Germantown, Wis. — State waterfowlers get another liberal season this fall – 60 days with a six-duck daily bag limit – that includes a five-day November closure in the northern zone.
That northern zone split came after substantial deliberation at the Aug. 8 Natural Resources Board meeting.
For the first time since 1995, the northern zone will have a split despite there being a 60-day season. Hunting will close at the end of shooting hours on Nov. 4, then reopen Nov. 10 and continue through Nov. 25.
The bag limit allows no more than four mallards (one hen), three woodies, two redheads, one black duck, two pintails, four scaup, and one canvasback.
In addition, five mergansers (no more than two hooded) and five coot may be taken daily.
Northern zone hunting begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, and runs through Nov. 4. The season then closes for five days, then runs Nov. 10-25.
The southern zone opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, then closes Oct. 7-12. The season reopens Oct. 13 and runs through Dec. 2.
The Mississippi River Zone opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22 and closes on Sept. 30. Following a 12-day closure, the season reopens Oct. 13 and ends Dec. 2.
The outlook for duck hunting is good, and with the drought, ducks may be concentrated in areas with water. The continental duck estimate this spring was a new record – 48.6 million birds, or 43 percent above average, according to DNR waterfowl ecologist Kent Van Horn.
In Wisconsin, duck numbers were 521,000, or 21 percent above average.
The northern zone was last split in 1995, as northern hunters usually want to start as early as possible to have an opportunity to shoot teal, which migrate early.
Van Horn said the change only involves five days out of a 60-day season, and the proposal came from duck hunters.
Duck hunters at a public meeting in Spooner asked for the northern zone to be split, he said. They wanted it closed on a Monday through Friday in early November so the season could then close on the Sunday of the Thanksgiving four-day holiday weekend.
NRB member Christine Thomas asked at what point the proposal for a split came forward, since the board was receiving comments from other hunters who said they weren’t aware of the proposal.
Van Horn said the waterfowl season always comes together quickly, and he talked to people before the public meetings.
“There are some people who say, how can you change something at the last minute, but I say if I’m not willing to entertain a change from the duck hunters during the public involvement process, then why have the public involvement process?” Van Horn said.
He said hunters knew about the proposal for about two weeks. He added that the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association Rhinelander chapter president (Tim Lehman) and a leader from the WWA chapter in St. Croix County (Mitch Johnston) contacted him, aware that in the north zone 87 percent of the harvest is complete by Nov. 1. They wanted to provide extra hunting days for hunters later in the season.
Van Horn said 73 percent of the people commenting at the meetings were in favor of some form of a split in the north. Fifty percent of hunters favored the split that would have occurred during a Monday through Friday and moves those days to the Thanksgiving Day weekend.
“It is not an issue for conservation, as the majority of the duck hunters are done in the northern zone by November,” Van Horn said. “We’re just trying to be responsive to an idea that hunters brought forward.”
NRB member Jane Wiley asked if there was a groundswell of support for the split season, and why the rush to start the split season rather than wait for a statewide vote at the spring hearings. Van Horn said the idea of a split is not new.
He also noted that at the public meetings a lot of people show up but not everybody makes comments, and unless they express opposition, they usually are considered to be in agreement with the proposals.
Van Horn said that at the Spooner meeting he encouraged hunters to share their ideas, and they had different desires, depending on the areas they hunt. Some want to hunt shallow marshes that often freeze earlier, and others hunt larger waters with that stay open longer.
Dave Clausen, NRB chairman, said he used to do a lot of field hunting, and a lot of hunters like hunting that first week in November. Clausen received calls from people who said they didn’t know about the proposal until it was too late.
According to the DNR summary of the public meetings, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Green Bay Duck Hunters Association, and Black Slough Conservation Club favored no split in the north.
NRB member Greg Kazmierski congratulated Van Horn on responding to hunters’ requests.
John Edelblute, representing the Conservation Congress Migratory Committee, said the committee supported the season plan, including the split in the north.
Edelblute noted that traditionally the Congress wants a northern season that runs straight through, but the longer 60-day season provides more opportunities for duck hunting in the southern parts of the north zone later into November.
Ralph Fritsch, of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, supported the majority of the proposal, but said the WWF had reservations about the split in the north. Fritsch said there was an under-representation of shallow-water hunters when the northern split was discussed, and the state should wait and ask the question at the 2013 spring hearings.
He said that if a split were adopted in 2012, it should be from Nov. 17 through Nov. 23, or the opening days of the gun deer season, when many hunters turn to deer hunting. That would still allow field hunting in early November while adding days to the Thanksgiving weekend.
However, Fritsch’s proposal would not have reopened hunting on Thanksgiving Day or the Friday afterward.
Van Horn said there was logic to the WWF proposal, but the original request from northern duck hunters was to use the split days saved during the Thanksgiving holiday. Van Horn gave the WWF some room to change its recommendation, to close the season during the opening weekend of gun deer season and add that onto opening the season during Thanksgiving Day and the following three-day weekend, but neither the board nor the WWF took the bait.
NRB member Jane Wiley said that not enough of the public had been heard. She made a motion to run the north zone straight through – without a split season.
Wiley’s motion was defeated, with Bruins, Wiley, and Clausen in favor and Thomas, Hilgenberg, Kazmierski, and Cole against it.
Kazmierski said he believes the split during the gun deer season is OK and the idea eventually will be heard by the public.
Thomas added that whatever happens, the state should begin discussions about the split so that everyone knows the board will consider it again next year.
The board then approved the split season as recommended by the DNR by a 4-3 vote (with Thomas, Hilgenberg, Kazmierski, and Cole voting in favor).
The youth waterfowl hunt will be Sept. 15-16 statewide.
The Mississippi Flyway Council and DNR added seven days to the Canada goose season so that it now runs for 92 days. The liberalization follows five years of stable regulations.
Canada goose hunting begins Sept. 16 in the Exterior Zone and first period of the Horicon Zone, and Sept. 22 in the Mississippi River Subzone.
Canada goose hunting will be closed in the Exterior North Zone, South Zone, and Mississippi River Subzone when the duck seasons there are closed for split seasons. The season, however, doesn’t close within the Horicon Zone.
Canada geese breeding in northern Ontario (Mississippi Valley Population) was 25 percent below the long-term average, although the early spring is expected to result in good production. Canada geese nesting locally in Wisconsin (giant Canada geese) were expected to have good reproduction.