In recent years, the Legislature changed — by shortening — the period of Minnesota's duck season during which daily shooting ended at 4 p.m. Evening shooting in the state in the past didn't begin until MEA weekend. This year it lasts only a week into the season.
The short story is that the Legislature caved on this restriction, falling for the argument that kids after school are being denied too many opportunities to hunt, due to the 4 p.m. closing.
In truth, the 4 p.m. closing and the state's historically conservative duck management regulations were good ideas. Now, of course, both are long gone — the 4 p.m. closing shortened to only a week, and the noon opener backed up to 9 a.m.
The idea behind both was to protect the state's breeding mallards in the early season. One reason: These birds often, if not typically, return to nest in their home states and provinces. Better, the thinking went, to somewhat restrict mallard (particularly, among ducks) harvests here, and instead let that portion of the population that is fated to be taken by hunters to be killed proportionately through the flyway as the birds migrate. That way, a larger and sustained return of these birds is more likely.
But as duck hunting has declined in Minnesota, waterfowl officials, instead of stiffening their backs to protect remaining ducks still further, have instead bent over backward in an attempt to extend hunter opportunity.
To keep short-sighted hunters happy is another, and better, way to describe what the DNR here has done.
Give this much to the agency: They haven't caved on the one hen mallard restriction, keeping it again this season, rather than allow the two mallard hens the free-wheeling U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was willing to grant states in the Mississippi Flyway.
Minnesota's Duck Action Congress, a fledgling group that is just now getting its feet beneath it, has urged Minnesota hunters this fall to help their own cause by not exercising all shooting opportunities the state makes available to them.
In some other states, the DNR or its equivalent restricts hunters on their behalf; in Minnesota, hunters will have to do it themselves.
Examples: Perhaps some hunters will elect not to hunt past noon — thus encouraging birds in their areas to stay in the state longer, thereby in fact extending hunter opportunity. Perhaps other hunters won't shoot the roost — a well-known way to send ducks south. Perhaps other hunters will let ducks rest on some days, rather than shoot them at every opportunity.
Someday these and other restrictions — all of which will help hunters as well as ducks — will officially be in place in Minnesota. The state will have no choice unless it wants to have only remnant hunting here, and remnant duck watching as well.
Until then, take matters into your own hands. The state's ducks depend on you.