The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 14, 2013

Cross column: Not your grandpa's duck season

By John Cross jcross@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — Anyone who hasn’t hunted ducks during the last 30 years would be in for some big surprises if they climbed into a duck blind for the 2013 season.

For starters, how about an opening day fully a week earlier than it used to be?

Once upon a time, the season opener was locked in by state law as the Saturday closest to Oct. 1.

Bumping the opener up to a week earlier a few years ago made it more likely early migrants like blue-winged teal and wood ducks would still be hanging around for state hunters.

For years, legal shooting time was set at high noon on opening day. More recently, it was moved up to 9 a.m.

The opener was bumped up to that magical time of half-hour before sunrise for the 2011 season..

Though resident Canada goose populations were on the increase 30 years ago, they had not yet reached levels sufficient enough to be regarded as nuisances.

Indeed, bagging one — that was the daily limit in those days — was cause for some proud hunters to haul their prizes down to the local newspaper office to be photographed.

Nowadays, early September hunts for the big birds are essentially pest control measures held statewide with limits as high as five birds daily.

Thirty years ago, with notable exceptions for geese, opening and closing dates for waterfowl season were uniform from north to south.

For the last couple of years, however, the state has been divided into three zones with seasons tailored to maximize hunting opportunities as the southward waterfowl migration progressed.

It appears that waterfowlers can expect big changes again this fall.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved a measure that will allow migratory bird hunters to possess three times their daily limit.

For decades, hunters have been allowed to possess only twice their daily bag limit.

The change, which mirrors regulations now in effect in Canada, would apply to all migratory species from waterfowl to doves to snipe.

Assuming another six-duck daily bag limit is allowed in Minnesota this fall, hunters then could possess as many as 18 ducks.

Dove hunters could possess as many as 45 mourning doves.

Federal officials also approved a special August hunt to further curb the expansion of the Canada geese population.

For nearly 20 years, special September hunts have been held to reduce the ever-expanding population of geese.

While it has expanded goose hunting opportunities, it hasn’t worked particularly well at reducing population levels.

Last year, with the state populations of resident Canada geese at more than 400,000 birds, well above a goal level of 250,000, there were plenty of complaints from farmers about crop depredation.

While final regulations have yet to be set, it is expected that a special August goose season will be held in west-central Minnesota.

The daily bag limit for the August hunt might be set as high as 10 birds.

Presumably, there will be no limit on the number of mosquitoes hunters can kill.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.