Waterfowl hunters offered more options
A season of change is coming for Minnesota waterfowl hunters.
Opening day, opening day shooting hours, and the annual youth waterfowl hunt all will be earlier than in the past. Bag limits for wood ducks and hen mallards will be higher than last year. And north and south hunting zones have been added to provide additional hunting opportunity.
"We needed a change," said Tom Landwehr, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "We heard from waterfowl hunters that they supported these changes, and with waterfowl hunter numbers at record lows, we don't expect season changes to negatively affect breeding populations."
Landwehr said the 60-day, six-duck limit waterfowl season will open Saturday, Sept. 24, opening day shooting will start one-half hour before sunrise and youth waterfowl day will be Saturday, Sept. 10. Duck bag limits are consistent with most other states in the Mississippi Flyway.
"The changes are designed to maintain Minnesota's waterfowl hunting tradition by increasing opportunity and better utilizing the federal regulatory framework set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under which we operate," Landwehr said.
The changes reflect input from a recently formed citizen waterfowl hunting focus group.
This year's earlier-than-usual opener will allow hunting when greater numbers of migrating wood ducks and blue-winged teal are around, yet maintains late-season opportunities.
Hunting north of Minnesota Highway 210 - the North Duck Zone - will be allowed continuously through Tuesday, Nov. 22. Hunters in the South Duck Zone - anywhere south of Highway 210 - will have a split season. Hunting will be allowed Sept. 24-25 to take advantage of early migrations then close for five days. The season in the south will resume on Saturday, Oct. 1, and continue through Sunday, Nov. 27, Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
"As we set this year's season, we looked hard for ways to improve hunter opportunities and satisfaction while maintaining healthy waterfowl populations," said Landwehr. "I believe this framework strikes that balance."
Legal shooting hours on Sept. 24 will be one-half hour before sunrise rather than the 9 a.m. start that has been in place for the past seven years. Shooting hours end at 4 p.m. daily statewide until Saturday, Oct. 8, when hunting will be allowed until sunset.
Hunters will be able to keep up to four mallards, two of which may be hens, and three wood ducks. The hen mallard and wood duck limits increased by one compared with recent years. Daily limits for pintail, scaup and redhead remain at two. Hunters may still take one canvasback and black duck. The possession limit is twice the daily bag limit.
Minnesota's 2011 mallard breeding population is estimated at 283,000, which is 17 percent higher than last year's estimate of 242,000 breeding mallards, 3 percent above the recent 10-year average and 26 percent above the long-term average. The continental population is 9 percent above 2010 and 22 percent above the long-term average.
"While we are very concerned waterfowl hunter numbers have been in decline in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Canada," said Landwehr. "Fewer hunters have resulted in lower duck harvests. In Minnesota, we are confident our mallard population is strong enough to absorb an increase in harvest, given the reduced pressure."
The special September Canada goose season will remain similar to last year. September Canada goose season opens Saturday, Sept. 3, and runs until Thursday, Sept. 22 statewide, with a bag limit of five Canada geese per day.
The opening of the 85-day regular Canada goose season coincides with the opening of duck season on Saturday, Sept. 24, and retains a daily bag limit of three. Hunters north of Minnesota Highway 210 may hunt continuously through Saturday, Dec. 17. Hunters in the south zone may hunt Sept. 24-25 and resume on Saturday, Oct. 1, continuously through Thursday, Dec. 22. Another goose zone near Rochester will provide additional late hunting opportunity.
Minnesota's traditional Youth Waterfowl Day will be conducted Saturday, Sept. 10, two weeks before the regular duck opener. It is timed to provide youth with an opportunity to hunt abundant early migrating teal. To participate, youth 15 and younger must obtain a free small game hunting license, a Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification, and be accompanied by a non-hunting adult. Duck limits will be the same as the regular season and youth will be able to take five Canada geese.
"I'm really looking forward to this waterfowl season, and I hope Minnesota's duck hunters are, too," said Landwehr. "Given favorable weather conditions, Minnesota hunters should see more birds in the sky and more in their bag. And if that happens - and the entire conservation community continues to work together on providing the food, cover, nesting and refuge areas that waterfowl need - it will be a good thing for hunters, waterfowl, and the businesses whose livelihoods are linked to hunting."
Hunters should consult the waterfowl hunting regulations supplement for additional details. The booklet will be available at all license vendors and online by late August.