MN: Duck season kicks off Saturday
Bemidji, Minn. – Steve Cordts is so confident duck hunters will see birds on Saturday's opener that he's got a deal for hunters who don't: give him a call and he'll put you on them next year.
"About all I can guarantee is everyone who goes hunting will see a duck," Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the DNR, said. "I won't guarantee they will shoot one or see a lot, but I guarantee they will see a duck."
Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, makes no such guarantees, but also believes hunters are in for a good opener.
"From the northwest to the southeast, I have seen really good numbers of birds and heard really good reports," he said. "I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with the number of birds they see. And if they like geese, there should be no shortage of them, either."
The duck opener kicks off 30 minutes before sunrise on Saturday, which is a week earlier than in recent years.
The season opens statewide on Saturday and continues in the North Zone – north of Highway 210 – through Nov. 22. In the South Zone – south of Highway 210 – the season opens for two days and then closes before re-opening on Saturday, Oct. 1. The season in that zone closes Nov. 27.
One of the main reasons the DNR opted to open the season a week earlier was to give hunters the opportunity to shoot early migrants such as wood ducks and teal.
"My hunch is that with the cold weather from last week we are probably going to lose some teal (before the season begins)," Nylin said. "But we'll still see more than what people are used to seeing."
Cordts said the teal reports he's received are "sporadic."
Both Cordts and Nylin say there should be plenty of wood ducks around.
The earlier shooting hours also will give hunters additional opportunities to kill birds, Cordts said.
"It will be a little bit better than if we had opened at 9 a.m.," he said. "Ducks are a little more prone to move around during that first hour of daylight. And this year they will be getting shot at."
While the DNR also increased the daily hen mallard bag to two birds, the onus is on hunters to know what they're shooting at.
With earlier shooting hours on opening day, "We would just caution people to identify, identify, identify," Nylin said. "Mallards, especially, are going to be hard to identify."
While conditions during the early part of the summer were abnormally wet, recent dry weather means hunters in some areas may find that access is a challenge.
"Some hunters may be surprised by water levels, especially at the very shallow sites," Ken Varland, regional DNR wildlife manager in New Ulm, said. "Some wetlands are significantly lower than they were at this time last year."
High water earlier this year hampered wild rice growth in some spots, Cordts said. But the recent dry conditions mean there won't be the same amount of sheet water as there was last year.
"If guys can get out and scout a little bit, it generally pays off," Cordts said. "If you see ducks right now, those birds will be there on the opener."
Cordts flies during the duck season – and also assembles reports from throughout the state – to compile a weekly duck migration report.
The report is updated every Thursday afternoon and is available at the DNR website, http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/waterfowl/index.html.
This week's report may not be posted until Friday morning, Cordts said.
The DNR last year sold about 87,000 state duck stamps. About two-thirds were sold before the opener.
Youth hunters who hunted ducks on Youth Waterfowl Day – Sept. 10 – were required to obtain a free license. About 5,100 did so.
"There just weren't that many kids out," Cordts said.
The sandhill crane season opened Sept. 3 and runs through Oct. 9. Last year, the DNR sold just fewer than 2,000 permits during the entire season.
As of early last week, hunters had bought about 900 permits. While Cordts has heard good reports from people hunting cranes, "I don't think we'll even approach last year as far as permit sales," he said.