The consensus: A good waterfowl opener on tap

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Bemidji, Minn. — It’s difficult to look into a crystal ball and figure out exactly what’s in store for duck hunters when the season opens Saturday, but signs point to a good start.

The long-term forecast, for one, doesn’t suggest the sort of weather that would push blue-winged teal and wood ducks out of the state. And, for two, the number of breeding waterfowl in Minnesota was up this spring.

“The abundance of breeding ducks in Minnesota and North America has been good in recent years, so we hope that results in good opportunities for duck hunters this fall,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “Wetland habitat conditions are fairly good across the state, and with a little help from Mother Nature with some favorable fall weather, it could be a good season.”

The season opens Saturday across the state. It runs through Nov. 22 in the north zone. In the central zone, it remains open through Oct. 2, closes, and then reopens Oct. 8 and runs through Nov. 27. In the south zone, the season is open through Oct. 2, closes for 12 days, and reopens Oct. 12. It runs through Dec. 4.

While Cordts doesn’t expect there to be a lot of ring-necked ducks – which are important to hunters in the far northern part of the state – this weekend, he believes there will be strong teal and wood duck numbers in the rest of Minnesota.

“We’re not going to have anything in the way of weather that’s going to push a bunch of teal and wood ducks out,” he said. “We’re losing them every day, probably, but we’re not supposed to be in the 30s or anything. I imagine they will stick around through opening weekend or the first week.

“Up in the northern part of the state it’s usually pretty decent for ringnecks,” Cordts added. “I don’t think we’ll have a huge number of ringnecks here yet. The rest of the state is more dependent on wood ducks and bluewings. And they should be around.”

Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, has seen good numbers of teal in the central part of the state.

“I don’t think we’ve had enough (cold) weather to push them too far,” he said. “I would think teal would make up a big percentage of people’s bags this weekend.”

In the Fergus Falls area, there are fewer teal than there were a couple weeks ago, said Don Schultz, the DNR area wildlife manager there. That’s despite the fact that temperatures there haven’t been very cool.

“This year has been pretty mild, and I thought it might (hold more teal around), but it didn’t seem to make any difference,” he said.

Still, Schultz expects a good opener in the area.

“There are ducks, but some sloughs are full of ducks and you’ll see some sloughs that don’t have any ducks,” he said.

The key, according to Nylin, is to scout.

“There seems to be a lot of birds around everywhere I have traveled,” he said. “The kicker is that they are going to be spread out from here to Kingdom Come because of all the (rain) we have had during the past couple of months.”

Access should be good just about everywhere as a result of all the rain in August and the early part of September. While high water is good for hunter access – there aren’t as many, if any, mud flats, for example – Cordts also noted high water isn’t a good thing for the water quality in shallow lakes and wetlands.

And the heavy rains in July wiped out what was a promising wild rice crop in some parts of the state.

“In the rice lakes I’ve seen from about Bemidji to Grand Rapids, the rice looks good,” Cordts said. “But the farther east you go, there are a lot of areas where it was just a bust. It pretty much got washed away.”

There are ducks around the Grand Rapids areas, according to Perry Loegering, the DNR area wildlife manager there. He and others have seen early migrating species such as green-winged teal, pintails, and redheads. There are some ring-necked ducks on the bigger rice lakes, he said.

“The fact that we have seen a few ringnecks is probably a good sign,” Loegering said. “The big push usually comes around the last week of September, and if they’re here or not on the opener kind of makes or breaks it.”

At the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management area, wildlife manager Walt Gessler has seen some large flocks of teal in the past week or so.

“If hunters are out and they’ve scouted, they should have a reasonable opportunity to have a good opener,” Gessler said.

Cordts did note that he believes some parts of the state have picked up some molt migrant Canada geese. The regular Canada goose season opens Saturday, too.

When geese are around, “Sometimes that turns a fair hunt into a good hunt if (hunters) can shoot a goose or two,” he said.

Categories: Hunting News, Waterfowl

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