Anticipation high as duck season dawns

Shakopee, Minn. – Like he is before every opening weekend of
duck hunting, John Schroers is optimistic going into Saturday’s
opener. Though opening day is late this year, there seem to be
plenty of teal and wood ducks around. Then again….

“It never seems to fail that three or four days before the
opener, you get that one raw day that blows all those birds out of
the state,” said Schroers, a duck hunter and Minnesota Waterfowl
Association president.

But forecasts earlier this week predicted mostly stable weather,
so it’s unlikely there will be a big push of birds into or out of
the state before this weekend. And in many areas, reports indicated
a good number of ducks were around. Wetland conditions vary around
the state.

“Conditions are probably somewhat favorable,” said Steve Cordts,
DNR waterfowl specialist. “It’s a little dry in some areas, but dry
in the fall is OK. Access shouldn’t be a problem in most
places.”

Spring counts showed continental mallard numbers that were about
where they’ve been for a few years; blue- and green-winged teal
numbers were about the same as last year, and well above long-term
averages; and canvasbacks were among the species that declined in
number (44 percent from ’07) and contributed to an overall
9-percent decline in the total duck population.

In Minnesota, total breeding duck counts were up from last year,
and mallard numbers were in line with the 10-year average.

Still, if success is measured by total harvest during the
season, the first nine days are especially important since many
hunters hang it up after that time. But wood ducks and teal, the
two species that drive early harvest, are early migrating
species.

“We shoot so many of those the first two weekends of the season
that if there are a lot of teal and wood ducks, generally over the
course of the year the pile of dead ducks is 600,000 or 700,000 if
that happens,” Cordts said. “With the mild weather we are having
now, and the long-term forecast doesn’t sound too severe, we should
have teal around at least through opening weekend.”

The later the season opens – it’s as late as it can be this year
– the more wood duck and teal harvest goes down, he said.

On the other hand, ring-necked ducks also are an important
species for hunters in the state.

“Ringnecks are usually about the fourth most abundant bird in
the bag for us, and some of the first migrants start to arrive
about now,” Cordts said. “So we should have more of them around on
the opener.”

Teal numbers in the Windom area have dropped during the last two
weeks, said Randy Markl, area wildlife manager for the DNR. But
mallard, wood duck, and teal production there was good this year
and those birds were apparent in early September.

Water levels in the area are down, but the shallow wetlands are
providing good feeding opportunities for puddle ducks, he said.

“They are showing some preference for certain wetlands over
others,”_Markl said. “We’re a little bit limited in water, but
right now there should be enough birds to give somebody something
to shoot at.”

At the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area, manager Dave
Trauba is expecting an average opener, and said there are lots of
teal and a fair number of mallards around. Marsh Lake is at normal
pool, but in general, the area is dry. Permanent wetlands are
holding water, but there are no temporary or seasonal wetlands
right now.

Conditions at Thief Lake are similar to last year, though water
levels are below average, said Randy Prachar, Thief Lake WMA
manager. Two weeks ago, the lake held 7,500 ducks and 3,000 Canada
geese. There hasn’t been much in the way of migration during the
past week, he said.

“I think we’ve got a good table set here,” Prachar said. “If we
just get a front to blow in a few more birds. … It isn’t bad for
this time of year, but it would be nice to have a few more.”

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