Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Duck season winds down with a whimper

Bemidji, Minn. – If there is something positive to be said for
the state’s duck season, which ended Tuesday, it’s that hunters had
open water for most of the season’s 60 days.

The downside: Most reports indicate a so-so season at best. It
likely will wind up as “below expectations” for a lot of hunters,
said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the DNR.

“It certainly wasn’t a complete bust,” he said. “We’re not going
to set a record low harvest or anything like that.”

The season was marked by odd weather patterns that likely mean
there were still ducks in southern Canada when the season
ended.

While the month of October was one of the coolest on record,
November was one of the warmest on record, and there never was a
strong southern push of mallards.

“It was an odd year in that the duck opener was poor,” Cordts
said. “And then the time when a lot of times we’re kind of in a
doldrum period (the second week of October), it was very good. From
about the tenth of October and through the rest of the month it was
pretty good across the state, especially for diving ducks.

“But November, I think, was pretty slow. It just seemed like, at
least later in the season, I didn’t hear many reports of good duck
hunting in the state,” he said.

Cordts figures the harvest will be similar to last year, when
hunters killed 658,000 ducks. And that’s only because hunting

was good during that short window in October.

“So much of our harvest occurs early in the season, and it was a
bad opener,” he said. “But that second weekend, when a lot of guys
were likely still out hunting and did pretty well, will offset
that. We really benefitted by having a couple of good weeks in
October at a time when it is usually pretty slow duck hunting.”

With some exceptions, ring-necked duck hunting generally was
good through October, and Cordts believes bluebill harvest may be
up a little bit this year.

“We had some scaup show up with that front on (Oct. 10),” he
said.

Wood duck and blue-winged teal harvest likely will be down since
many of them probably left the state before the opener, Cordts
said.

Hunter numbers

The trend of fewer hunters buying state duck stamps is
continuing. Sales after opening weekend were down about 5 percent,
and they never recovered.

“It seemed like hunter numbers later in the season – (based on
reports) from our managers – were down,” Cordts said. “It always
declines pretty rapidly from late October and on, but it seemed
like almost everyone was saying, ‘There’s just not many people out
waterfowl hunting.’ That was a common refrain in November.”

Scaup on Winnie

Thousands of scaup have died on Lake Winnibigosish during the
last couple of fall migrations – due to parasites called
trematodes. That wasn’t the case this year, since the lake saw
little scaup use, Cordts said.

The DNR collected few dead birds from the lake.

“I’m not sure why, but Winnie just didn’t get used,” Cordts
said. “It was very poor. I don’t know why – there are a lot of
snails out there and lots of scaup food.”

Slow at Lac qui Parle

Goose hunters had a tough year at Lac qui Parle, according to
Dave Trauba, the DNR manager at LqP. While the number of geese
there stood at 55,000 to 60,000 on the final weekend of the season,
the peak before that was 44,000.

It continues a trend of a later goose migration.

“That’s the lowest goose count we have had (in a long time) – we
always would peak in November at 120,000 or 130,000 Canada geese,”
Trauba said. “I’m looking at the forecast this week and I know
what’s going to happen – we’re going to get a lot of birds in
here.”

During this year’s season, which ended Sunday, hunters in the
state blinds at Lac qui Parle killed 185 geese, which is the
third-lowest on record. By contract, the average kill in the decade
of the 1990s was 1,122 geese from the state blinds, and so far this
decade the average has been 433 geese a year.

A bust in production this spring meant much of the Canada goose
population was made up of adults, which generally are more
difficult to hunt than juveniles. But it was the weather that
really slowed things down.

“We were set up to get birds moving through and then November
came and all migration came to a screeching halt,” Trauba said. “So
basically we had the same goose flock here all November. It makes
for tough hunting.”

The decreased goose kill tracks with the later migration, and
Trauba says it could be time to consider moving the season at Lac
qui Parle later in the fall.

“This year is a prime example – it’s hard to kill geese when
they are sitting up in Manitoba,” he said. “We are going to have to
really re-evaluate our season timing and do whatever we can to push
it all into November, and some into December.”

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