Waterfowl hunters offer opinions on fourth zone

Carlyle, Ill. — Nearly a handful of duck seasons into a new zone structure, DNR has begun the process of gauging hunter support and satisfaction of the change.
So far, the results are mixed.

In a report by the Illinois Natural History Survey, hunters in the south and south-central zones appear to have the strongest opinions, with 40.8 percent of the south zone hunters and 28.7 percent of the south-central zone hunters who were questioned indicating they prefer four duck zones with no split seasons.

Nearly 30 percent of south-central zone hunters in the report prefer three duck zones with split seasons in one, two, or all zones.

Exploring hunter satisfaction  with the zones structure began last year, when the INHS’ annual waterfowl hunter report included in its inquiry form questions about the new fourth waterfowl zone, which opened in 2011-12 for the regular waterfowl seasons and in 2012-13 for the September goose season. 

The INHS survey after the 2013-14 season also asked hunters about their season preferences if the 60-day duck season was trimmed to 45 days or even 30 days. 

It also sought opinions on the weather.

Timing of the questions is no coincidence: The next opportunity for zone changes will be for the 2016-20 seasons. 

Collecting information on hunter satisfaction in areas impacted by the change was actually a condition of implementing the four-zone structure.

The change involved taking the former south zone and dividing it into two zones, creating south and a south-central zones. 

According to the INHS report, during the 2013-14 duck season, hunters harvested the second fewest ducks per hunter per season, an average of 1.86 ducks per hunter per season more than hunters in the north one and 1.12 and 2.88 ducks per hunter per season fewer than hunters in the south and central zones, respectively. 

When it came to overall satisfaction, hunters in the added south central zone were the least satisfied with every aspect of the season – except the weather. On that topic, south zone hunters were least satisfied with the weather, but most satisfied with the amount of time they spent duck hunting, and second most satisfied with other season  aspects. 

Other findings in INHS’ report:

• When presented with the proposition of a 45-day duck season, the greatest consensus among duck hunters that hunted ducks more than one day per season was in support of delaying the start of duck season by two weeks and having it end at the same time (this year’s season ends Jan. 25). The second most preferred among all zones was for the loss to be split with one week at the beginning and one at the end. 

• If the season was reduced to 30 days, the greatest percentage of hunters in all zones, except the south zone, would prefer the season to start two weeks later and end two weeks earlier. South zone hunters would prefer the start of the season be delayed by one month and end as it does now.

• When asked, more than one-third of respondents in all zones, except the south-central zone, indicated they did not have a preference for changes to the four-zone structure related to split seasons. 

• If a three zone/two season segment structure was implemented during the 2016-20 seasons, south-central zone hunters showed the strongest collective opinion, with 41.5 percent in favor of combining the central and south-central and leaving the north and south zones the way they currently stand. 

• If the season remains continuous during the 2016-20 seasons, the preferred option by the most hunters in all zones is to have no change to the zone structure, maintain the four zones as they are now.

• The number of waterfowl hunters decreased from 50,740 during the 2012-13 season to 49,170 during the 2013-14 season. only, 10 percent hunted geese only, and 60 percent hunted both ducks and geese 

• When asked about weather patterns over the last five waterfowl hunting seasons, 43 percent of hunters indicated the patterns were leading to a trend.

To view the full INHS 2013-14 Illinois Waterfowl Hunter Report: wwx.inhs.illinois.edu/programs

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