As expected, Minnesota duck hunters will have a late-season hunting opportunity in a third zone in southern Minnesota next fall.
Because of a 12-day closure, hunters will be able to hunt in the South Duck Zone, south of Hwy. 212, until Dec. 2.
And the duck opener will be on Sept. 22 -- the earliest in 45 years.
Here’s how the South Duck Zone will work: Hunting will run from Sept. 22 until   Sept. 30, then will close until Oct. 13, when the season reopens and runs through Dec. 2.
Federal restrictions only allow for a 60-day season, so the 12-day closure is necessary to allow late-season hunting opportunities.
"A third zone was supported in data collected as part of a hunter survey and a first-ever waterfowl hunter focus group," Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner, said in a news release.
 "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."
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.
Here’s more from the DNR release:
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.
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.
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 Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife chief. "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 Hwy. 210), duck season will run from Sept. 22-Nov. 20.In the Central Duck Zone, duck season will run from Sept. 22 to Sept. 30 and from Oct. 6- Nov. 25.

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.

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