Spring duck surveys in Minnesota and beyond indicated below-average abundance, but the state's waterfowl specialist at the Department of Natural Resources says he's carrying optimism into the duck hunting season that opens Saturday, a half-hour before sunrise.

Steve Cordts, who lives, works and hunts in the Bemidji area, said there's a mixed bag of indicators heading into the season. But, generally speaking, hunters should at least be able to spot a duck on opening day.

"It's hard to predict the opener ... but I'm pretty optimistic, I guess,'' he said. "The only way you are going to figure it out is if you go out and see what you can see.''

Even though duck-count surveys were "so-so at best'' in May, there was anecdotal evidence of good production of ducklings and goslings, Cordts said. That's good news for hunters because two-thirds of the fall harvest consists of birds hatched in the spring.

He cautioned hunters who haven't gotten out in the past few years to scout their old hunting locations to check water levels. Statewide, water levels have dropped from consecutive years of dry conditions. For ducks themselves, Cordts said, low water is beneficial for purposes of foraging.

There's no data to gauge hunting success during Minnesota's experimental early teal season this year, but Cordts said there were plenty of good field reports in the southern half of the state, and "not quite so much up north.'' Waterfowl stamp sales through the five-day season (ending Sept. 6) reached about 33,000, down from about 38,000 the past two years.