Changes would take effect for 2017-'18 duck season
When one duck season ends, we look toward the next — and find some surprises.
As recently reported by our friends at Delta Waterfowl, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Adaptive Harvest Management Report for the 2017 season calls for a reduction in the pintail limit in all flyways to one bird per day, which will likely disappoint many hunters. On the plus side, it also advocates increasing the black duck limit to two birds daily — a move that will probably thrill Atlantic Flyway fowlers. Further, the report calls for liberal season packages for the four flyways: 60 days in the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways, 74 in the Central and 107 in the Pacific.
The recommendations are based on Spring 2016 breeding population survey information and other data. Previously, season-framework creation involved a two-cycle regulatory practice in which biologists analyzed spring data, held summer flyway council meetings and then announced rule proposals in late July. In 2015, however, the agency compressed that into one annual process, and officials now use biological data from the previous year to set season dates and harvest limits.
The pintail change should come as no surprise. According to the FWS’ 2016 Trends in Duck BreedingPopulations, based on surveys conducted in May and June by the agency and the Canadian Wildlife Service, sprigs suffered a fifth consecutive year of decline, falling to an estimated 2.62 million birds in 2016 from about 3.04 million in 2015 — a decrease of about 14 percent. Further, breeding numbers were 34 percent lower than the long-term average.
“It’s really clear that pintails overflew the prairies,” Dr. Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl, said in an August press release. “Pintails and bluewings didn’t find the seasonal and temporary wetlands they prefer for breeding, so much of the population did not settle in the prairies. When pintails overfly the prairies, production is always down.”
The black duck change, however, is a welcome surprise. Delta said the FWS used several factors to make the change, including the 2016 Eastern Survey Area estimate of about 612,000 black ducks, which was a 13 percent increase from 2015. Also, it factored in the risk of competition on breeding grounds from the Eastern mallard population and continuing monitoring of black duck harvest. Doubling the black duck limit will probably only increase the harvest by about 30 percent, Delta said.
Limit recommendations for other duck species remain steady, including four mallards in the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways and five in the Central and Pacific.
My take? I like the pintail and black duck moves. Selfishly, I hate the thought of only being able to take one pinnie — especially on the Dakota prairies — but the move is designed to protect the population until numbers improve. The black duck limit increase probably won’t affect my hunting that much, but northern Midwest hunters often see fair numbers of black ducks late in the season, so having the opportunity to shoot two will be nice. And East Coast hunters should love that opportunity.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.