Spring Green, Wis. – The good old days of duck hunting are right now, considering that hunters will get a 60-day season with a six-duck daily bag limit in three duck zones, as approved by the Natural Resources Board on Aug. 10.
The three zones are new this year, with the addition of the Mississippi River Zone to the regular north and south zones. The Mississippi River Zone will extend from Prescott down to the Wisconsin/Illinois border and include state land and water west of the Burlington Northern railroad tracks.
The season opens at 9 a.m. on Sept. 24 in the Mississippi River Zone and in the northern zone. The opener is 9 a.m. on Oct. 1 in the southern zone.
The northern zone will run from Sept. 24 through Nov. 22. The Mississippi zone is a split season, open from Sept. 24 through Oct. 2, and then from Oct. 15 through Dec. 4.
The southern zone will run Oct. 1-9, close for five days, and then run from Oct. 15 to Dec. 4.
The six-duck bag limit includes no more than four mallards, of which only one can be a hen, three wood ducks, two redheads, one black duck, two pintails, two scaup, and one canvasback. Five mergansers are allowed (no more than two hooded mergansers).
Board members discussed several parts of the season.
Terry Hilgenberg noted the extensive work that goes into setting waterfowl seasons and wondered if there was a less expensive way to do it. Bill Bruins asked if the Canada geese that had in the past bothered farmers' fields have just moved and are now a nuisance to urban neighborhoods.
NRB member Greg Kazmierski believes the giant Canada geese that bother urban areas are often on golf courses and not accessible during the early season. He asked the DNR if it was possible to get a December season. Kent Van Horn, DNR migratory bird specialist, said that a later season would increase the harvest of Mississippi Valley Population geese and not just the local giant Canada geese.
Most of the public testimony centered on whether the third duck zone should involve the Mississippi River or Lake Michigan.
Dick Koerner, Conservation Congress migratory committee chair, told the board the committee voted in favor of having the Mississippi River as the third zone.
Greg Egan, of La Crosse, supported the Mississippi zone, saying it is a traditional major flyway corridor, and Ray Heidel, of Onalaska, said the Mississippi zone has the potential to grow a lot more new duck hunters due to the many access points to the river.
Heidel said he'd welcome the opportunity to help obtain a sea duck season for hunters on Lake Michigan, which could make Wisconsin the best duck-hunting state in the nation.
Marc Schultz, of the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance, supported the Mississippi zone, saying hunters had asked for it since 1987, and it already is a specialized zone for hunting Canada geese.
Looking for a duck-hunting zone on the other side of the state were Andrew Limmer, of Milwaukee, and Peter Peshek, of Madison. Peshek said that adding a late duck zone on Lake Michigan would provide potential for growth of duck hunting because of its relative size and variety of ducks.
"The ducks are changing their patterns and taking advantage of the food base on Lake Michigan," Peshek said.
Limmer said a Lake Michigan zone would add extra days, "and with a northern zone opening on Sept. 24 and a Lake Michigan zone closing on Dec. 20 would give Wisconsin bragging rights for the longest waterfowl season in the flyway."
George Meyer, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, supported the three-zone season with the addition of the Mississippi zone. He said it would provide the greatest hunting flexibility for the greatest number of Wisconsin duck hunters.
Meyer urged the DNR to push the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow four hunting zones with split seasons to deal with the Lake Michigan zone or to look for a special sea duck season.
In response to a question from NRB member Preston Cole about the ability to get more duck zones, Van Horn said the state's position is that the issue of creating zones should be left to the state for flexibility since it is a matter of hunter satisfaction and not duck conservation.
But other states did not support that position, so the DNR was left with a choice of three zones with a split season.
Kazmierski said he had a problem with not expanding hunting for sea ducks. He encouraged the DNR to look at ways to add a sea duck hunt. Other board members backed the idea. The DNR will gather information and work with other states to investigate possibilities of a sea duck season.
The outlook for the 2011 season is good, as the number of ponds in Canada and on U.S. breeding grounds were 62 percent above the long-term average. Total ducks surveyed were 35 percent above the long-term average – the highest ever recorded in 56 years.
Breeding surveys within the state showed the total number of ducks was 17 percent above the average, with wood ducks 91 percent above average.
Canada geese present a mixed picture, with the Mississippi Valley Population down from last year and 25 percent below the average. Giant Canadas within the state are up for the third year in a row – 12 percent from last year.
The 85-day goose season will include a daily bag limit of two Canada geese in the Exterior Zone. The North Zone will run Sept. 16-23 and Sept. 24 through Dec. 9. The South Zone will run Sept. 16-30, Oct. 1-9, and Oct. 15 through Dec. 14.
The Horicon Zone will be open for 92 days: Period 1 – Sept. 16 through Oct. 30 and Period 2 – Oct. 31 through Dec. 16. The youth waterfowl hunt will take place Sept. 17-18.