Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Waterfowlers gunning for prolific season

Springfield – This upcoming season and the next are not necessarily the end of things as we have come to know them, but duck and goose hunting could look different in 2016-17.

More opportunities to hunt wood ducks and specklebellies? A bigger mallard bag? Another re-organization of the state’s widely debated  waterfowl hunting zones?

Those are decisions state biologists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will look at next year as Illinois develops a new five-year plan for waterfowl zone lines and season dates for the 2016-20 period.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 

The 2014-15 waterfowl season officially opens with the September Canada goose season Sept. 1 and the teal season on Sept. 6. As for the regular waterfowl seasons, DNR’s proposed dates have been approved by the USFWS and will once again include a 60-day campaign in each of the four zones.

The duck, Canada goose and snow goose seasons will open on Oct. 18 in the north zone, Oct. 25 in the central zone, Nov. 8 in the south-central zone, and Nov. 27 in the south zone. White-fronted goose seasons open Nov. 3 in the north zone, Nov. 19 in the central and southcentral zones and Nov. 27 in the south zone.

The daily duck bag limit is six ducks, which may include no more than four mallards (two hens), three wood ducks, three scaup, two redheads, two pintails, one canvasback, one black duck and one mottled duck. The bag limit of mergansers is five, only two of which may be hooded mergansers.

Meanwhile, duck hunters in Illinois are encouraged by projections from the USFWS, which indicate populations of most species remained strong during this year’s breeding season. USFWS’ estimate for the total duck population is 49.2 million birds, an 8 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 45.6 million birds, and 43 percent above the long-term average.

Mallard numbers were put at 10.9 million, similar to last year’s estimate of 10.4 million birds and 42 percent above the long-term average. Most other species were at last year’s levels or above. However, the canvasback estimate of 685,000 was slightly lower than the 2013 estimate of 787,000, although it was still 18 percent above the long-term average. The canvasback bag limit was decreased from two to one for this season.

Randy Smith, DNR’s waterfowl biologist, said he is expecting a solid season. He noted that Illinois duck hunters had “a pretty average harvest” last year, but one has to factor in that harsh weather cost the state’s hunters about one-fourth of the season’s hunting days.

Smith noted that the addition of the fourth waterfowl zone in 2011 has mostly been well-accepted.

“For the most part, it was worked quite well, though we have some hunters who complain about the new zone lines, which can be expected,” he said. “That [waterfowl zones] is something we will likely discuss while putting together the new five-year plan.”

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