Despite veto, DNR not giving up on earlier duck opener this fall

St. Paul – Duck hunters who hoped the season would open a week
earlier this year – Sept. 25 instead of Oct. 2 – may have had their
hopes dashed last week after Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the Game and
Fish Bill.

The bill didn’t ensure an earlier opener, but it gave the DNR
the legislative approval it needed to consider it.

Despite the apparent setback – an earlier duck opener was a part
of the bill the DNR supported – agency officials say they’re not
ready to give up on the idea that this fall’s season could open in
late September.

“We are going to look at any options available to look at an
earlier opener – perhaps a special season or something like that,”
said Dave Schad, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division director. “There
might be a way to offer a couple of days of hunting prior to the
opening date. But we need to look closely at both federal and state
laws and rules and see if there is any wiggle room. It is unlikely,
but we are going to explore it.”

DNR officials say hunters have expressed interest on a variety
of occasions about opening the duck season a little earlier. They
say doing so could provide more opportunities to shoot species like
teal and wood ducks, which are early migrants.

“This winter and spring I heard it at every meeting I was at –
‘We need to open early,’ ” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl
specialist.

He figures a fair amount of that sentiment was driven by the
memory of the 2009 duck opener, which was abysmal for many hunters.
The temperature fell on the Tuesday before the opener and “we lost
a huge number of teal and wood ducks,” he said.

One of the common criticisms of an early opener comes from
hunters who target ducks late into the season. They say an early
opener would simply take days from the back end and move them to
the front end.

But as part of opening the season a week earlier, the DNR also
was considering its options related to splitting the season.

“Opening it for a couple of days and then closing it down and
having a second opener,” Schad said. “Or maybe opening and then
shutting down for five days in October, when things are kind of
slow.”

Such flexibility exists because every five years, the state has
to choose from a set of three regulatory alternatives offered by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those haven’t applied in the
recent past because of 60-day seasons; officials say the options
would come into play during a shorter season. But they also could
come into play if the season were to open a week earlier, because
the option the DNR has chosen – two duck zones in the state, with
the ability to split the season one time in each zone – would allow
the agency to cater the season to both early and late-season
hunters.

The zones and split seasons haven’t been used in recent years
because seasons have been 60 days, and legislation has prevented
the DNR from opening the season before the Saturday closest to Oct.
1.

“For northern states to split a 60-day season, you are going to
lose days to freeze-up,” Cordts said.

Schad pegged the chances of finding a way to open the season a
week earlier this year as “possible, but not likely.”

Still, it’s something he says the DNR and hunters are interested
in.

“We think it would have been a good thing for hunters,” Schad
said. “I’m sure we’ll be revisiting that one down the line.”

Categories: Hunting News

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