At Game Fair on Friday, Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr defended significant new duck hunting regulations his agency announced recently, saying, among other things, the state's mallards can withstand an increase in daily hunters' bags this fall from one hen to two.

But Landwehr said he personally won't shoot hen mallards when the state's 60-day waterfowl season opens Sept. 24.

Landwehr used a seminar-style platform at Game Fair, which continues today, and Friday through Sunday, at Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Ramsey, to restate his belief that liberalizing Minnesota's duck-hunting regulations is justified biologically.

The DNR boss also made the point that state and federal surveys suggest the state's breeding-duck population is relatively high compared to past years -- an assessment at odds with the opinions of thousands of Minnesota waterfowlers.

Some of those disenchanted hunters have left the sport, while others have shifted their waterfowling efforts to Canada or the Dakotas.

Results of an online poll of Star Tribune readers taken last week, reported alongside this story, suggest broad support for Landwehr's shifting of the duck opener this fall to Sept. 24, a week earlier than normal, and support as well for allowing first-day shooting to begin a half-hour before sunrise, rather than at 9 a.m. as has been the case in recent years.

But respondents in the unscientific poll rejected the DNR's hen mallard limit increase, its wood duck daily limit hike from two to three and the scheduling of Youth Waterfowl Day on Sept. 10.

Minnesota has lost about 40,000 hunters in the past decade or so, and Landwehr said that an increase in the hen mallard take and the boosting of wood duck limits wouldn't harm resident populations of these birds. The smaller number of hunters, he suggested, means the state's overall duck harvest will be significantly less than it was when more than 100,000 state waterfowlers went afield.

A trained wildlife biologist and avid waterfowler who hunts in Minnesota every fall, and in Manitoba regularly, Landwehr speaks with confidence when the subject is ducks. He didn't waver on any of the changes, some of them controversial, he made to Minnesota duck hunting beginning this fall, and spoke with his retrieving dog at his side.

He conceded to the crowd of perhaps two dozen Game Fair attendees that he is less conversant in deer management. But most questions the commissioner took were about duck hunting, and most in attendance seemed at least generally supportive of the coming season and limit changes.

Landwehr began the meeting -- apparently the first of its kind by a DNR commissioner at Game Fair -- by recalling his early days of duck hunting as a youth.

He then outlined the DNR's general tack on duck management, which he said emphasizes habitat and research, as well as hunter retention and recruitment. The liberalized regulations, he said, are intended at least in part to increase the chances more Minnesota hunters have more positive experiences by increasing their harvests of ducks. His assumption is the new limits and other rules might keep Minnesota waterfowlers in the field, while perhaps attracting women, kids and minorities to the sport.

Dennis Anderson •