Interesting reading.  Some things to learn about habitat, ducks, expectations.  Down toward the bottom is further confirmation that duck hunters may be crazier than birders:  I personally like to see the temperature drop into the 20s in December.

Edge Wade
Columbia, MO
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Begin forwarded message:

From: Jim Low <[log in to unmask]>
Date: October 29, 2009 3:37:57 PM CDT
To: "[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: [Mdcnews] All Outdoors News Re: Duck Season Forecast

Abundant ducks, habitat, spell good hunting for Missouri

With the right weather, the 2009-2010 waterfowl season could be memorable.

JEFFERSON CITY–Missouri has nearly everything it needs for a terrific duck season. Now it is just a matter of watching the weather.

For the second year in a row, ducks found plenty of nesting habitat, especially in the north-central United States. This Prairie Pothole Region produces most of the ducks that migrate through Missouri in what is known as the Mississippi Flyway.

The numbers are heartening. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimates North America’s total breeding duck population at 42 million. That is up 13 percent from last year and 25 percent more than the average since 1955.

Mallards are the species most sought after by hunters. This year’s estimate of mallard breeding numbers is 8.5 million, 10 percent more than last year and 13 percent above the long-term average (LTA).

Surveys found 7.4 million breeding blue-winged teal, 11 percent more than last year and up 60 percent from the LTA. Estimates of other duck species’ breeding numbers were:

·        Northern pintails, 3.2 million, up 23 percent from last year but still 20 percent below the LTA.

·        Green-winged teal, 3.4 million, up 16 percent from last year and 79 percent above the LTA.

·        Gadwalls, 3.1 million, about the same as last year and up 73 percent from the LTA.

·        American wigeon, 2.5 million, about the same as last year and down 5 percent from the LTA.

·        Northern shovelers, 4.4 million, up 25 percent from last year and 92 percent above the LTA.

·        Redheads, 1 million, essentially the same as last year, but 62 percent above the LTA.

·        Scaup, 4.2 million, up 12 percent from last year but down 18 percent from the LTA.

·        Canvasbacks, 662,000, up 35 percent from last year and 16 percent above the LTA.

Resource Scientist Dave Graber, a waterfowl biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said geese that nest in Canada did not have as good a year for nesting as ducks did. However, he noted that Missouri’s resident Canada goose population remains strong, offering good prospects for hunting this year.

Abundant ducks and nesting habitat mean lots of ducks flying south through Missouri. Even better for hunters, many of those ducks will be young birds that have not learned to be cautious when approaching decoys.

However, hunting can be mediocre even in years when duck populations boom. It all depends on migration timing and the amount of food and wetland habitat available during their migration. If food or wetland habitat is in short supply, ducks continue south until they find more attractive conditions.

“We are set up to have good habitat conditions in Missouri this year,” said Graber. “Things look pretty good from the standpoint of moist-soil vegetation – the native plants produce the foods that ducks like. We have had good production for the most part.”

According to Graber, Schell-Osage and Four Rivers conservation areas and other parts of the Osage River Basin experienced flooding that limited moist-soil plant growth or washed away seeds produced earlier in the growing season. However, this year’s flooding has not been as severe or widespread as last year, when moist soil plants never got a chance to grow in large areas. Furthermore, losses due to flooding in western Missouri were offset by the filling of higher basins that often are dry. The Grand River basin in north-central Missouri was also impacted by a series of floods.

He said this year’s above-average rainfall has been great for many private duck clubs. Wetland areas managed by the Conservation Department and the FWS have levees, water-control systems and high-capacity pumps that allow managers to maintain optimum water levels under all but the most extreme weather conditions. Most privately owned wetlands depend more on nature. This year’s weather has been nearly ideal for creating waterfowl habitat on private wetlands.

“I have talked to some private club owners and they are very excited,” said Graber. “They say they have good food conditions this year, and they have reasonable water levels going into the hunting season.”

Even with plenty of ducks and habitat, a third variable – weather – can cut short an otherwise promising season, or make for challenging hunting conditions. Asked how the weather for an ideal season would unfold, Graber said moderation is the key.

Graber said the ideal hunting season would start with the arrival of a cold front just before the season opened.

“A cold front at this time of year will bring peak numbers of early-season migrants, such as green-winged teal, gadwall, wigeon and the first mallards,” he said. “We already have more ducks in Missouri than our previous five-year average due to the unusually cool October.” Then you would want that weather to stay cool with periodic cool fronts and rain moving through to keep pushing new ducks into Missouri and keep them moving around.

“Late in the season, I personally like to see the temperature drop into the 20s in December, so wetland areas kind of freeze up during the night and then thaw out during the day. That keeps the birds off-balance, moving around. Once the cold weather arrives, shallow-water areas freeze up, and the river and reservoir hunters have a better crack at them.”

Worst-case scenarios, he said, are when lots of calm, warm, overcast days make hunting difficult. Extremely mild conditions can delay migrations and cause hunters to experience the mid-season lull of having to wait for new ducks to arrive. Similarly, severe cold weather early in the season can cause ducks to move on south before hunters have much opportunity to pursue them.

This year’s waterfowl seasons dates are:

North Zone:

                  Youth days – Oct. 24-25

                  Regular season – Oct. 31-Dec. 29

Middle Zone:

                  Youth days – Oct. 31- Nov. 1

                  Regular season – Nov. 7 -Jan. 5                 

South Zone:

                  Youth days – Nov. 21-22

                  Regular season – Nov. 26-Jan. 24

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently approved a new type of nontoxic shot for waterfowl hunting. Effective immediately, hunters may use tungsten-iron-fluoropolymer shot, along with other nontoxic shot previously approved. More details about bag limits and other waterfowl hunting regulations are available in the “2009-2010 Waterfowl Hunting Digest,” available wherever hunting permits are sold or at mdc.mo.gov/hunt/wtrfowl/index.htm.

-Jim Low-

 

 

Caption for All Outdoors photo

Missouri’s 2009-2010 duck season could be one of the best ever, thanks to plentiful ducks and excellent habitat conditions. Favorable weather is the only factor still needed to fulfill this potential.

 (Missouri Department of Conservation photo)

High-resolution photo: mdc.mo.gov/news/images/fullsize/20091030-2.jpg

 

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To receive releases via listserv, visit www.mdc.mo.gov/news.
Conservation Department press release archives also are available at www.mdc.mo.gov/news.
A hunting/fishing season calendar is available at www.mdc.mo.gov/seasons/

 

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