An early September teal season could be coming next fall for Minnesota duck hunters, but some hunters aren't thrilled at the prospect of hunting ducks Labor Day weekend.
"I wish they wouldn't do it,'' said Roger Strand, 77, of New London, a well-known conservationist, waterfowler and longtime member of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association and Wood Duck Society.
Strand and others fear that hunters won't be able to identify teal among the other ducks flying in September.
"There will be a lot of wood ducks shot in an early teal season, so I'm concerned,'' Strand said.
Teal and a potential teal season were among topics Saturday at the Minnesota Waterfowl Association's 17th annual Waterfowl Symposium in Bloomington, attended by about 100 people, including Strand.
Steve Cordts, Department of Natural Resources waterfowl specialist, said it's likely the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service will offer Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa early teal seasons next fall. Those are the only four states in the 14-state Mississippi Flyway without early teal seasons.
Those states have pushed for that option in recent years, but Cordts said the devil is in the details and he's uncertain if Minnesota will hold an early hunt — probably starting the first weekend in September — even if authorized by federal officials because of concerns that hunters won't be able to distinguish other ducks from teal.
"Our preference would be for a five-day teal season with one non-teal ["mistake duck"] allowed in the bag,'' Cordts said. That would mitigate the take of "mistake ducks,'' he said, but it's uncertain the Fish and Wildlife Service would approve such an option.
In 1965, during Minnesota's only early teal season, 50 percent of hunters observed from "spy blinds" shot at other duck species, Cordts said.
"I don't think our hunters today are any better at identifying ducks than they were back then,'' he said.
Jim Cox, 60, of Cologne, a longtime waterfowler and activist with the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, isn't excited about an early teal season for that reason.
"I think it's the stupidest idea,'' he said. "We have a six-duck bag limit and 60-day season, and that's not enough? And if you have a 'mistake duck,' now you can shoot at anything that comes over.''
The continental blue-winged teal population has been at record highs recently at around 8 million to 9 million, and wildlife officials say the population could allow for a higher harvest. If a teal season is offered, it would be in addition to the regular 60-day season.
Federal officials likely won't decide until June whether to authorize a teal hunt.