State duck harvest tumbles

St. Paul – The state waterfowl season will open Oct. 2 this
year, and it’s likely hunters will enjoy a liberal, 60-day season
and six-bird bag limit.

It’s just like last year, which, in Minnesota, may not be a good
thing.

Federal estimates show duck hunters in the state killed fewer
than 400,000 ducks last year, down from about 580,000 the previous
year, said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

“I knew it was going to be bad, but just to put that in
perspective – that’s lower than Missouri, lower than Illinois,” he
said. “It may have happened before, but I doubt it.”

Additionally, the estimated number of duck hunters fell into the
low 60,000s, and the number of ducks harvested per hunter per
season fell, too.

The Mississippi Flyway harvest was 4 million to 4.5 million
birds, Cordts said.

There was a time when hunters in Minnesota killed 16 percent of
the ducks in the flyway, which is also the objective of the state’s
long-range duck plan. Some years, the duck kill in the state made
up a quarter of the total harvest in the flyway.

“We’re still shooting a bunch of ducks in the flyway – that
hasn’t changed,” Cordts said. “Just not in Minnesota.”

How low are hunter and harvest numbers in Minnesota?

They’re similar to levels last seen in the late 1980s, when
there was a 30-day duck season and three-bird bag limits. There was
a massive loss of duck hunters in Minnesota and elsewhere, a bad
drought, and concern about the status of the continental waterfowl
population.

“We’re quite different than that now, with 60 days, six-duck
bags, and a continental status that, across the board, is very
good,” Cordts said. “But not so good in Minnesota during recent
falls in terms of duck harvest.”

Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the DNR likely will
release in coming days or weeks reports about their respective
estimates of duck harvest in 2009.

Duck season

This year’s waterfowl season in Minnesota will open Saturday,
Oct. 2 at 9 a.m. That’s consistent with state statute that requires
the season to open on the Saturday nearest Oct. 1.

The DNR sought to rescind that statute during the most recent
legislative session – it would have given the agency the ability to
open the season earlier – and the provision was included in a bill
that Gov. Tim Pawlenty ultimately vetoed. Since both the House and
Senate approved the bill, and Pawlenty didn’t object to that aspect
of the bill specifically, “we felt there was probably enough
license for us to look at ways we might be able to still hold an
earlier duck opener this year with a special Minnesota season,”
said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief.

In the end, though, DNR officials decided not to push ahead. The
uncertainty about what might happen to waterfowl populations as a
result of the Gulf oil spill played a role, Simon said.

“We’ll go at this again next year,” he said.

While season frameworks won’t be finalized until next week, it’s
likely the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will allow a 60-day
season with a six-duck bag, including four mallards (two of which
may be hens), said Cordts, who was attending flyway meetings in
Mobile, Ala.

The pintail bag limit likely will be two per day, and the
canvasback bag limit likely will be one per day for the entire
season.

Those are recommendations of the USFWS’s Migratory Bird
Management Division. The flyways also make season recommendations
to the Service Regulations Committee, which makes the final
decision on season frameworks.

The flyway likely will make the same recommendations as did the
Service’s migratory bird division, Cordts said.

“I don’t see anything we would do differently,” he said.

Categories: Hunting News

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