Whether waterfowl manager is a scientific occupation or one devoted instead largely to cheerleading is a fair question now that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reported "record" numbers of ducks on the continent.

Perhaps the service's estimated increase to 48.6 million ducks from last year's 45.6 million is accurate, perhaps not. Either way, it shouldn't affect duck-starved Minnesota, where wildlife managers in recent years have been busy trying to help hunters shoot their way back to waterfowling prosperity.

Not enough ducks in the bag on the season's first day because the state has relatively fewer ducks to offer its definitely fewer hunters now than in the past?

Let's change shooting time on the opener from noon to 9 a.m., en route finally to -- as last year -- starting shooting one-half hour before sunrise, thereby increasing hunter harvest.

That'll help ducks recover.

Ditto the 4 p.m. closing during the season's first weeks, which, like the noon opener, was intended to provide a respite for ducks, particularly for those reared here, encouraging them to stay in the state longer, while also more widely distributing the early season harvest.

Let's send that idea packing too.

In fairness, Minnesota waterfowl managers hoop and holler like grade-schoolers compared to the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader-like antics of their colleagues in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It's the service's Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) scheme that has duped Minnesota hunters since its beginning in 1995, suggesting each year that we've had enough ducks here to support a "liberal" six-duck limit and a 60-day season.

Which doubtless the state will have again this year -- six ducks daily and 60 days -- now that the media have done their part and trumpeted this "record number of ducks" hooey.

Helpful here might be reference to a recently completed study by Todd Arnold and Cristina de Sobrino of the department of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology at the U.

Arnold and De Sobrino wanted to know in which state or province mallards originate, relative to the states in which they are harvested.

Put another way, specific to Minnesota, is the old saw that "three-quarters of the ducks we shoot come from Canada" still true, as it was believed to be years ago?

The answer is important for many reasons, among them as a determinant in developing regulations concerning shooting times, bag limits, season lengths, habitat conservation, etc. Obviously, a state (think Iowa) that is entirely, or nearly entirely, dependent on another state or province for its ducks will regulate its season and allocate its habitat resources (if any) in ways different than, say, Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota, each of which is a duck-producer.

"It is true that in the 1960s and 1970s, as much as 75 percent of the mallards that were killed in Minnesota came from other states and provinces," Arnold said. "But that's no longer the case. Today, 50 percent of mallards that are harvested in the state were raised here."

Meaning that what Minnesota (and even more so Wisconsin, where 73 percent of harvested mallards were home-reared, and Michigan -- 68 percent) does today in terms of habitat preservation and enhancement, and hunting regulations, is more important than ever.

(Caveat: Arnold and De Sobrino studied only mallards, because only they are banded in sufficient numbers to do these kinds of analyses. Not unreasonably, given the overall lack of ducks in Minnesota, similar inferences could be drawn for at least some other species.)

Said Arnold: "Here in Minnesota, we should care about our own ducks and our own local habitat and not depend on the great northern duck factory to bail us out, because it won't. In Minnesota, we'll eat what we produce."

Whether AHM is merely a complicating factor in this relatively recent phenomenon, or a contributor, is unknown. What is known is that the six-and-60 liberal seasons in place since the strategy's beginning have been based on what's described as the Midcontinent mallard breeding population, which includes the Dakotas and prairie Canada, as well as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

"But mallards in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are a drop in the bucket compared to these other areas," Arnold said, adding:

"Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan really should be aware of the potential of their local birds to be overharvested during years of liberal seasons. Maybe it shouldn't be like managing resident species such as pheasants or grouse. But something like that."

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com