Generous waterfowl seasons proposed

Havana, Ill. — The hunt is on, as long as ducks and geese abide.

Another 60-day duck season will be afforded to hunters in all four of the state’s waterfowl hunting zones, according to a proposal set forth by DNR.

If approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, regular duck seasons would open on Oct. 19 in the north zone, Oct. 26 in the central zone, Nov. 9 in the south central zone and Nov. 28 in the south zone.

Canada goose hunting seasons of 90 days in the north and central zones, 84 days in the south central zone and 65 days in the south zone were also proposed.

Meanwhile, hunters wanting to get an early start to the waterfowling season will be able to participate in the early Canada goose season Sept. 1-15. There will be a daily limit of five geese and a possession limit of 15 geese in the north and central zones, with a daily limit of two and a possession limit of six in the south central and south zones.

Teal hunting will be open Sept. 7-22, according to DNR. The daily teal bag limit will be six, with a possession limit of 18. Shooting hours for the September teal season – they are different from the regular season – are sunrise until sunset.

What hunters should expect this season is tough to predict, given the weather conditions that existed in spring and summer. According to DNR waterfowl biologist Randy Smith, resident Canada goose breeding season was hit hard around the state by high water this past spring.

That said, Smith suspects that most migrating waterfowl shouldn’t have been affected by the high waters.

“The spring floods were mostly late enough that most of the common migrants had mostly passed through the area,” Smith said.

Back in June, Smith surveyed the state’s resident Canada goose broods, and the early results were not favorable. He and his staff saw fewer goose broods than expected. Smith said nests in low-lying areas were destroyed by the high water near streams and reservoirs.

That was disappointing, given that the annual survey of nesting Canada goose in the state this April showed nesting on par with the last five years.

But the survey missed most of the flooding, Smith added, noting that the state’s adult Canada goose population would have been able to get through the spring largely unscathed.

“I would say that northeast Illinois received so much flash flooding that every low-lying area was flooded,” Smith said, who surveyed the damage and found far fewer young Canada geese than he would have expected to see after April’s nesting survey.

It’s not all bad news.

“We still have plenty of adult geese in the state,” Smith said.

As for other waterfowl, many of the state’s resident nesting species would have had their breeding season hurt by the high water, Smith said, even including wood ducks, which often nest in the cavities of trees, often 10 to 20 feet off of the ground.

“They’ll nest as high as they can, but the lower range would be susceptible, especially along the Illinois River,” Smith said, noting that new flood records were set along the river. “It was close to 20 feet over normal river stage in Normal and Havana.”

Once again, fall weather, available food sources and migrating decisions made by ducks and geese will determine hunters success.

Hunting seasons proposed by DNR this year are based on a five-year plan for waterfowl hunting that was developed in 2011 and continues through the 2015 season.

Bag limits are determined by analysis of waterfowl counts and previous harvests.

The proposed daily duck bag limit is six and may include no more than four mallards (two hens), three wood ducks, one mottled duck, two redheads, three scaup, two pintails, two canvasbacks and one black duck.

The proposed daily bag limit of mergansers is five, only two of which may be hooded mergansers. The possession limit for ducks and mergansers is three times the daily bag limit by species and sex.

For white-fronted geese, the daily bag limit will be two with a possession limit of six. For snow geese, the proposed daily bag limit is 20 birds, with no possession limit.

Again, the state’s regulations are subject to final approval by the USFWS later this summer.

“We’re expecting good numbers of ponds and ducks, which tends to lead to liberal hunting seasons,” Smith said.

The flooding is also affecting the ability for wildlife managers to prepare for the coming season, Smith said, noting that flooded fields can’t be planted with crops to attract waterfowl as well as preventing drawdowns that allow for other plants to grow that provide food for waterfowl.

“Last year was a banner year for food and we saw record numbers of birds,” Smith said. “This year, we would expect to see fewer ducks in all of those places come fall.”

The Illinois waterfowl zone maps are available on the DNR website at dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/waterfowl/Pages/MapsApprovedWaterfowlZoneLines.aspx.

Additional details on the duck, goose and other migratory bird hunting seasons will be available at dnr.illinois.gov and in the 2013 Illinois Digest of Waterfowl Hunting Regulations, which is expected to be available in September.

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