MN: Counts, duck kill increase in state

St. Paul – State waterfowl surveys reflect what's happening elsewhere: breeding duck counts are up, and things are wet.

DNR staff wrapped up the counts in mid-May, but release of the data was delayed by the state government shutdown.

The counts revealed an estimated 687,000 breeding ducks in the state, which is 30 percent higher than last year and 11 percent above the average from 1968 through 2010.

"Pretty much across the board, everything increased," said Steve Cordts, the DNR waterfowl specialist who flies the survey. "That's to be expected when you look at wetland numbers being as high as they have ever been."

Wetland numbers increased from last year by 33 percent, and were 44 percent above the long-term average. The number of temporary wetlands was 36 percent above the long-term average.

There were an estimated 283,000 breeding mallards in the state, which is 17 percent higher than 2010 and 26 percent above the long-term average.

The estimate of blue-winged teal – 214,00 – was 61 percent higher than 2010, but similar to their 10-year and long-term averages.

The estimated population of other ducks, not including scaup, was 191,000, which is 22 percent above last year and 7 percent above the long-term average.

Cordts noted that statistically, the changes from last year to this year were not significant, which theoretically means populations didn't change. But interpretation is necessary, given that most duck populations increased – in Minnesota and elsewhere.

"When you see patterns like that – it happened here and with continental numbers – to me, that's a very positive pattern," Cordts said.

But while it's good to have high breeding numbers, how this fall's season plays out depends largely on production.

"The one kicker in all of that – both in our numbers and in the continental numbers – and how it relates to ducks over the decoys, is we don't know very much about production," Cordts said. "We really never have and maybe never will."

Last year's harvest

Hunters in Minnesota last year killed an estimated 524,000 ducks, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That's an increase from 2009, when they killed an estimated 392,300 birds.

While few would argue that last year was better than the previous year, the numbers may be somewhat misleading.

That's because the number of active duck hunters  – according to federal data – increased by about 8,500 from 2009 to 2010. The federal agency estimates harvest by multiplying the number of active duck hunters by the seasonal harvest per hunter. But state data show that duck stamp sales declined from 2009 to 2010.

"I think the estimate of active duck hunters in 2009 was on the low end, and I think that's why our harvest was as low as it was," Cordts said. "If that were the case, then harvest probably wasn't a whole lot different in 2010."

Still, the 2010 season was an improvement over 2009, he said.

"If you look at the Mississippi Flyway, it was a very good duck season last year kind of across the board in a lot of states," Cordts said. "So if you're going to hunt this fall based on some of these status reports and harvest last year, I'd view it as a positive."

According to the recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harvest report, hunters in Minnesota bagged:

• 138,167 mallards last year, compared with 101,280 in 2009;

• 77,897 wood ducks last year, compared with 53,204 in 2009.

• 88,984 ring-necked ducks last year, compared with 45,726 in '09.

• 188,450 Canada geese last year, compared with 147,700 in '09.

Regulations

DNR officials next week will make decisions on this fall's duck season. By the end of this week, the USFWS's Service Regulations Committee will inform states about the season options they'll have.

The DNR, if it chooses, could open the duck season as early as Sept. 24. Opening day shooting hours also could begin before 9 a.m. Both options are the result of changes the state Legislature made this year.

"If we are going to open early, we also need to make a decision on zoning the state and splitting the season," said Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief.

It's been years since there was a split duck season in the state, and there never have been zones.

The Service Regulations Committee may allow states this year to have three zones, with up to one split in each zone, Cordts said. Under such a scenario, the season could open early, close for five days, and then re-open.

That would allow hunters to target early migrants such as blue-winged teal and wood ducks, but still allow for late-season hunting over the weekend of Thanksgiving.

Preserving the late-season hunt, especially in the southern part of the state, was the reason state lawmakers passed a law several years ago mandating the duck season couldn't open before the Saturday nearest Oct. 1, Cordts said.

Categories: Hunting News, News Archive, Waterfowl

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