Early teal and sea duck seasons still a ways off in Wisconsin

Wausau, Wis. — Waterfowl hunters’ hopes for more liberal rules that would allow a sea duck, early teal and sandhill crane season may one day be realized, but not in the near future.

That was the word from Kent Van Horn, DNR migratory bird ecologist, to waterfowlers who attended the 10th annual Wisconsin Waterfowl Hunters’ Conference on March 10. Van Horn said he has broached the possibility of a Great

Lakes sea duck season with the Mississippi Flyway Council Technical Section. The council took it under discussion, but there is nothing currently in the works.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is now updating its duck hunting environmental impact statement and that process will review special seasons, such as sea ducks (scoters, eiders and long-tail ducks). So no new season is likely in the next year or two.

Another special season under review is the early teal season, which is now offered in 10 of the 14 flyway states. This early season has not been allowed in states considered teal production states, which include Wisconsin.

The USFWS is also reviewing teal seasons and the Flyway Council Technical Section has asked the USFWS to consider including all 14 states in future early teal seasons.
In recent years, Wisconsin has had liberal regulations, or 60-day and six-duck daily bag limits, due to record duck numbers and good water conditions in ponds.

But this year water is not as prevalent, due to lower snowfall. Thus spring ponds may not be as numerous, meaning duck seasons may be shorter and with smaller bag limits.

Canada geese

Van Horn said that the Canada goose program is aimed at providing hunting, controlling human/goose conflicts, avoiding overharvest of the Mississippi Valley Population of Canada geese, and simplifying hunting regulations.

Canada goose rules have been fairly complicated, partially because different populations migrate through the state and have to be managed differently.
The proportion of Wisconsin’s Canada goose harvest differs from other states and, thus, regulations differ. Wisconsin’s harvest is comprised of 57 percent of MVP geese, and 41 percent are giant Canada geese (which breed locally in the state).

However, in Minnesota 90 percent of the Canada goose harvest are giant Canada geese that nest in that state.

The states that share the Hudson Bay-nesting MVP population agreed to five years of a stable regulation framework. Four of those years had hard winters, which moved birds south and made them susceptible to harvest in Illinois.

“The other thing is that we had poor reproduction of the MVP birds in three of the five years,” Van Horn said. “In 2009, when we had really bad reproduction, we killed more adult birds, which was not good.”

The harvest rates on giant Canada geese have been high, which is needed to reduce that population, but the harvest of the MVP population has been on a downward trend.

“Because MVP geese are about 60 percent of our harvest, if we drive that population down, Wisconsin has the most to lose,” Van Horn said. “Canada goose populations take time to recover.”

The Mississippi Flyway Council Technical Section that met in February spent a lot of time working on Canada geese and working on new goals. Tech section panelists want to make Canada goose rules simpler and more liberal where they can.

The early giant Canada goose season from Sept. 1-15 already has good harvest levels, and seems to be working.

For the regular season, which includes more MVP geese than it does local giants, there is concern about the MVP flock, but biologists feel it was caused more by weather during the nesting period than hunting.

The Technical Section has recommended liberalizing the season by adding seven days to the Exterior Zone season. Adding these days in December would not increase the harvest that much, but would provide more hunting opportunities.

This brings the state to the maximum number of hunting days allowed by international treaties, with 15 days during the early season and 92 days during the regular season.

Harvest information from the daily call-in by successful hunters in the Exterior Zone show that late September and early October are when the highest daily harvest occurs.

“The challenge for goose management is the increasing number of giant Canada geese sitting in urban small town refuges,” said Van Horn. “If these birds reside on ponds in cities and feed in cornfields within the city limits, they never leave the area where firearms aren’t allowed.”

Changes that the DNR is considering for Canada geese include:

  • Removing the Brown County subzone, which has not been used for several years;
  • Adding seven days to the Exterior Zone for Canada goose hunting;
  • Canada goose seasons can have two splits – would it be advantageous to use this in the Exterior Zone?
  • About 20 percent of the statewide regular season Canada goose harvest occurs in the Horicon Zone. Is it possible to shrink the size of the zone or increase permit numbers?


Van Horn also cautioned waterfowl hunters that some people are buying fake bird bands with fake numbers on them and this could mess up the data that could affect the science of waterfowl management and cause the federal government to be more conservative with hunting seasons. People should not buy these bands, he said.

In addition, as a cost savings measure, the USFWS will no longer issue printed certificates when someone shoots a bird with a band on it. The bands can be reported via the USFWS internet site.

Van Horn reports that a management plan has been established for the Eastern Population of sandhill cranes and a hunting season is possible. Legislation must first be passed for a season, giving the DNR authority to establish a hunting quota and issue permits. If legislation passes, it could still take three years or more before a season starts.

Categories: Hunting News, Hunting Top Story, Waterfowl

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