Michigan NRC approves 2018 waterfowl season framework

Lansing — The Michigan Natural Resources Commission gave final approval earlier this month for 2018 waterfowl hunting regulations that will add days to the early teal season, increase take for pintails, and move the youth waterfowl hunting weekend back one week.

Michigan DNR waterfowl specialist Barbara Avers told Michigan Outdoor News both the federal framework for migratory birds and the state’s recommended season and bag limits remained largely the same as 2017, with the exception of teal and pintails.

The 2018 regulations take advantage of liberalized federal regulations on teal to expand an early teal season established last year after a successful three-year trial. The season, which previously ran Sept. 1-10, will now run through Sept. 16.

“The longer we can have that early teal season, it increases the odds we’ll hit that teal migration season,” Avers said. “It actually encompasses three full weekends, including the Labor Day weekend, so folks should have more time to get out and participate.”

The six teal daily bag limit and 18 teal possession limit remains unchanged.

Avers said an increase from a one pintail limit to two was also aimed at increasing opportunities afforded by the liberalized federal framework, which is crafted based on a sophisticated population estimate.

“The model for 2018 predicted a higher breeding season and that’s what kicked it into a more moderate” two-duck limit, she said.

The only other significant change to waterfowl regulations centered on the youth waterfowl hunting weekend, which was previously held on the second weekend in September.

“There was a desire to move that hunt later… because of duck abundance,” Avers said. “The main reason was to hold it a little bit later so there’s more ducks around for the kids to take advantage of.”

DNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason said the department also heard from families with young hunters who pointed out the waterfowl weekend correlated with the youth deer firearm hunt.

“In the past… parents had to make a choice,” Mason said. “Now they can do both and the waterfowl hunting will be better on the third weekend, anyhow.”

The NRC approved the DNR’s recommended changes in March, much earlier than in the past. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sets the framework for migratory bird hunting seasons and bag limits in consultation with multi-state Flyway Councils.

Federal officials streamlined that process in recent years by setting the framework based on data from the previous year, rather than the current year, which allows states to craft regulations much earlier in the year. The change came amid complaints that the old process of setting regulations in the late summer left little time for hunters to make arrangements for the season.

Michigan’s 2018-19 migratory bird seasons are “based on the 2017 state and federal assessments of waterfowl population status and habitat conditions, and public input including discussion with the Citizens Waterfowl Advisory Committee (CWAC),” according to the DNR.

Population estimates conducted in late April and early May 2017 show total duck abundance increased by about 180,000 from 2016, including a 20,000 increase in the mallard population.

Michigan’s 2017 estimate for Canada geese, meanwhile, was down from 332,932 in 2016 to 291,658 in 2017.