Waterfowl hunters in southern Minnesota will have additional late season hunting opportunities under a new three-zone, 60-day season announced July 31 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Last year, the DNR split the state into two hunting zones with different season dates as part of an effort to provide additional hunting opportunity as birds migrate from north to south. The addition of a third zone furthers that approach.
“A third zone was supported in data collected as part of a hunter survey and a first-ever waterfowl hunter focus group,” said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. “This will extend the hunting season in southern Minnesota through the first weekend in December, which will appeal to hunters where waters have not yet frozen and migrating birds are still coming through.”
The state’s waterfowl season will open one-half hour before sunrise on Sept. 22 statewide. The daily bag limit of six ducks per day and a 60-day season are unchanged from last year. The mallard bag limit remains at four per day, including two hen mallards. The wood duck bag limit will remain at three per day. The daily limit for scaup is four, up from two last year. Possession limits remain at twice the daily bag limits. Youth Waterfowl Day will be Sept. 8, two weeks before the season opener.
Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife chief, said this year’s opener is the earliest in 45 years. The Sept. 22 date was selected based on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service direction that enables states in the Mississippi Flyway to open their season on the Saturday nearest Sept. 24.
“The season opened on Sept. 24 last year,” said Simon, “That too was an earlier-than-normal opener. We saw hunter satisfaction levels rise last year due, in part, to good early season wood duck and blue-winged teal hunting.”
Duck season length is based on mallard counts from a continental survey, including Minnesota information. This year’s estimate was 11 million mallards, which was above the average of 8.1 million mallards and the second highest count since 1992. Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist, said breeding duck numbers for all species were very good this year. He noted wetland conditions in the major waterfowl breeding areas were drier than last year but still near long-term averages.
“The population index of local breeding mallards in Minnesota was at their long-term average of 225,000 breeding mallards this spring,” Cordt said. “Wetland conditions in Minnesota were drier this spring compared to last year, but improved in many areas in May and June.”
- In the North Duck Zone (north of Highway 210), duck season will run from Saturday, Sept. 22-Tuesday, Nov. 20.
- In the Central Duck Zone, duck season will run from Saturday, Sept. 22 to Sunday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 6-Sunday, Nov. 25.
- In the South Duck Zone (south of Highway 212), duck season will run from Saturday, Sept. 22 to Sunday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 13-Sunday, Dec. 2.
- Shooting hours will be from one half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. daily through Saturday, Oct. 6, and from one half hour before sunrise to sunset the remainder of the season.
- Motorized decoys or other motorized devices designed to attract migratory waterfowl may not be used from the opening day of duck season through Saturday, Oct. 6. On water bodies and lands fully contained within state wildlife management area boundaries, a person may not use these devices at any time during the waterfowl season.
YOUTH WATERFOWL DAY
Youth Waterfowl Hunting Day will be Saturday, Sept. 8. Hunters age 15 and under may take regular season bag limits when accompanied by a non-hunting adult (age 18 and older, no license required). Ducks, Canada geese, mergansers, coots and moorhens may be taken from one half-hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. Motorized decoy restrictions are in effect. Five geese may be taken statewide. A free small game license and HIP-certification are required for youth age 15 and under.
Early September Goose Season
The early Canada goose season will open statewide on Saturday, Sept. 1 and will run through Friday, Sept. 21. Bag limits for Canada geese will be five per day statewide.
A $4 permit is required to hunt Canada geese in the early season. Permits are available wherever hunting and angling licenses are sold. The restriction prohibiting hunting within 100 yards of surface water remains in effect in the Northwest goose zone, Carlos Avery WMA, Ocheda Lake Game refuge, and an area surrounding Swan Lake in Nicollet County. Early season goose hunters should consult the 2012 Waterfowl Supplement for zone maps and additional details.
Regular goose season
Minnesota’s regular goose season will open in conjunction with the duck season statewide on Saturday, Sept. 22 with a bag limit of three Canada geese per day the entire season. Goose season will be closed in the central and south duck zones when duck season is closed.
In the North Duck zone, goose season will run from Saturday, Sept. 22-Sunday, Dec.16. In the Central Duck zone, goose season will run from Saturday, Sept. 22-Sunday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 6-Friday, Dec. 21. In the South Duck zone, goose season will run from Saturday, Sept. 22-Sunday, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 13-Friday, Dec. 28.
“Hunters can expect to see excellent numbers of Canada geese again this fall,” Cordts said. “The number of breeding geese in Minnesota is very high and local production was very good this spring. In addition, we should see good numbers of migrant geese in the state this fall, particularly in areas such as Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area.”
Other Goose Seasons
The season for light geese (snow, blue and Ross’ geese), white-fronted geese, and brant will run concurrent with open Canada goose season in each zone. Bag limits are 20 light geese per day, one white-fronted goose per day, and one brant per day.
Sandhill Crane Season
The season for sandhill cranes will open two weeks later this year and run from Saturday, Sept. 15-Sunday, Oct. 21 in the Northwest Goose zone only. The daily bag limit will be two sandhill cranes per day. A Sandhill crane permit ($3) is required in addition to a small game hunting license.
Additional details on the duck, goose, sandhill crane, and other migratory bird hunting seasons will be available in the 2012 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations, available in mid-August.
Waterfowl hunters and harvest increase from 2010
Minnesota hunters bagged more ducks and Canada geese in 2011 than in 2010 and more waterfowl hunters took to the field, too, reversing a downward trend, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“The results are in and the numbers moved in a good direction,” said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife section chief. “Duck hunter numbers and success were up, resulting in an increased harvest from 2010.”
Simon said new data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also showed that Minnesota ranked first in the nation in Canada goose harvest and second in the number of active waterfowl hunters.
“The takeaway from last year’s season is that more waterfowl hunters were in the field and those who went hunting had better success, which is a good thing and something hunters have longed for,” said Simon. “It means that the harvest was up as well, but total duck harvest was still well within our long-term historic averages.”
The total duck harvest in Minnesota increased 19 percent from 2010, from 524,000 ducks in 2010 to 621,000 ducks in 2011. The recent 10-year average harvest is 655,000 ducks.
Mallards were the most common duck in hunters’ bags, with 181,000 mallards harvested. Mallards represented 29 percent of the total duck bag. The recent 10-year average mallard harvest is 206,000 mallards.
Wood ducks were the second most common duck in hunters’ bags, with 151,000 wood ducks harvested in 2011 compared to 78,000 in 2010. The recent 10-year average wood duck harvest is 102,000 birds. Blue-winged teal harvest was 90,000, ring-necked duck harvest was 63,000, and green-winged teal harvest was 37,000.
Duck hunter success was 8.1 ducks per hunter per season, which increased from 7.5 ducks per hunter per season in 2010 and near the 10-year average of 8.4 ducks per hunter per season.
Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist, said the agency made a number of regulation changes in 2011 that collectively played a role in last year’s higher harvest. “We created additional opportunity by establishing North and South Duck zones and opening the season one week earlier than normal. Hen mallard and wood duck bag limits were changed. Shooting hours were changed to one-half hour before sunrise on opening day,” said Cordts. “Breeding duck numbers and duck production were also very good in 2010, which resulted in large numbers of ducks present during fall hunting seasons.”
Cordts said opening the season earlier likely had the most impact on increases to duck harvest, particularly with the large increase in harvest for early migrant species like blue-winged teal and wood ducks.
Canada goose harvest increased from 189,000 in 2010 to 239,000 in 2010 and was above the 10-year average of 220,000 Canada geese. About 100,000 Canada geese were harvested during the early September goose season.
The number of active duck hunters in Minnesota was 77,000 in 2011, an increase from 70,000 in 2010. Minnesota ranked second nationally in 2011 in numbers of active duck hunters, trailing only Louisiana. “While encouraging, this is still lower than the 100,000 active duck hunters in Minnesota as recently as 1999,” said Cordts.
Estimates of hunting activity and harvest are derived using the Harvest Information Program (HIP), required for all migratory bird hunters. A series of screening questions are asked of hunters when they purchase a license. The screening questions are not the harvest survey but help to better identify migratory bird hunters, who are then randomly selected and mailed harvest surveys and asked to record hunting activity and harvest during the season.