MN: Positive duck reports boost sale of stamps
Bemidji, Minn. – The number of state duck stamps sold has dropped every year since 2002, and sales last year were the lowest ever.
But it looks like the trend won't last.
As of earlier this week, hunters had purchased 85,180 duck stamps, compared with 83,692 at the same time last year. Total sales last year were 88,069.
"To me, that would be great (to sell more than last year)," said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. "In reality, I think that's all I was hoping for."
While a 10- or 20-percent jump in the number of duck hunters would be nice, the goal was "just not another year of decline," he said.
Cordts figures positive duck-hunting reports have fueled the increase.
"You almost have to think that – there's some component that probably was going to duck hunt anyway and had their stamps way before opener," he said. "The people that come in during the season at this point, it almost has to be word of mouth.
"It can't be weather-related … It's certainly not been the duckiest weather, but hunting – by almost all accounts – has been pretty good," Cordts said.
The DNR made a variety of major changes to the duck season this year, with hopes of increasing the number of duck hunters afield. Among the changes: opening the season a week earlier; splitting the state into two zones, which will allow hunters south of Highway 210 to hunt through the weekend of Thanksgiving; and increasing by one both the daily limits for hen mallards and wood ducks.
Opening the season a week earlier gave hunters more opportunity to target early migrants such as teal and wood ducks, and Cordts said both species were abundant and offered good hunting early in the season.
But hunting reports have remained positive since then, which is "kind of surprising, based on the weather we've had," he said.
He noted the first two weeks in October were unseasonably warm, and that there have been a couple of wind fronts, but no major cold fronts that would push big numbers of birds south.
"To be picking up decoys without gloves (at this point in the season) is pretty unusual," Cordts said.
In addition, ring-necked ducks – one of the most important birds for Minnesota hunters – haven't been as heavily concentrated as usual.
"There don't seem to be vast numbers of ducks all over, but hunting is still pretty good," Cordts said. "That's a little bit unusual."
And he expected things to get even better as the season wears on, in part because "there's a bunch of ducks still to come" from points north.
"When things start to freeze up, those birds will come somewhere," Cordts said. "Whether they will set up shop in Minnesota for a period of time is always to be determined, but they've got to fly over the state. So we'll probably see a smattering of new ducks with every weather front, and if we get a major weather front, I think it will push a lot of birds and we'll at least have the potential for some pretty darn good hunting."
And given the crop harvest in the agricultural portion of the state – as of earlier this week, 79 percent of the corn had been harvested, which is 6 percent ahead of last year and 36 percent ahead of the 5-year average – field hunters could have some good shoots.
"If we can get some freezing conditions, there are a ton of geese yet to come, and there will be mallards coming," Cordts said. "And even if things freeze up, if we don't have a bunch of snow there will be mallards and geese out field-feeding somewhere in the state for a lot of November."
As expected, sales of state pheasant stamps continue to lag. As of earlier this week, the DNR had sold 73,548, compared with 87,102 at the same time last year.
Stamp sales have been on the decline since 2006, when hunters bought more than 129,500.
Officials expected sales this year to be down, given August roadside counts showed a 64-percent decline from last year in the state's pheasant index.
But Dennis Simon, DNR Wildlife Section chief, is hopeful stamp sales will rebound as the season wears on.