More big changes are coming for waterfowl hunters.
Federal officials have approved boosting the migratory bird possession limits — now twice the daily bag limit — to three times the daily bag limit. That means instead of 12 ducks, Minnesota hunters could possess up to 18 ducks this fall.
The change applies to all migratory birds, including ducks, geese, mourning doves, woodcock, snipe, rails and sandhill cranes. In Minnesota, that would raise the possession limits of Canada geese to nine during the regular season and 15 during the September season. Hunters also could possess 45 mourning doves, nine woodcock and 24 snipe.
And another regulation change approved by federal officials means Minnesota’s Canada goose hunters can pack sunscreen, bug dope and shorts this year, because for the first time they will be able to hunt Canada geese in August.
The special hunt, intended to reduce the state’s burgeoning goose population, will occur in west-central Minnesota, where goose depredation to crops is most serious. A daily bag of 10 is possible. The Department of Natural Resources is expected to release details soon.
The changes continue a recent trend of liberalized waterfowl hunting regulations — major changes not seen in a generation — including opening the state’s duck season a week earlier than normal, allowing hunters to begin shooting a half-hour before sunrise on the opener instead of 9 a.m., boosting the hen mallard bag limit from one to two and splitting the state into three zones.
It’s not known how many hunters will want to hunt geese in early August. But the expanded possession limits potentially will impact Minnesota’s 90,000 or so waterfowl hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will offer the change to all states, which can accept or reject the measure.
“I would expect probably every state will take it,’’ said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. Minnesota is expected to accept the expanded limits.
“The general feeling is it just doesn’t have huge biological implications, because hunters already are restricted by the daily bag limit,’’ Cordts said. And Minnesota hunters average about eight ducks total for the season, “so this won’t even apply to the average person,’’ he said.
“If it doesn’t hurt, why not do it?’’
Cordts said the liberalized possession limits aren’t expected to reverse the decline of waterfowl hunter numbers. Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, agrees.
“I don’t think it will make a difference,’’ said Nylin, who added his group was ambivalent about the change. “We certainly weren’t pushing for it.’’
Canadian waterfowl managers already have loosened duck possession limits, allowing hunters to keep three daily limits instead of two. And there’s talk there of ending duck possession limits altogether.
Officials from all four U.S. flyways recommended the change to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the agency’s Service Regulations Committee recently approved it.
The Fish and Wildlife Service will meet later this month with flyway representatives, and Cordts said he expects another liberal, six-duck daily bag limit to be approved for the 2013 season. The results from both the massive continental duck survey and Minnesota’s spring duck survey should be announced soon, which will give hunters and waterfowl managers an update on duck populations.
Meanwhile, the DNR sought federal permission to offer the August Canada goose hunt. Only two other states — North Dakota and South Dakota — offer such hunts.
“We’d like our [Canada goose] population to go down,’’ Cordts said. “It was 434,000 last year, the first time it has been over 400,000. Our goal is 250,000 geese.’’
“Last year was the final straw; not only was the population high, but we had lots of crop damage complaints, more than ever, and we issued more shooting permits than ever.’’
The DNR is expected to announce details of the special hunt soon, and Cordts declined to comment last week on whether August goose hunters will be allowed to hunt over water. Hunters can hunt over water during the September goose hunt, except in a few specific areas. Some hunters argue that early-season hunter disturbance can push ducks from the state before the duck season begins.
Goose reproduction likely was down this spring because of poor weather, but that won’t affect the DNR’s decision to offer the August hunt, Cordts said.
The question is whether hunters will want to hunt geese in August, and whether they’ll want to shoot lots of them. Hunter surveys indicate support for the season, Cordts said, “but when we ask if they will participate, they say if they can hunt in their immediate area. If they have to travel somewhere, they seem to indicate they won’t participate.’’
And the special hunt will only be offered in the west-central part of the state, he said.
Said Nylin: “I don’t think a lot of people will go out and hunt in August.’’
“I’m a goose fanatic,’’ Nylin said. “I love goose hunting. If I had a spot to go, I’d certainly give it a try.’’