“Fair to Poor” Hunting Outlook Expected for Next Waterfowl Season in North Dakota

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The regular North Dakota waterfowl season opens Saturday, September 25 for residents and Saturday, October 2 for non-residents.

“It’s going to be fair to poor,” predicts Mark Fisher, a biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Devils Lake. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t ducks. Ducks will likely be associated with great waters – the Alice Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Devils Lake itself. “

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The reason, in a nutshell, boils down to drought. Not just in northeastern North Dakota, but across the region in all directions.

“I don’t know where the hot spots are, to tell you the truth,” Fisher said. “It will be a difficult season for duck hunting. It’s going to take a lot of driving and a lot of spotting, and that’s it.

In early August, the North Dakota Department of Fish and Game said the results of its annual survey of duck production in mid-July suggest that the fall flight of North Dakota birds will be in. 36% decrease from last year and similar to fall flights in 1970, 1979 and 1994..

Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Management Supervisor, North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Management Supervisor, North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

At the same time, the number of broods in the July survey was down 49% from 2020 and 23% below the average since 1965. Game and fish numbered around 2.9 million ducks. last spring during the department’s 74th annual breeding duck survey, but drought conditions even suggested that the ducks would have poor production, said Mike Szymanski, Migratory Game Bird Management Supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck , in a June press release.

Put simply, a duck hen that sees a dry or disrepaired wetland will assume that it cannot raise a brood and will go in search of better nesting cover, Szymanski said.

Mark Fisher, a biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Devils Lake, said duck hunters will need to do even more scouting than usual during this year's waterfowl season due to the drought conditions that have resulted in fewer ducks in the landscape.  (Brad Dokken / Grand Forks Herald)

Mark Fisher, a biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Devils Lake, said duck hunters will need to do even more scouting than usual during this year’s waterfowl season due to the drought conditions that have resulted in fewer ducks in the landscape. (Brad Dokken / Grand Forks Herald)

According to Fisher, the Devils Lake biologist, the deplorable state of wetlands in northeastern North Dakota was evident last spring when the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducted its annual survey of small cultivated wetlands in the Ramsey, Benson, Tower and Cavalier counties.


“We were looking at 3,000 small cultivated wetlands, and I believe we found water in 15 of those 3,000. We weren’t expecting to see a lot of water, we knew it was dry since then. last fall, very little snow in winter and then in spring, but 15 out of 3,000 were pathetic. And these little wetlands are really important for the birds.

– Mark Fisher, biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Devils Lake


The survey, which begins in mid-April and continues through mid-May, targets small wetlands on farmland that are typically the first to have open water, Fisher said.

“We were looking at 3,000 small cultivated wetlands, and I think we found water in 15 of those 3,000,” Fisher said. “We weren’t expecting to see a lot of water, we knew it had been dry since last fall, very little snow in winter and then in spring, but 15 out of 3,000 were pathetic.

“And these little wetlands are really important for the birds. “

The Game and Fish Department’s July nesting duck survey showed an 80% decline in wetland abundance. Wetland conditions in northeastern North Dakota have improved in some areas with recent rainfall, but the trend has not resulted in more duck sightings, Fisher said.

“It was surprising to me,” Fisher said. “I would come to a wetland and there wouldn’t be a single bird on it. It’s kind of a disappointment.

Even giant Canada geese, normally abundant at this time of year in the Lake District and surrounding areas, have been more difficult to find, he says, according to reports from the start of the Canadian geese season. Canada in North Dakota.

“I know guys who have done pretty well, but nothing like that has been the case in the past,” said Fisher. “Even some of the farmers who have complained about geese depredation ask, ‘Where are the geese?’

“The number of Canada geese appears to be declining. “

The pre-opening waterfowl abundance is more like what hunters often encounter two to three weeks after non-residents have started hunting, when the birds “sort of disappear,” Fisher said.

“You would go to some areas where there are good wetland complexes and there is still water on the ground, and you would look and you would be like, ‘Dude, there are no ducks'” said Fisher, describing what often happens after the influx of non-residents. “That’s what I see – very, very few birds right now.”

The trend is a function of drought, says Fisher.

“I know during the summer, at the height of the breeding season, if you found wetlands with water, you would find broods,” he said. “I can’t say they survived and they just flew away, but it looked like we had a production. I just don’t think we’ve ever had a good number of birds in northeastern North Dakota to begin with.

“And now I don’t really know where they are.”

Hunters lucky enough to find concentrations of ducks are unlikely to have the areas to themselves unless they have exclusive access to private land that is home to birds.

“It’s kind of like fishermen – when they see a few boats at one place on the lake, then another boat shows up and the next thing you know, there are 10 boats at one place,” Fisher said. “This concentration is probably going to bring a lot of people to one place to hunt, unlike a normal year, where you can spread out across the landscape and do pretty well.

“And that, for me, makes the opportunities good to bad for this waterfowl season.”

HUNTING RULES

Here’s a look at North Dakota’s waterfowl regulations for the 2021 hunting season:

  • The season opens for Saturday September 25 for residents; non-residents can start waterfowl hunting on Saturday October 2.

  • Hunters can take six ducks per day with the following restrictions: five mallards including two hens, three wood ducks, two red, two mallards, a scaup and a pintail.

  • Hunters can take two additional Blue Winged Teals from September 25 to October 10.

  • The daily limit of five mergansers cannot include more than two hooded mergansers. For ducks and mergansers, the possession limit is three times the daily limit.

  • The Canada Goose hunting season will end on December 18 in the Eastern Zone, December 23 in the Western Zone and December 31 in the Missouri River Zone. The white front season ends on December 5, while the pale goose season is open until December 31.

  • The shooting times for all geese are half an hour before sunrise at 2 p.m. each day.

  • Extended hunting hours for all geese are permitted from half an hour before sunrise to sunset on Saturdays and Wednesdays until November 27, and Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from November 28 to the end of every season.

  • The bag limit for Canada Geese during the regular season is eight per day and 24 in possession, except in the Missouri River area, where the limit is five per day and 15 in possession.

  • The daily limit on White Fronts is three with nine in possession, and Pale Geese have a daily limit of 50 with no possession limit.

  • Per state law, non-residents are not permitted to hunt in North Dakota Game and Fish Department Wildlife Management Areas or Private Land Open To Sportsmen (PLOTS) Conservation Areas on 9 to October 15, with the exception of non-residents hunting on PLOTS land they own.

  • Non-HIP certified hunters when purchasing a license from North Dakota, can add it through the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov or by calling (888) 634-4798 and recording the HIP number on their printed license. Those who have registered to hunt the spring North Dakota Pale Goose season or the August / early September management harvest season do not have to re-register with HIP, as this does not is required in each state only once per year.

  • Hunters should refer to the North Dakota 2021-22 Hunting and Trapping Guide for more details on the waterfowl season.

– Herald staff report


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