State’s hunters shot more ducks than predicted
Springfield — For all the angst and hand-wringing, duck hunters in the state had a pretty good season, according to a DNR report.
Estimates of duck hunter activity at 26 public hunting areas during the 2011-12 season indicate that 64,435 hunter days accounted for a harvest of 73,174 ducks, which is a 48 percent jump over the 2010-11 season.
It’s also 32 percent higher than the five-year average harvest.
The daily success rate of 1.14 ducks per hunter was 8 percent higher than the five-year average, DNR waterfowl biologist Ray Marshalla pointed out.
“The Illinois duck harvest improved due to good migrations of ducks and lack of freeze-up conditions in many areas,” Marshalla said during his annual post-season summary. “Aerial surveys in the Illinois and Mississippi River valleys were above average, especially for mallards and green-winged teal, which are the primary ducks harvested in the state.”
There were also reportedly good numbers of wood ducks harvested on many state sites.
Marshalla suspects this season’s higher numbers may have been the result of weather conditions.
“Most public hunting areas remained ice free during most of the mild season which is unusual and resulted in a lot more hunting opportunity than most years,” he said.
In southern Illinois, duck numbers were mostly below average, but lack of ice during the season at many sites resulted in hunting days lost due to freeze-up.
Technically speaking, waterfowl foraging habitat in the Illinois River Valley was ranked “average” during the fall. On the other hand, wetland conditions were the best observed since the fall of 2005.
Total duck abundance in the Illinois River Valley peaked on Nov. 15. Significant freezing was not witnessed until the last scheduled flight on Jan. 4, DNR data showed.
Waterfowl foraging habitat in the Central Mississippi River Valley was considered below average during the fall – similar to the fall of 2010.
“Notably, Swan (Calhoun County), Gilbert, and Long lakes near the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers had below average forage,” Marshalla said.
Duck abundance peaked in the Central River Valley on Nov. 30.
Large numbers of canvasbacks – more than 66,000 – were present on Pool 19 until the last flight on Jan. 4, the DNR report stated.
Aerial surveys indicated that duck numbers on the southern Illinois survey route remained below five-year average population levels from mid-October through December. Duck numbers increased from 11,300 on Oct. 31 – compared to five-year average of 30,675 – to a seasonal peak of 80,600 on Dec. 7.
Meanwhile, diving duck abundance on the Illinois River peaked at 24,985 – 34 percent lower than in 2010 but 2 percent above the five-year average. Decreases in peaks were recorded for lesser scaup (74 percent), redheads (8 percent), and buffleheads (73 percent).