Are ducks running late?

We have all heard the old timers brag about the good ol’ days of duck hunting, when the skies were so thick with ducks that they blocked out the sun. When decoys were bleach bottles or old tires painted black and the birds still poured in. While we know Grandpa tells the tallest of tales and waterfowl numbers are drastically higher than they were 50 years ago, perhaps there is some validity to the old man’s banter.

Recently, Delta Waterfowl analyzed U.S. Fish and Wildlife data and confirmed a change: The ducks are late. Based on data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Parts Collection Survey collected from as early as 1961, Delta was able to determine that, in fact, the harvest of mallard ducks has been occurring on average 10 to 16 days later than they were 50 years ago in marshes across the country. What the study has not determined is why. Is it because the ducks are migrating later? If so, then what is causing the trend? Perhaps it’s the food? Delta says not likely, as gadwall and ringneck data follow the same tardiness trend as mallards and yet those species tend to stay out of fields for their meals, unlike mallards. The weather? Plausible, as far as Delta is concerned, but that can neither be proved nor disproved based on the data used.

What we do know, based on the Delta Migration survey, is that ducks are in fact being harvested later than they have been. The “why” remains a mystery. One would think that with the current loss of habitat in some northern areas that the migration would be early. But it’s not. They’re still coming down late. North Dakota, for example, has lost more than 30 percent of its Conservation Reserve Program lands since 2007, according to the state’s Game and Fish Department. Most of it has gone back to agricultural production, as commodity prices have been very strong over the last several years. What’s more, Game and Fish forecasted another 650,000 acres to exit CRP last fall, followed by an additional 1.1 million acres this fall (2013-2014). And the ducks are still coming down later each year. They question remains – why?

Pheasant and turkey briefing:

The jury is still out; it’s going to be a close call, and it’s probably a bit too soon to say, but it is beginning to look like our pheasant and turkey populations survived the winter in good shape. From here on out, it’ll be up to the weather. The weather is everything. Things change, though. Today’s ups are tomorrow’s downs – and vice versa. A mild winter and plenty of food sustained the flocks and the birds came through in good shape. The next big test will be the spring rains or the lack of them. Spring weather will be the key factor now. Warm, spring rains in moderation aren’t bad. But a cold, wet spring and lots of cold rains during the hatching season is key. The young turkeys and young pheasant poults cannot survive the cold, wet weather. We’ll know more about the turkey situation when the spring turkey hunters hit the woods. And we’ll know more about the pheasant situation when the rural mail carriers do their August Road Count.

I’ve been taking to a lot of local farmers lately in conversations around the coffee cup, and the “word” they’re putting out is that they are starting to see lots of turkeys and pheasants out in their fields. That being the case, both turkeys and pheasants came through the winter quite well. But a cold, wet spring, especially during and after the hatch is not going to be good news.

Final seasons to close

The last of the 2012-2013 hunting seasons will be coming to a close at the end of this month. Crow hunting season which opened Jan. 14 will close on Sunday, March 31. Pigeon season which opened last Oct. 1, will close on Sunday, March 31. Beaver trapping season, which comes under the Furbearer Trapping Regulations, opened Nov. 3 and will close on Monday, April 15. However, note that in the case of pigeons, they may be hunted year around within 100 yards of buildings and bridges. Having said this, shooting from a highway or bridge over water presents another set of regulations: You cannot shoot any rifle on or over any of the public highways or waters of the state or any railroad right of way. You cannot discharge a shotgun shooting a slug, pistol or revolver on or over a public roadway. Additionally, no person shall discharge a rifle, including a muzzleloading rifle or musket, or a handgun from a highway; or discharge a shotgun shooting slugs from a highway north of U.S. Highway 30 (while deer hunting). So, your options are limited when it comes to shooting pigeons from a bridge or over water.

And now, have a good weekend.