Madison — When Wisconsin’s early teal season opens at 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 1, the state will make a bit of history with this first-of-a-kind season.
Whether the season will be successful and continue beyond its experimental phase will be determined by hunters, the type of ducks they end up shooting, and, among other things, by Kent Van Horn, the DNR’s migratory game bird ecologist. Several other questions about the season, at least for now, remain unanswered.
Van Horn said during a phone interview that he did not know what form a report on the initial season of the three-year experiment would take, or what details would be included in any after-hunt assessment, or even if such a report would emerge from the information his crews will be gathering during the seven-day season that ends at 7 p.m. on Sept. 7.
He also declined to provide any details on how, by whom, and where the hunt would be monitored. However, from other sources, Wisconsin Outdoor News has learned that the DNR has selected a number of field wardens to participate in training sessions aimed at preparing those wardens to monitor the early teal season. Those wardens will be set up in “monitoring mode” in random locations in an attempt to count ducks other than teal that might be shot.
One of the principal aims of monitoring the season is for the DNR to determine whether gunners are sufficiently adept at identifying ducks in flight to avoid shooting non-target waterfowl. Van Horn has said if he had any concerns it would be about confusing hen mallards with blue-winged teal, except that mallards are bigger and have orange bills, whereas both teal species have black beaks. A federal law enforcement officer listed female wood ducks, which have black bills and a white eye patch, as a second concern.
The season was approved by the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board at its June meeting, with the backing of Van Horn. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had offered Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan an experimental season of up to 16 days based on the USFWS’s 2014 North American population estimate of 11.9 million blue- and green-winged teal, an increase of 11 percent from last year and 72 percent above the long-term average.
Minnesota has declined the offer to initiate an early teal season in that state.
Van Horn would not discuss the details of the Wisconsin monitoring plan, such as how many DNR employees would be observing hunters during the seven-day hunt, or where they would be located.
“If we provided that information (to the public), it would bias the experiment,” Van Horn said.
He also said it would be a mistake to assume that the most popular duck-hunting areas in the state, such as the La Crosse area, or Horicon Marsh, would be the most closely watched.
“We will be monitoring from random locations,” he said, “and recording the duck species that fly by the hunters and what ducks they shoot at and what ducks they don’t shoot at.”
He urges hunters to be sure of their target: “If you’re not 100 percent sure, don’t shoot,” was his advice.
He said conservation wardens will be on duty, as they are during the regular duck season, and would be issuing citations for any violations that occur. Van Horn recommended hunters visit the DNR website and use the search words “teal proposal” for additional information.
The seven-day Wisconsin season opens at 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 1 and closes at 7 p.m., and continues from sunrise to 7 p.m. on the six following days. The daily bag limit is six teal of either species.
Carl McMurl, deputy manager for the Winona (Minn.) District of the USFWS refuge on the Mississippi River, said the season would be federally monitored in his area as if it were a regular opening day:
“We’ll have bag checks and be making car counts at the various boat landing parking lots as we usually do.” He added that he was unsure of Wisconsin’s monitoring plan because he had heard a couple different versions.
Van Horn said he had been telling hunters not to worry about the monitoring system – that they should bone up on duck identification and enjoy themselves.
Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota DNR, recently was quoted as saying the state on Wisconsin’s western flank would sit out a teal season. “We’re doing nothing,” he said. “We’re going to do a hunter survey after the season is over … and we’re going to watch the other states,” Cordts said in an interview with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Minnesota newspaper also noted the arguments for and against an early season: The opportunity to hunt in warm weather and have a chance at a species the majority of which often migrates south before the regular season opens in late September or early October. “… Those opposed say bird identification so early in the year … is nearly impossible,” the story said.
An earlier poll of Wisconsin duck hunters resulted in 41 percent approving a proposed season, and 43 percent opposed. Van Horn and others said before the season received approval that if an experimental hunt period was chosen, the best time would be when the population was at or near its peak.