The stars appear to be aligning for Minnesota's duck hunters.
The state's breeding duck population is up 30 percent from last year, to about 687,000, according to the Department of Natural Resources' annual spring survey. More significantly, the population is 11 percent above the long-term average dating back to 1968.
"Across the board, everything was up from last year, though last year's numbers were low," said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.
That news, delayed because of the state shutdown, comes after federal officials reported recently the continental breeding duck population at a record 45.6 million.
But hunters shouldn't get giddy just yet. Neither survey accounts for duck production this spring -- a mystery that won't be solved until hunters look skyward this fall. But wetland conditions were excellent, both in Minnesota and elsewhere in the United States and Canada.
The Minnesota survey showed mallard numbers -- 283,000 -- were up 17 percent, but with the margin of error, their population is considered flat. Still, they remain 26 percent above the long-term average.
Assuming decent production, the positive spring surveys could bode well for fall.
"I would think it would be a good duck season," Cordts said.
State harvest up
Last fall, Minnesota hunters bagged an estimated 524,000 ducks -- a 33 percent increase over a dismal 2009 season.
While that's a big improvement, it still was the second-lowest number in the past 10 years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released its 2010 harvest report, based on hunter surveys. Among the highlights:
• Minnesota hunters shot almost 78,000 wood ducks -- a 46 percent increase over 2009. And that's despite a two-bird bag limit imposed by the DNR. The federal agency has allowed a three-bird bag in recent years, but Minnesota has chosen to stay at two. The DNR will have to decide soon on this fall's limit.
• Mallard harvest jumped from 101,000 in 2009 to 138,000 last year, a 33 percent increase. Still, it was the second-lowest harvest in the past 10 years. As recently as 2006, hunters bagged 216,000 mallards. It remains the No. 1 bird in the bag.
• Ring-necked duck harvest jumped 94 percent to 89,000. Blue-winged teal harvest stayed flat at 37,000, while green-winged teal harvest dropped 26 percent to about 37,000.
Mille Lacs regs change
Walleye fishing regulations on Lake Mille Lacs will be changed this summer after all. Effective Wednesday, the protected walleye slot will change to 20 to 28 inches. Currently the protected slot is 18 to 28 inches.