Bemidji, Minn. — Dress light, shoot straight, and, oh, by the way, bring some bug repellent, just in case.
Such is the typical advice for Minnesota waterfowlers heading out for Saturday’s 2014 duck season opener. And scout; always sage wisdom that’s shared.
As for the ducks? DNR managers don’t expect poor hunting, but given the weather conditions and the current stage of migration, the skies across the state aren’t predicted to be darkened by the likes of mallards, teal, ringnecks, redheads, wood ducks, canvasbacks, and others this weekend.
“I think we’re going to have a pretty good opener for ducks,” said Dave Trauba, DNR manager of the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area in western Minnesota.
“We’ve got ducks in the places we’d expect to see them – in those shallow sheet-water areas.”
The season opens a half-hour before sunrise, as it has for a few years now. That following a 9 a.m. opener for a few years, and preceeded several years ago by a noon opener.
That early opener likely will be a saving grace for waterfowlers this year, who across the state face the prospects of highs in the low to mid-80s. A year ago, when the season opened Sept. 21, the high was about 20 degrees cooler. Upon heading to the marsh pre-sunrise this Saturday, expect temperatures to be between 55 and 60, on average, across the state.
“Do I like 80? No, but it’s not unprecedented for the opener,” Trauba said.
He issued a further warning for those wishing to be fully prepared: “We had one heck of a hatch of mosquitoes just in the last few days. I’d get your teal quick and get out.”
Just a ways south, the Marshall area is hosting a few ducks, according to Wendy Krueger, DNR area wildlife manager based in that city.
“I think we had pretty good local production (of ducks) this year,” Krueger said. “Personally, I haven’t decided on a spot to hunt yet. Despite the (warm) weather, ducks should be around.”
Water levels in the area are good, she said, and it’s possible some molt-migrant Canada geese have arrived in the area.
Southern Minnesota wildlife officials suggested hunters scout before the season, among other reasons the fact that some basins have been drawn down and aren’t accessible for duck hunting.
“By significantly lowering the water level of a lake, we can help eliminate rough fish and allow vegetation to grow back,” said Ken Varland, DNR regional wildlife manager in New Ulm. “Wetland vegetation filters nutrients and helps create a healthy balance in the wetlands, providing food and protective cover for waterfowl and other species of wildlife as well as improving water quality.”
Some lakes where the DNR cautions access may be difficult are Lake 14 in Big Stone County, Hobza Marsh in Blue Earth County, Bear Lake and State Line Lake in Freeborn County, Teal Lake (due to abundant vegetation) in Jackson County, Chen By and Prairie Dell in Lincoln County, Nyroca Flats in Lyon County, Big Slough, Lake Maria, and North Badger and South Badger lakes in Murray County, and Sand Lake in Sibley County.
Water levels for Thief Lake in the Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area are within an inch of target, according to Joel Huener, the DNR manager there.
“We did have high water in the summer, so some vegetation is sparser there than normal,” Huener said.
“We had decent production of both ducks and geese locally,” he said, “and we saw some migrant geese earlier in September. There are good numbers of ducks on (Thief Lake).”
Those birds ranged from canvasbacks to ringnecks to mallards and others, he said.
On average, about 70 to 90 parties make their way to locations around the lake in far northwestern Minnesota to hunt opening-day ducks. Huener said youths did well during the one-day youth waterfowl hunt earlier this year, averaging about four ducks per hunter.
The forecast for the Middle River area Saturday? The upper 70s, with winds from the south at about 15 miles per hour, Huener said.
Steve Cordts, the DNR’s waterfowl specialist in Bemidji, said he hopes to have a bag of ducks and be gone from the duck blind before expected daytime highs in the low 80s are reached in that area on Saturday. On Monday, he took a flight to examine the waterfowl situation.
“There were some migrant ringnecks around here now,” Cordts said, adding that stable weather this week should result in few ducks coming or going in most parts of Minnesota.
He added that the rice crop wasn’t especially good in some areas, and that could negatively affect some northern-Minnesota duck hunting. “But that shouldn’t hurt this weekend,” he said.
Prospects across the state were pretty good this year.
“The number of breeding ducks this spring was very high based on the continental duck breeding population surveys,” Cordts said in a DNR press release. “In addition, recruitment, or the number of young ducks that hatched, was also good this year based on reports we’ve heard. These young ducks comprise a large percentage of duck hunters’ bags during the fall.”
Waterfowl habitat conditions are generally good statewide with much higher water levels than last year at this time.
The DNR will post a weekly waterfowl migration report each week during the duck season. The reports are typically posted on Thursday at www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/waterfowl
Last fall, about 90,000 state waterfowl stamps were sold, which is similar to recent years but considerably lower than the 1970s, when 140,000 waterfowl stamps were sold.
The duck-season structure is similar to recent years except for an adjustment in dates in the South Zone, where the season opens for a three-day period from Sept. 27-29.
The season is closed until it reopens Oct. 11, continuing through Dec. 6.
In the Central Zone, the season runs Sept. 27 through Oct. 5, and Oct. 11 through Nov. 30. In the North Zone, it runs Sept. 27 through Nov. 25.