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Duck numbers fair, but much better to the west

Photo by Brian Hansel A small group of wood duck drakes catch some early morning rays on a pond in Otter Tail County. The colorful tree nesters are one of the top birds in the bag early in the season.

The six-week window for duck hunting over water begins this weekend in Minnesota and hunters hope to fill the sky with steel shot.

What does the 2009 waterfowl season promise?

One clue is that the state has set regulations similar to last year and hunters can go after ducks until Dec. 1. They can take six ducks a day for as long as they can find them.

While Otter Tail County is blessed with a lot of water the wood duck, mallard and blue-winged teal breeding populations in west central Minnesota were down this year, according to DNR Waterfowl Staff Specialist Steve Cordts.

Despite the smaller breeding population, the DNR believes that production was fair for both the ground-nesting mallard and teal. The DNR believes production of wood ducks should be even better because woodies nest in trees and have a better shot at hatching out broods.

The migration is under way as the 2009 season begins. Wood ducks and teal, two early migrants, have started heading south. Flights of ringnecks have been arriving along with the Giant Canada geese. These "molt migrants" did not nest or were too young to nest this spring. They traditionally summer on the tundra near Churchill, Manitoba and start returning in mid-September.

While duck production in west central Minnesota was OK, it did not rival the production in eastern North and South Dakota. The Dakotas had near-record numbers of breeding birds and a strong hatch.

"I expect the further west you go in Minnesota toward the North and South Dakota the better the prospects are for a good hunting season," Cordts said.

While duck numbers in Minnesota are only fair this fall Canada goose numbers are so strong that the DNR went after a three-goose daily limit. The Fish and Wildlife Service vetoed the idea because Minnesota's pitch was not supported by the Mississippi Flyway.

The United States and Canada have a treaty restricting daily bag limits of Canada geese during the Minnesota waterfowl season. Canada is anxious to protect a sub-species of Canada geese that nest near Churchill known as the Eastern Prairie Population. This year's hatch of EPP geese was a complete failure due to a late spring on the breeding grounds. Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, the hatch was good.

"Overall, I'd expect a very good goose hunting year in west central Minnesota," Cordts said. "Field hunting opportunities are generally plentiful, especially after the corn harvest is complete."