Duck season ’07: 60 days, 6 ducks

By Joe
Albert
Associate Editor

St. Paul – Once again, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will
offer liberal hunting regulations for waterfowl this fall – 60 days
and a six-duck bag. But unlike the past two seasons, when the daily
bag limit was four birds, those regulations will apply to hunters
in Minnesota, too. The season is Sept. 29 to Nov. 27.

The DNR announced Monday afternoon that hunters in the state
would be subject to a 60-day season, and be allowed to take up to
six ducks per day. Like last year, four mallards – one hen, to
protect local breeding mallards – can be included in the daily
bag.

And for the first time in more than 40 years, the canvasback bag
limit will be two per day, a USFWS move that surprised some duck
managers.

‘While continental duck populations look very good, this year’s
hunting success is by no means assured,’ Mark Holsten, DNR
commissioner, said. ‘Waterfowl hunting is always unpredictable. If
weather and migration patterns result in a good flight through the
state, a higher bag limit will allow more opportunity for Minnesota
hunters.’

In surveys this spring, duck numbers continentally were up 14
percent from last year, and Minnesota’s mallard numbers were up
from last year, as were numbers of mid-continent mallards. Total
duck numbers in the state were down from last year, though pond
conditions in the Dakotas and Canada were good.

States select their seasons from within the frameworks – the
outer limits of season length, bag limits, and season beginning and
ending dates, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the federal framework, states in the Mississippi Flyway,
which Minnesota is part of, can hold a 60-day season anytime
between Sept. 22, 2007, and Jan. 27, 2008. Under that framework,
the daily bag limit is six and may include no more than four
mallards (two hens), three mottled ducks, two scaup, two wood
ducks, two redheads, one black duck, one pintail, and two
canvasbacks. The framework allows five mergansers, though only two
may be hooded mergansers.

Minnesota officials expected the USFWS to offer a liberal season
framework, and say that a good-sized fall flight is likely.

‘Production actually should have been pretty good, especially
out of Canada,’ said Steve Cordts, the DNR’s waterfowl specialist.
‘It stayed fairly wet later into the summer, and that usually bodes
pretty well for good production.’

During the previous two duck seasons, the DNR opted to offer
four-bird limits, rather than the six allowed by the USFWS. This
year, spring mallard numbers were up from last year, and about the
same as they were in 2005.

Based on mid-continent mallard populations the previous two
years, a four-bird bag was ‘responsible’ in 2005 and 2006, Holsten
said. But mid-continent mallard numbers are up this year.

‘When you’ve got mid-continent numbers being (high), and the
amount of birds that we harvest from the fall flight, we had a hard
time justifying not going to six (birds),’ Holsten said.

DNR officials discussed having a different bag limit early and
late in the season, but ultimately went with six birds. Holsten
said there wasn’t much external advocacy for either staying with
four birds or moving to six.

He did acknowledge the move to six birds might catch some
hunters by surprise, though he said it was unlikely that many
people actually would shoot a limit of birds, due in part to
drought conditions in the state.

‘Even with the six-bird limit, when you stay with the four
mallards and only one hen, especially early in the season, that is
going to be self-restricting on the duck hunter,’ Holsten said.

Minnesota conditions

Drought conditions, too, likely will limit harvest if they
prevent access to bird-holding areas. In some areas, wild rice is
thick, but could be difficult to hunt, according to Ray Norrgard,
DNR wetland wildlife program leader.

‘Clearly, the drought conditions across most of the state are
going to be a concern,’ said Norrgard, who noted that things could
change, and that it’s not unusual to receive a good amount of rain
in September.

At the same time much of the state is dry, the Dakotas are
wetter.

‘We may be competing with those conditions a little bit in terms
of attracting ducks,’ Norrgard said.

Scaup

While federal officials didn’t toy with scaup limits, as had
been discussed – the limit remains two per day – they left open the
possibility for reduction in the future.

‘The scaup population has experienced a significant long-term
decline and this year’s estimate is the third-lowest on record,’
said H. Dale Hall, USFWS director. ‘The Service is proposing to
continue the reduction on the daily bag limit that has been in
place the last two years in all flyways. We may need to consider
additional restrictions in the future if the trend continues.’

Canvasbacks

The continental canvasback population was shown by spring
surveys to be as high as it’s ever been, but Cordts was nonetheless
surprised by the increase to the bag limit. The daily bag has been
one or zero in the Mississippi Flyway since 1966, he said.

Hunters in the state will be allowed to kill two canvasbacks per
day.

The state waterfowl committee recommended keeping the canvasback
limit at one, but that was before the USFWS said it would allow the
two-bird bag.

‘It would be hard, I think, to justify not putting the limit at
two,’ Cordts said.

The USFWS Division of Migratory Bird Management recommended a
bag limit of one canvasback per day, while there was ‘pretty good’
agreement among the flyways that it should be a two-can daily bag,
he said.

Under 60-day seasons and a one-bird bag, hunters across the
nation have killed about 100,000 canvasbacks a year in recent
seasons. Cordts estimated the harvest would increase by about 30
percent with a two-bird bag.

In recent years, hunters in Minnesota have killed about 10,000
canvasbacks a year.

‘We’ve been shooting as many cans in Minnesota as any other
state,’ Cordts said.

The Dakotas

Both North and South Dakota are in the Central Flyway, where the
framework allows for a 74-day season between Sept. 22 and Jan. 27,
2008.

Those two states, for the second of three years, are included in
an evaluation of a Hunter’s Choice package of regulations. The
daily bag limit under such regs is five. The limit for scaup,
redheads, and wood ducks is two, and hunters can shoot one duck
from the following group: hen mallard, mottled duck, pintail, and
canvasback.

Hunting seasons

The early Canada goose season opens statewide on Saturday,
Sept. 1. It’s open through Sept. 22, including in the Northwest
Zone.

Youth Waterfowl Day is slated for Saturday, Sept. 15.

The regular goose season in the West Zone is Sept. 29 through
Nov. 27; in the West Central Zone it’s Oct. 18 through Nov. 27; the
season in the rest of the state, including the Metro and Southeast
zones, opens Sept. 29 and runs through Dec. 7.

The late Canada goose season is Dec. 8-17, except the
Southeast Zone, which is open Dec. 14-23. There is no late season
in the West Central Zone.

Categories: Hunting News

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