘We don’t
take this regulation lightly.’

Schad said the bag limit is, at this point, a social
consideration.

‘This is more of a social issue than biological,’ he said.
‘Reducing the (hen) mallard limit probably has more of an effect
than reducing the bag limit.’

Steve Cordts, waterfowl biologist in Bemidji, said it’s been
shown that reducing the duck bag limit from six to four only
reduces harvest by about 5 percent, because most people, even when
the limit is six birds, don’t even attain a four-bird bag.

Cordts said in a winter survey waterfowlers were asked
specifically about the reduced bag limit last fall, as well as the
one-hen (mallard) limit.

In both cases, he said, 70 percent of survey respondents said
the bag was ‘about right.’ About 15 percent each said the limits
were either too low, or two high.

But last year, the formula the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
uses to determine the length and bag limits for the duck season
indicated the season could be liberal, but was on the verge of
moderate. That, along with voiced concerns from Minnesota hunters,
was enough for the state to adopt a four-bird limit.

But good continental duck breeding numbers, high pond counts,
and successful duck production made the liberal framework nearly a
sure thing – it wasn’t borderline ‘moderate’ like last year. Cordts
said that’s caused DNR officials to consider the wisdom of limiting
state hunters, especially when other states in the flyway are
not.

The state could choose a six-duck limit, but still reduce the
hen mallard harvest to one. Cordts believes that would have a more
significant effect on the overall duck population.

Not only are fewer hen mallards shot, he said, but ‘you have to
be cautious with everything else (different species of ducks,
including hens).’

An even bigger factor might be influencing duck harvest in
Minnesota, and that’s the overall decline in hunter numbers. While
state duck stamp sales peaked just a few years ago at about
128,000. Last year, about 102,000 were sold.

‘The big thing is hunter numbers,’ Cordts said. ‘That’s what
drives your harvest.’

Cordts said DNR surveys have included newly recruited waterfowl
hunters, Minnesota residents who purchased North Dakota
waterfowling licenses, and hunters who were surveyed several years
ago (to determine changes in attitude). Not surveyed were
waterfowlers who dropped the sport.

But Cordts believes that, too, would be useful information.

‘Why they dropped out of hunting is a very good question,’ he
said. He wonders if it was a reflection of lost opportunity
(bag-limit reduction), or if it was because of poor hunting in the
past and hearing about ’empty skies’ last year.

The feds’ 60-day liberal duck season framework allows states –
in most cases – to offer a six-bird bag limit. The federal proposal
limits the bag to only two hen mallards, one pintail, one
canvasback (canvasbacks may be hunted all season), one black duck,
and two wood ducks.

Also, the scaup limit will remain at two, despite federal
biologists’ push for a drop to a one-scaup limit. State flyway
representatives argued successfully in favor of a two-scaup limit
until further research shows that a decreased bag would have a
positive effect on a scaup population that’s fallen annually for
several years. This year’s breeding count of 3.2 million was an
all-time low.

Five states in the Central Flyway, including North Dakota and
South Dakota, will experiment this year with a five-bird bag and
‘hunter’s choice,’ a system under which the bag will be allowed to
include one of the following – a hen mallard, pintail, canvasback,
or mottled duck. Five other Central Flyway states will serve as
‘controls’ and will maintain a six-bird limit and restrictions on
the aforementioned species, as well as other bag restrictions.

The experimental season is set to expire in three years. Hunters
in the Central Flyway are granted a 74-day season under the liberal
framework. For more information on the Hunter’s Choice season, see
Page 13 of this issue.

Categories: Hunting News

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