Unprecedented changes are coming for Minnesota duck hunters this fall -- including an earlier season, higher bag limits for wood ducks and hen mallards and north-south hunting zones -- the state's first ever.
The dramatic moves, all intended to boost hunting opportunities, are prompted by the loss of 40,000 state duck hunters over the past dozen years.
"We needed a change," Tom Landwehr, Department of Natural Resources commissioner, said in a statement. "We heard from waterfowl hunters that they supported these changes, and with waterfowl hunter numbers at record lows, we don't expect season changes to negatively affect breeding populations."
Here's what's happening:
• The 60-day season will open Sept. 24, -- the earliest in more than a half century -- and opening day shooting will start one-half hour before sunrise instead of 9 a.m. as in the past. The bag limit remains the same at six ducks.
• Hunting north of Minnesota Hwy. 210 -- the North Duck Zone -- will be allowed continuously for the 60-day season. Hunters in the South Duck Zone -- south of Hwy. 210 -- will have a split season. Hunting will be allowed Sept. 24-25 to take advantage of early migrations then close for five days. The season in the south will resume on Saturday, Oct. 1, and continue through Sunday, Nov. 27, Thanksgiving weekend.
• Hunters will be able to keep up to four mallards, two of which may be hens, and three wood ducks. The hen mallard and wood duck limits increased by one.
• Youth Waterfowl Day will be Sept. 10 -- two weeks before the opener.
Said Landwehr: "While we are very concerned waterfowl hunter numbers have been in decline in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Canada, fewer hunters has resulted in lower duck harvests. In Minnesota, we are confident our mallard population is strong enough to absorb an increase in harvest, given the reduced pressure."
This year's earlier-than-usual opener will allow hunting when greater numbers of migrating wood ducks and blue-winged teal are here yet maintains late-season opportunities, the DNR said. The changes also reflect input from a recently formed citizen waterfowl hunting focus group.
Doug Smith • email@example.com