Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Wisconsin duck hunters get early shooting hours for first time in years

Last week the Natural Resources Board met in Horicon to discuss some hot topics pertaining to waterfowl hunting.  At the meeting, Don Kirby, the Executive Director for the Wales-based Wisconsin Waterfowl Association (WWA), was on hand to give his two cents on the topics.

WWA has always played a key role in not only protecting and creating wetlands, but also fighting for the rights of hunters. 

“WWA was founded, 31 years ago by concerned folks who felt their voices were not being heard in Madison,” Kirby said. “ Thus, advocacy on behalf of hunters is the genesis of our work – all our other efforts are expansions from that original intent.  I testified in support of this year's season proposal, most specifically to acknowledge the response to my testimony from last year, where I presented the case for the elimination of the delayed start on opening days.” 

One topic was about moving the shooting hours on the waterfowl opener from 9 a.m. to 30 minutes before sunrise.

“By eliminating the delayed start on opening days (may be different days in the three zones), it allows waterfowl hunters to experience the full horizon of opportunity on the first day of the season,” he said. “Although one may be successful hunting waterfowl at any time of the day, their biology dictates that first light can be some of the greatest activity.  For years, tradition in Wisconsin meant not starting until noon on the first day. About a decade ago that was changed to 9 a.m, which itself was a compromise between those who liked the delay, and those who wanted to start at the same time one can on any other day of the season.  Especially for those who might only hunt ducks for a weekend or two, this will be a really great change.  Wisconsin was the only state in the nation which still had a delayed start, and so now we'll enjoy the same privilege so many others have long held.” 

Another change is that the bag limit on canvasbacks has been increased to two per day for the 2015 season.

“This is an opportunity based on federal population estimates,” Kirby said.  “When the spring surveys are taken, depending on the count, the season structure may be set for zero, one, or two ‘ cans.'  We're fortunate here in Wisconsin, with one of the greatest congregations of canvasbacks in the continent, right on the Mississippi River, although they can also be found in good numbers on Green Bay, the Winnebago system, Horicon, and dispersed around somewhat.  Its good news for duck hunters, as the ‘can' is seen as a bit of a 'great white whale' for some hunters – a trophy, and of course, is one held in high regard as table-fare, as well.”

Also in the mix was a change in the rules for the Mississippi River Zone which changed to a seven-day split rather than a 12-day season. 

“The 12-day season split seen the past couple of years was instituted so the Mississippi River Zone could start as early as possible, and still hunt as late as possible,” he said.  “This year, those most interested in hunting this area didn't want to open as early as in year's past.  I believe this might already be a sign of influence, from the experimental early teal season – as hunters now have the opportunity to target teal, in this season, before they begin their early migration to points south.”

Kirby added that during the season-setting debates, over the past few weeks, WWA voted in favor of a five-day split to ensure the extra two "weekend days" in October, instead of the two "week days" in December, since even with a five day split the season would already extend into the first week of the last month of the year. 

“Following the debate period, the majority desired the seven-day split, and so WWA approved this proposal in a compromise,” he said. “We all need to remember, we're all in this together!” 

WWA had no official stance on the early teal season because its membership was split on the topic.

“WWA was not able to take a position on the three-year experimental early teal season last year,” he said. “Our membership was nearly perfectly divided:  half strongly approved of the additional opportunity, one enjoyed by states to our south for decades, while the other half is deeply opposed to the early hunt, believing that the extra disturbance in the field will displace the mallards, woodies, and other ducks that can't be hunted until later in the fall, and that this hunt will result in a significant amount of illegal, non-target take (ducks other than teal) being harvested by mistake. 

Kirby said that although the results from last year's hunt in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa looked good, with only a limited non-target take, WWA members are still quite divided on this issue.

“Frankly, it will be very interesting, even to me to see how this all shakes out,” he said.

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