I wrote a column a few weeks back questioning waterfowl managers’ spring population surveys that suggest ducks are relatively abundant. As one hard-to-believe example, given how few ducks seem to exist in Minnesota, mallards and other wildfowl counted this spring in the U.S. and Canada were 10% above the 1955-2018 population average, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
In my column I also advocated for a later start date to the Minnesota duck season; an extension of the 4 p.m. closing time; the elimination of Youth Waterfowl Weekend due to its early September scheduling; and an end to overwater hunting during the early goose season.
Each, in my view, would be a common-sense response to Minnesota’s duck “problem.” But waterfowlers who disagree with these proposals needn’t worry. The Department of Natural Resources seems content to watch duck hunting swing slowly in the wind in Minnesota.
Consider: In the 1970s, the DNR licensed an average of 140,000 waterfowl hunters per year. By 2017, that number had fallen to 83,340, down 4% from 2016. Last year,, the number was 82,165 — and this year it’s 79,856.
I didn’t solicit responses to my column from readers. But a lot of people wrote. Below is a sample of e-mails I received.
Tom Owczarzak, Marine on St. Croix
I have hunted ducks since 1964. My first hunt was with my dad when I was 8 years old. I have never missed a Minnesota opener and have had the opportunity to hunt in Canada. The quality of hunting and the opportunity to see numerous birds in the air migrating has greatly diminished over the years.
I took a road trip by myself starting Oct. 7. I drove from the Twin Cities through North Dakota and entered Saskatchewan. I scouted the southern part of the province for three days and found, in my opinion, not a lot of birds. I then drove north about four hours east of Yorktown. Again, not much for major bird action in fields or staging lakes.
I then came home through the corner of Saskatchewan and Manitoba and entered a different part of North Dakota, where I got stranded for a couple of days due to the early winter storm. I put in over 2,500 miles and can confirm there was no “wow” factor of staging birds.
Some people have suggested my trip was too early and I should have gone later, after the early winter storm. Perhaps then, they said, I would have seen more ducks. My answer to them: “Yeah, right.”
Mark Prestrud, Rosemount
My first duck season was in 1962, as a 4-year-old, sitting with my grandpa on Hill Pass. I’ve seen the great hunting Minnesota had during the late 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The slow death of waterfowling we have witnessed in recent years is sad to watch.
Bruce Blocker, Burnsville
Regarding Youth Waterfowl Day, a study conducted by the DNR in 2017 showed 73% of respondents support it, with 18,027 youth participating. Getting a limit of birds is not what the outdoors or this sport should be about. Spending time with others is. You can have it both ways. Take a youth hunting on that day and have some fun! If you chase a few ducks out of the area that day, the northern flocks will be arriving soon.
Don Bernin, Walker
Three generations of my family are duck hunters. This has been my worst year of waterfowling in the last three years, based on records I keep.
I still go out every weekend and any chance I get just to stare into empty skies. Sure, you usually have one or two good days in the season. Those few days are the whole reason I am still duck hunting.
That said, I hunted many days this year and didn’t see even a single duck or goose flying. My dad is 86 years old and I still try to get him out, despite the challenges. My son, meanwhile, has been extremely patient. He goes out time after time hoping it might be that one day in which he gets a chance to shoot a few ducks.
David Strand, Duluth
In the 1970s, my dad banded more than 8,000 Minnesota mallards. His conclusion was that the females return to the same area they were hatched and males just follow. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense.
For this reason and others, I totally support eliminating the early youth season and the ridiculously early opener on Sept. 21. I hunted near Willmar on the opener and shot one teal and two woodies; there were no mallards around despite plentiful water in our slough on private land. I also hunt a small lake near Hibbing where in the past I have had wonderful ringneck shooting, but this year they all seemed to be on Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
John C. Molkenbur, White Bear Lake
At the annual Minnesota Waterfowl Association symposium, I always questioned the DNR about their duck surveys, which seemed skewed, based on ducks I see. Also, I have been to three DNR meetings where the possibility of establishing an early teal season in Minnesota was discussed. When asked about the possibility of “mistake’’ (non-teal) birds being shot during such a season, the DNR waterfowl specialist leading the proposal said it’s allowed in other states. So, apparently, if during such a season we shoot a mallard or other duck it’s allowable because it’s done in other states.
Also, regarding early goose shooting over water in September, it shouldn’t be allowed. It scares other ducks off.
Dave Smith, Puposky
Growing up, I looked forward to the twice-a-year window when ducks enter or exit their summer homes. It is a process I have seen diminish during the past 20 years. As an example, I am sitting on a lake in northern Minnesota during what should be peak migration and there is not a duck to be seen. A lake just north of here had three or four duck camps, but now not a single one. I always wanted my son to see the northern flight of ducks. But he will soon turn 35 and has never had the experience.
On the subject of Youth Waterfowl Weekend, with the exception my first hunting trip to the sandhills of Nebraska, my children have always been welcome to hunt with me. A special youth hunt is not necessary. When it started, in fact, I noticed the productivity of the regular opening day diminish.
I am concerned about a bureaucratic DNR whose core mission seems to have been forgotten.
I contribute to Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl but have not purchased a duck stamp in years. The decoys hang in the garage ready to be used if the migration returns.
Tim Bremicker, retired DNR wildlife section chief, St. Paul
I support a duck limit, down from six to three or four per day. I would extend the 4 p.m. closure; further restrict the use of “robo” ducks; cut the wood duck limit from three back to two and reduce the hen mallard limit back to one. Leaving opening-day shooting hours at a half-hour before sunrise is fine to allow hunter harvest.
I still strongly support a one-day youth hunt. Regarding early overwater goose hunting, it’s a ridiculous argument and observation to say it results in a significant disturbance to ducks. To discourage goose harvesting is not the way to go.
Stephen L. Thomforde, Bloomington
In the early mid-1980s, I was tasked by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Winona district, to conduct spring and fall waterfowl counts. Once a week during migration I drove my route with a telescope and took careful counts. We were told to multiply every duck counted by a factor of 10. Thus, one mallard became 10, and 1,000 canvasbacks became 10,000. I look back upon this correction factor and I question why I didn’t question this assumption.