Earliest Minnesota duck opener in decades begins this Saturday
Bemidji, Minn. — The odds say Saturday’s duck opener will be a good one.
Of the past four early openers, three (2003, 2011, and 2012) were generally considered good. The 2004 opener – and the entire season – wasn’t very good.
“I don’t think it will be our best opener ever, but I certainly think it should be pretty good,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.
The season kicks off a half-hour before sunrise.
In all likelihood, teal and wood ducks will make up the bulk of the weekend’s bag. Those species are early migrants, so hunters get more cracks at them when the season opens early – and this year’s opener is the earliest in nearly 70 years.
And it’s possible more teal and wood ducks will be around – and that they’ll be around longer – thanks to a late spring that’s pushed duck chronology back by a couple of weeks.
Earlier this week, Cordts talked to Louisiana’s waterfowl biologist, who flies monthly surveys.
The report: “Their teal season is open right now, but it’s the lowest number of teal they’ve ever recorded in September,” he said. “So we’re looking at it being early September – chronology-wise – compared to last year.
“I think that will bode well for the first part of the season,” he added.
This week’s forecast also seems to be promising for a good opening day, with low nightly temperatures and the forecasted daytime temperatures set to drop by Saturday.
Cordts earlier this week began flying his fall duck flights in the Bemidji and Grand Rapids areas.
“Generally, the rice looks pretty good, and water levels seem like they are improved from last year,” he said. “We saw some pockets of teal, but both teal and wood ducks are pretty hard to count. (Overall), things looked pretty good to me, though I’ve certainly seen more ducks before the season opened.”
But those years were generally when the season opened on the Saturday closest to Oct. 1.
Ring-necked ducks haven’t arrived yet in large numbers – “typically if we had a lot of migrant ringnecks here you would see flocks numbering in the thousands,” Cordts said – though some spots had good numbers of Canada geese, likely those that have returned from their molt migration.
“There are migrants moving in every day,” he said. “There are still teal migrating into the state. And things will shift around a little. The best assessment will be the first half-hour on Saturday morning, when birds start getting bounced around. Then we’ll see what’s around.”
Hunters last year killed 834,950 ducks, according to the DNR. That was up from 730,370 in 2011. The DNR last year sold 90,052 duck stamps, which was the highest number since 2008. There were an estimated 90,400 duck hunters in the state last year, which was the highest since 2005.
“I think our harvest should be good again this year, as long as we maintain hunter numbers,” Cordts said.
There’s been fewer goose hunters in the field this year, but Cordts figures part of the reason for that is reports of a decrease in the number of geese in the state.
“I hope it doesn’t carry over into duck hunter numbers,” he said.
The Canada goose season opens along with the duck season on Saturday, and also closes when the season splits occur in the central and southern duck zones. (See Page 21 for dates.)
The daily bag limit for Canada geese is three per day; it’s six per day for ducks. The possession limit for all migratory birds is three times the daily limit.