Hayward, Wis. — Wisconsin’s 2014 60-day duck season comes with a six-duck-per-day bag limit – as expected – but was close to losing the 9 a.m. season start on opening day in favor of shooting hours of 30 minutes before sunrise.
What this season is going to come with is a plea from the DNR, Conservation Congress, and waterfowl groups asking hunters to pass up hen mallards, even though the season framework allows one per day in the bag limit.
That’s because a Minnesota researcher is sure that Wisconsin’s hen mallard survival has steadily dropped below average since 1996.
Natural Resources Board members briefly flirted with the idea of moving shooting hours for the duck opener from 9 a.m. to 30 minutes before sunrise, but a request from the DNR’s waterfowl ecologist, Kent Van Horn, delayed that move for at least one year.
Board members got the idea from Don Kirby, executive director of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association. Kirby said Wisconsin is the only state in the flyway to insist on midmorning shooting hours on opening day. He said WWA members support moving opening-day shooting hours to 30 minutes before sunrise.
NRB member Christine Thomas reminded board members that she had made a similar proposal several years ago to give hunters more opportunity.
“If we were to change it – I know we would be circumventing the Conservation Congress process – would we be throwing a big curveball on such short notice?” she asked Van Horn.
“I can offer this: The tide is beginning to shift (toward favoring a pre-sunrise opener),” Van Horn said. “When we make a change we will get kick-back from those who want the 9 a.m opener, and those who still favor the noon opener. My preference would be to allow me to talk with those folks over the next year who might kick back at earlier shooting hours.”
NRB members agreed to give Van Horn that time, and unanimously approved the season framework.
Prior to Thomas rolling out her idea, Conservation Congress Waterfowl Committee chairman Al Shook told the board that a congress resolution favoring a pre-sunrise opener is working through the pipeline and likely will appear on the 2015 spring hearing ballot.
In the latest round of polling, Van Horn said that now 50 percent of duck hunters want pre-sunrise shooting hours on opening day, while 48 percent of hunters want 9 a.m., and 2 percent want to go back to the noon opener.
Van Horn said that although North American duck numbers are now at an all-time high with an estimated 4.2 million birds – a record that sits 43 percent above the long-term average – Wisconsin’s hen mallard numbers may well be dropping, based on a research project conducted in this state by University of Minnesota professor Todd Arnold.
“These are the good ol’ days, but there is one piece of concern out of a University of Minnesota study that shows survival of hen mallards in Wisconsin has been on a little bit of a downward trend,” Van Horn said.
Prior to about 1995 or 1996, about 60 percent of the state’s hen mallards survived to the following spring. Now that number has dropped to about 49 percent.
“Ever since about 1996, which is when we went to 60-day duck seasons,” he said. “There is some concern that we might be overharvesting hen mallards. The one thing we’ve done is to continue to advocate the one-hen bag limit, to continue a conservative approach.”
Shook noted that a number of waterfowlers were ready to campaign for a two-hen daily limit during the season framework process, but those ideas evaporated when Van Horn rolled out Arnold’s findings.
NRB member Jane Wiley asked if Conservation Congress delegates could help get that word out to duck hunters.
Shook said that word will be coming from a number of directions, including individual veteran hunters who already pass up hen mallards. He said that philosophy is often shared by waterfowl veterans who mentor kids during the annual youth duck hunt.
NRB member Gary Zimmer asked Van Horn if other states have similar findings.
Van Horn said the results aren’t as strong in Michigan and Ohio, but both states also have restricted hunters to one hen mallard per day. “West of us and south of us, those states are pulling a lot more prairie mallards, so the effect of harvesting locals begins to wash out,” he said.
“Maybe don’t need to panic, but maybe we should be concerned about this,” Thomas said. “I’m wondering if we don’t need to encourage people to exercise a little self-control on the hen mallard harvest even though our regulations allow for it. Maybe we won’t have 60 days next year if we keep doing what we’re doing.”
Van Horn pledged to follow up with Arnold to get a clearer picture of just what Arnold’s research means for Wisconsin.
“It’s not practical to go less than one hen mallard per day, but we can do something with education and awareness,” he said.
“I want to be out in the marsh as much as possible, but I don’t want to shoot the suzies,” Shook said.
The state will again have three duck zones, each with 60-day seasons. There will be split seasons in the southern and Mississippi River duck and goose zones.
Changes as a result of NRB approval include an expansion of the Horicon Zone Canada goose season harvest limit (from six birds to 12) and a reduction in the daily bag of canvasbacks (from two birds to one).
The 2014 youth waterfowl hunt will be held Sept. 20-21.
The daily bag limit statewide will be six ducks, including no more than:
• four mallards, of which only one may be a hen;
• one black duck;
• one canvasback;
• three wood ducks;
• two pintails;
• three scaup;
• two redheads.
For species of ducks not listed, such as teal and ringnecks, the combined bag total with all other species may not exceed six ducks. Note that possession limits have been increased to three times the daily bag limit.
“Overall, the status of duck and goose populations in 2014 is promising,” Van Horn said. “Water conditions across major North American duck-breeding areas were mostly good to excellent, and continental duck numbers remain above or near the long-term averages. This is good news and means another liberal 60-day duck season will be offered in 2014.”
In 2014, the duck-hunting season structure is as follows:
• Northern Zone – Sept. 27 to Nov. 25;
• Southern Zone – Oct. 4 to Oct 12 and Oct 18. to Dec 7;
• Mississippi River Zone – Sept. 27 to Oct. 5 and Oct. 18 to Dec 7.
The duck opener shooting hours will begin at 9 a.m.
The Horicon goose zone has been reduced in size, with areas north of Hwy. 23 and west of Hwy. 73 now included within the Exterior Zone. Horicon Zone goose hunters will be required to slit or punch their goose permit and report their harvest using (800) 99-GOOSE within 48 hours of harvest.
In 2014, the season structure for Canada goose hunting is as follows:
• Early September Canada goose season – Sept. 1-15, with a daily bag limit of five geese;
• Northern Exterior Zone – Sept. 16 to Dec 16, with a daily bag limit of two geese;
• Southern Exterior Zone – Sept. 16 to Oct. 12, and Oct. 18 to Dec. 21, with a daily bag limit of two geese;
• Mississippi River Subzone – Sept. 27 to Oct. 5 and Oct. 18 to Jan. 8, with a daily bag limit of two geese;
• Horicon Zone period 1 – Sept. 16 to Nov. 2, with a daily bag limit of two geese and total season limit of 12 geese;
• Horicon Zone period 2 – Nov. 3 to Dec. 16, with a daily bag limit of two geese and total season harvest limit of 12 geese.
The DNR will offer an early teal-only season that will run Sept. 1-7. Hunters will not have to buy any additional licenses or permits, other than those required for hunting ducks in the regular waterfowl season.
While the early teal season is offered statewide, there are some state-owned properties that have special limitations in regards to waterfowl hunting. For example, Mead Wildlife Area does not allow waterfowl hunting prior to the regular season, and Lake Mills Wildlife Area (Zeloski Marsh) has shooting hour restrictions.
The DNR is required to monitor and report hunter performance throughout the experimental three-year period.
In addition, 20 days will be added to the end of the current 70-day dove season.