Liberal duck season on tap; four scaup likely?

Peoria, Ill. — With the likely exception of increased bag limits for some species, duck hunters will see a season structure this fall that’s similar to last year.

That means a liberal, 60-day season that begins as early as Sept. 22 and a daily bag limit of six ducks.

In addition to recommending that season structure, flyway councils during meetings last week also proposed increasing daily bags for species such as redheads and scaup. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Regulations Committee meets this week to consider flyway input and finalize season offerings.

And next week, state wildlife officials will meet with DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, who will decide precisely what Minnesota’s duck season will look like.

The Mississippi Flyway Council recommended the following daily limits (as part of a six-bird bag): Four mallards; four scaup; three redheads; two pintails; one canvasback; one black duck.

“There weren’t a whole lot of surprises,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. The bag-limit recommendations generally followed the harvest strategies in place for the various species, he said.

Under the recommendation of the flyway, the scaup limit would be double what it was last season. A four-bird bag for the entire season is the most liberal of the options, and the flyway chose it because this year’s scaup population estimate was about 5.2 million.

That’s 21 percent above last year’s estimate, and similar to the long-term average.

“That would be very positive if the (USFWS) allows” the four-scaup bag, Cordts said.

The USFWS restricted the daily scaup limit to three in 1998. Before that, it matched the overall daily limit.

“So that’s 15 years since we’ve had a bag limit above three,” Cordts said.

Even if the daily bag is four, it likely won’t have much of an effect on Minnesota hunters. Of the 600,000 ducks shot last year in the state, fewer than 10,000 were scaup.

“They’re just not very common in Minnesota anymore,” Cordts said.

It was the second year in a row the flyway has recommended a three-bird bag for redheads. (The USFWS didn’t allow it last year.) The redhead limit has been fixed at two per day since 1996, Cordts said.

This year’s redhead population estimate was 1.3 million, which is 89 percent above the long-term average. A three-bird bag likely would result in a 10- to 15-percent harvest increase over a two-bird bag, Cordts said.

The flyway was close to recommending an increase in the daily canvasback limit, but opted against it. The population estimate of 800,000 was similar to last year and 33 percent above the long-term average.

Though the population was high, wetland conditions – used to predict production – that were worse than last year ultimately led the flyway to recommend a one-bird bag.

“We were sort of close, but no cigar, for a two-bird can limit,” Cordts said. But he noted that, historically, canvasback seasons often have been closed, or only partially open. “The norm is one bird a day all season long, so I view it as a positive.”

Possession limits

Some flyways recommended increasing the possession limit from two to three times the daily bag limit. While the Mississippi Flyway likely also will support the increase, it won’t make a recommendation until winter meetings, Cordts said.

That’s because any increase wouldn’t go into effect until next year. Cordts believes the USFWS will support the increase. He said increasing the possession limit wouldn’t affect the overall harvest.

“Probably almost none,” he said. “To me, it’s not a biological issue at all. It’s just a regulation that’s been in place a long time.”

Minnesota season

There will be three duck zones in the state this fall. The north zone will be that part of the state north of Highway 210. The middle zone will be between Highways 210 and 212. The south zone will be that part of the state south of Highway 212.

“We don’t have to use any of those zones, but we certainly will consider using them this year,” Cordts said.

Landwehr in coming days will put the finishing touches on the state’s duck season.

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