'Huntable numbers' greet northwest Minnesota waterfowl hunters
Sep 15, 2019 09:07AM
By Brad Dokken of the Grand Forks Herald - September 15, 2019
Minnesota waterfowl prospects will vary, but production of ducks and geese was average to lower in the far northwest part of the state, at least in some areas, managers say.
Minnesota’s regular duck and goose season opens Saturday, Sept. 21.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, spring breeding duck surveys tallied an index of 695,000 birds -- excluding scaup -- unchanged from 2018, but 15% above the 10-year average and 14% above the long-term average.
The spring survey estimated a breeding Canada goose population of 110,000, which was down 32% from 2018 and 28% below both the 10-year and long-term averages.
Dry conditions through June in far northwest Minnesota hampered production of both ducks and geese, said Randy Prachar, manager of Roseau River Wildlife Management Area near the Canadian border northwest of Roseau, Minn.
“I think on balance, we’re a bit light on both (ducks and geese) right now, but there are huntable numbers,” Prachar said.
At Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area near Middle River, Minn., water levels are about 3 inches over target, which means access will not be an issue for hunters opening weekend, said Kyle Arola, manager of Thief Lake WMA.
Last year, by comparison, the lake was 7 or 8 inches below target, Arola said.
“The spring and summer were fairly dry so we were right at about our target levels for bulrush and phragmite, so cover is in great shape for concealing boats and canoes,” Arola said.
Duck production at Thief Lake was average, and goose production was above average, he said.
"We had stable water levels -- no significant rain events leading to large bounces -- throughout the nesting season, and that contributed to nesting success," Arola said.
Water levels in the managed pools at Roseau River WMA traditionally are kept low in the fall to manage for wild rice, and the Roseau River midweek was very low, Prachar said. Expected rainfall going into the weekend could change that, he said Wednesday, Sept. 11.
“People should be able to get around on the pools pretty good,” Prachar said. “On the river, depending on what happens with these rains they’re talking about, that actually may improve access on the river some. If we even had a foot extra, it would help a lot.”
On the downside, more rain could hamper field hunting and further delay small grains harvest.
There was very little hunting pressure at Roseau River during Minnesota’s youth hunting weekend Saturday, Sept. 7 and Sunday, Sept. 8, Prachar said, but youth hunters at Thief Lake averaged 2.8 ducks per hunter Saturday and 1.5 on Sunday, Arola said.
Young hunters at Thief Lake bagged 12 species, with ring-necked ducks, redheads and mallards the most abundant, Arola said. Green-winged teal “by far” were the most abundant at Roseau River, Prachar said, followed by Canada geese.
If history is any indication, hunters can expect a mixed bag for the regular waterfowl opener, Prachar says.
“Typically the opening weekend, we’ll have wood ducks and blue-winged teal around yet, and blue-winged teal in particular are pretty common in the bag, and then of course we get mallards,” he said. “But one of the things about Roseau River is the mixed bags can get to be really neat there because you’ll get almost any of the dabbler species and you get a smattering, too, of the diver ducks -- the redheads and the ringnecks. You won’t have bluebills yet (opening weekend), but I’ve seen goldeneyes already.”
Remember: In addition to a small game license, Minnesota waterfowl hunters need state and federal waterfowl stamps and HIP certification.
RULES OF THE HUNT
Here’s a look at season dates and bag limits for Minnesota’s waterfowl season.
Season dates: Sept. 21-Nov. 19 (North Zone), Sept. 21-29 and Oct. 5-Nov. 24 (Central Zone), Sept. 21-29 and Oct. 12-Dec. 1 (South Zone). Shooting hours are half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 4, and until sunset after that.
Bag limits: Six daily with the following restrictions: four mallards (no more than two hen mallards), three scaup, three wood ducks, two redheads, two canvasbacks, two black ducks and one pintail. Merganser bag limit is five, with no more than two hooded mergansers. The possession limit for all migratory birds is three times the daily bag limit.
Season dates: Sept. 21-Dec. 21 (North Zone), Sept. 21-29 and Oct. 5-Dec. 26 (Central Zone), Sept. 21-29 and Oct. 12-Jan. 2 (South Zone). Shooting hours are half hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 4, and until sunset after that.
Bag limits: Canada, white-fronted and brant geese, daily limit of three combined; snow, blue and Ross’s geese, daily limit of 20. Possession limit is three times the daily limit.