IL: Duckers ready for big year
Springfield – "Duck down."
It's an exclamation the state's waterfowlers hope to hear – and themselves utter – several times this fall.
For some waterfowlers in the state, it's the beginning of a new era: the 2011 season includes an additional hunting zone and altered hunting dates.
For others, there will be basically no changes.
Changes or no changes, successes for all hunters this year will depend on the common denominator – that ducks will fly and that they will fly at the right time.
"The numbers of ducks on the breeding grounds look good and could provide good hunting, but we know there are more factors involved than numbers," state waterfowl biologist Ray Marshalla said when the USFWS released its annual breeding duck survey data earlier this year. "Illinois hunters are aware of how weather factors in to their successes."
A fourth duck hunting zone was added in the state this year, a move that has southern Illinois waterfowlers buzzing. Dates were also pushed back a little.
Duck hunting season is Nov. 12-Jan. 10 in the new south central zone. South zone dates are Nov. 24-Jan. 22. Central zone duck hunting dates are Oct. 22-Dec. 20, while north zone season dates are Oct. 15 – Dec. 13.
The Illinois seasons for this year are based on a new five-year plan for waterfowl hunting season dates through the 2015 season. A record total duck breeding population is encouraging to hunters, who are hopeful conditions hold the ducks.
USFWS released its final "Trends in Duck Breeding Populations 1955-2011" this summer with the highest total ducks (45.6 million) since surveys began in 1955.
The report noted that conditions across the Canadian prairies were greatly improved relative to last year and that "wetland numbers and conditions were excellent in the U.S. prairies."
Mallards were the highest (9.2 million) since 1999. Pintails were their highest (4.4) since 1980. Scaup (bluebills) were their highest (4.3) since 1999. Gadwalls (3.3) were their fourth highest; green-winged teal (2.9) were their fifth highest.
Blue-winged teal were a record 8.9 million, shattering the old record of 7.4 million set in 2000. At 4.6 million, shovelers were a record high, as were redheads at 1.4 million.