Thursday, February 9th, 2023
Thursday, February 9th, 2023

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For some hunters, duck season’s end ‘fantastic’

Bemidji, Minn. — On Nov. 10, a cold front whipped through Minnesota, and for most duck hunters, just like that, the season crashed to an early end, nearly a month before its official end. But that didn’t deter folks like John Schroers, a board member with the Minnesota Waterfowl Association and avid metro river duck hunter.
“It was a fantastic end to the season,” said Schroers, of Shakopee. “The last three weeks were dynamite.”
Count Schroers among those who would encourage the DNR to leave well enough alone when it comes to duck hunting and season splits. Other hunters – those without nearby rivers and who saw their hunting opportunities freeze up in November – might say otherwise.
Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist, said he hopes surveys the department soon will distribute to duck hunters might better bring into focus how they feel about the splits, which ave been around for four years now; in 2011 there were two zones, and the past three years, there have been three. What changed this year, Cordts said, was that in the South Zone, the “closed” portion of the split was extended, to nine days, and effectively creating a “second opener” Oct. 11 in the south.
The rationale, according to Cordts, was that following opening weekend, there’s often a “lull” during which early migrants migrate, and other ducks filter into Minnesota. The southern zone also includes southeastern Minnesota, where many river hunters wish to go as late into the season as possible.
But in other parts of the south, and even the Central and North zones, to varying degrees, there was a sense of loss among waterfowlers this year when freeze-up arrived early. Cordts has heard from a few of the disgruntled hunters. 
“It’s hard to say if it’s a lot (of complaints),” he said. “They started back in early in the season (and all came from) southern Minnesota.”
An early ice-over occurred last year, too, but the past two falls have come on the heels of years during which cold weather wasn’t as much of an issue. But, Cordts said, “This November was one of the coldest we’ve had.”
All that doesn’t mean the DNR couldn’t choose a new path. However, Cordts said, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rules mean the zones must remain in place for five years, “but that doesn’t mean we have to use them,” he said, adding that some regulations could be uniform for two or more of the zones.
Cordts also said that while some hunters regret the loss of hunting opportunity later in the season, they likely didn’t miss out on the period of greatest harvest. He expects the survey results (it’s the first survey since 2011) will go a long way toward determining Minnesota duck hunters’ thoughts on the season-split matter.
“If there was angst over the timing of the hunt this year, we should see it in our survey,” he said.
Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, said it may not have been a banner waterfowl season, but it was pretty good. 
Nylin said his season opener was decent, but that better hunting came his way later, from mid-October until the first week in November, when ringneck and redhead numbers were strong in parts of west-central Minnesota.
From MWA membership, Nylin’s heard the gamut of happy to mad regarding the waterfowl season splits. “I’m not sure what the answer is, but the zone itself isn’t the issue.”
Of note, Nylin said it appears from reports that there may have been fewer Canada geese available for waterfowlers in Minnesota this year.
“I didn’t shoot a goose this season, which is unusual,” he said, adding that members, too, said opportunities to harvest geese were down.
Some DNR conservation officers in the southeast said duck hunters were taking full advantage of the season, hunting until the South Zone closed Dec. 6. Predictably, those are hunters who want to keep the season split as-is.
“Most people in Winona that I talk to love the split,” said CO Tom Hemker.
Over the course of the season, Hemker said, duck hunting was pretty good, if not great.

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