Teal limit likely to increase

Havana, Ill. — Illinois will likely bump its daily limit on teal season for the first time since the season was established in 1965.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently gave states the option to increase daily bag limits because the blue-winged teal population is in good shape, and also OK’d states to increase their possession limits from two times the daily limit to three times.

That was before the annual “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations” report was released in the middle of July, which showed blue-winged teal estimated at 16 percent lower than the 2012 estimate. But the species is still 60 percent above the long-term average.

“[The Service] determined that the population can withstand greater harvest,” said Illinois waterfowl biologist Randy Smith.

The changes still need to clear a few hurdles, Smith said, including the approval of DNR Director Marc Miller and final approval by the USFWS, after a public comment period.

But the change, which would increase the daily bag limit from four birds to six, appears likely at this point, Smith said.

On the continent, blue-winged teal are the second most abundant waterfowl species behind mallard ducks.

In the Illinois River valley, which is surveyed by the Illinois Natural History Survey, there were record numbers of blue-winged teal last fall, Smith added.

The data is used to determine when to have the teal season, which is done ahead of the duck seasons since blue-winged teal arrive first. Usually, by the time the rest of the waterfowl seasons roll around, there are few blue-winged teal still around, which is why the season was established in the first place.

Last year, the Illinois teal season ran from Sept. 8-23. This year’s dates have yet to be set. Last year’s dates were released in the middle of August. Shooting hours during the September teal season differ from the regular season – they are from sunrise to sunset.

“We might cheat it a little bit to help the southern guys in the state,” Smith said of the timing of the season. “They are a species, that when conditions are right, they breed rapidly. They do migrate early. Not every hunter participates. We shoot relatively few of them. There is no reason not to have a little bit higher limit on them.”

As for increasing the possession limits, Smith said it won’t hurt duck populations, but should encourage out-of-state hunters to hunt in Illinois.

“It can be an inconvenience when you run into that possession limit,” Smith said. “This allows a little bit more wiggle room. A lot of guys eat their ducks at the end of the trip. For resident hunters, this probably won’t change things a whole lot.”

The possession limits were initially put in place to poaching, preventing hunters from taking more than their daily limit. But a more lenient possession limit has been talked about at the federal level for a while now, Smith said.

“There’s really not a good reason to not let hunters keep a few more birds in their freezer,” Smith said.

Smith said he’s heard from several hunters, wondering why an extra wood duck isn’t allowed in the bag during the teal season, since hunters in Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida are allowed this luxury.

“The teal season was designed to take advantage of blue-winged teal when they are typically here and not any other species,” Smith noted.

Smith said it’s because those states have only a five-day season, and Illinois’ teal season can range from nine days to 16 days.

And even if Illinois pursued shortening the teal season in exchange for adding a wood duck to the bag, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service no longer appears to favor the practice, Smith said.

“I don’t think they would let us do it,” Smith said.

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