On Saturday, when duck hunting begins anew in Minnesota a half-hour before sunrise, waterfowlers will be allowed six ducks daily throughout a 71-day season.
State restrictions limit the number of certain duck species within hunters’ daily six-bird bags. Only four, for instance, can be mallards (two of which may be hens). But no such restriction is placed on blue-winged teal. Hunters who have a chance to kill six bluewings can do just that.
But if six is good, eight must be better, right?
Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr, an avid waterfowler himself, doesn’t think so.
Landwehr and the DNR again this fall rejected options offered to Minnesota by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish an early September teal-only season.
A second option would have allowed state hunters two extra ducks in the bag during the season’s first 16 days, so long as the birds were blue-winged teal (not really — keep reading).
Not all Minnesota waterfowlers agree with the DNR’s rejection of the teal options.
In a survey of Minnesota duck and goose hunters expected to be released next week by the DNR, about six of 10 waterfowlers rejected the early teal season idea, a relatively close margin.
Conversely, fully 70 percent favored the bonus teal option.
Landwehr, who during his tenure as commissioner has significantly expanded duck hunting opportunities in Minnesota, believes both teal options could have impacted ducks other than teal. Therefore, he said, both were turned down.
Landwehr also believes most Minnesota waterfowlers measure the value of “hunting opportunity’’ more by season length than bag limits. Most of these hunters, Landwehr says, rarely have a chance to kill six ducks anyway. So giving them the option to kill eight would in most cases have been a moot point.
Also worth noting: The service’s bonus option applied only to blue-winged teal, not green-winged teal. So hunters would have had to correctly identify a variety of birds on the wing — not something everyone with a scattergun and a box of chilled steel can do.
Reasonable arguments can be made for and against the teal options. But I agree with Landwehr. Here’s why:
• Regarding the early teal season: Minnesota already has two too many “early’’ duck and goose hunting options, and both, in my view, hurt waterfowling here.
I continue to believe, for example (proving I never tire of beating a dead horse), that the Youth Duck-Target-Practice Day held statewide two weeks before the regular opener disturbs birds significantly (depending on area), while only minimally (if that) achieving the stated goal of recruiting kids to duck and goose hunting.
Secondly, and creating a still-greater early season duck disturbance, the allowance in recent years by the DNR of over-water shooting in most parts of the state during the early goose season has significantly changed goose behavior, particularly in the metro area, while also reducing the number of early season geese available to hunt.
Previously, early season goose hunters were required to stay 100 yards from water. In my experience, this largely protected honker roosts while providing more hunting opportunity to more waterfowlers by extending the early goose harvest over a longer period of time.
But no more.
Today, thanks to roost shooting, the metro has substantially fewer huntable geese, and those that remain almost exclusively roost inside city limits, where they’re protected and where, not incidentally, they create the greatest mess for homeowners and golfers.
• Regarding bonus teal: The problem with this option is that the “bonus ducks’’ it would have allowed wouldn’t have been restricted to blue-winged teal.
Say, for example, under the bonus-teal system a hunter had six ducks, all bluewings. The next two birds could legally also have been blue-winged teal (or other ducks with no limit restrictions). Or, for example, they could have been hen mallards. Because the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t require the eight ducks to be shot in a specific order (which would have been difficult to enforce in any event).
Consequently, the added harvest pressure of the bonus option wouldn’t have been limited to teal.
“I disagree with offering ‘extra’ teal when we know there would be non-teal impacts,’’ Landwehr said.
Also there’s this: Minnesota now opens the regular duck hunting season earlier in September, on average, than at any time in history. And while duck-hunter numbers are at historic lows, which necessarily restricts harvest, so is the availability of quality habitat.
In this mix, continued conservation of the state’s breeding ducks via reasonable harvest restrictions while these birds remain concentrated here before migration seems a good idea.
Put another way: Six is enough.