Migration Update – July 9, 2013

Blue-winged teal. Photo by Kammie Kruse, US FWS. Flyways.us

Blue-winged teal by Kammie Kruse, US FWS. Flyways.us

As we await the final publication of the 2013 Waterfowl Breeding survey hunters in the three flyways that offer an early teal season are expected to receive a bag limit increase from five to six teal and a possession limit increase from two times the daily limit to three. The proposal for the changes has been accepted by the service and the ruling is expected sometime in August after the public comment period.

Of course, this is only a recommendation and the states within those flyways must accept the increase individually so be sure to check the finalized regulations your state before heading to the field during the early season.

Hello folks, and, as always, welcome to Waterfowler.com.

The proposed bag limit increase for teal is not unexpected. Of all the duck species, the growth of the teal population has enjoyed substantial increases over the past decade. According to the 2012 breeding survey, the estimated abundance of green-winged teal was 3.5 ± 0.2 million, which was 20% above the 2011 estimate and 74% above their long-term average. The estimate of blue- winged teal was 9.2 ± 0.4 million, which was similar to the 2011 estimate and 94% above their long-term average.

While the 2013 Breeding survey has yet to be released, if the numbers hold near the 2012 levels, at 74% and 96% above the long-term average, the increase is easily justified. In fact, so easily justified one has to question the math on the conservative decision. Do we really need to nearly double the population of a species to justify a single duck increase in the bag limit?

Now don’t get us wrong, we accept the increase with open arms but the overall decision does set a precedence that speak volumes to how conservative the Flyway Councils are with recommendations. In 2012 the total surveyed species were 48.6 million birds. This represents a 7% increase over last year’s estimate of 45.6 million, and is 43% higher than the long-term average. Using the standards set on teal, the general waterfowl population would have to increase by 22.8 million birds (to over 70 million birds) to justify a single bird increase in the daily bag limit during the general waterfowl season.

When you consider that hunter participation in early teal seasons is far lower than the general waterfowl season, the decision to increase the bag limit by a single bird is so conservative it could be deemed a “no brainer.”

Of course, the other proposed ruling to increase the possession limit from two times the daily bag limit to three times the daily limit was no less conservative. While the increase does help, one has to take into account that the original law was introduced to combat the transition from market hunting to regulated sport hunting. When law enforcement couldn’t catch the poachers in the field, they had an opportunity to catch them at the freezer. For today’s hunter that hunts and average of eleven days per year, the possession limit is so ridiculously low, Waterfowler.com could conservatively estimate that over 50% of waterfowl hunters are in violation of the law at any given moment of the year based on their freezer contents.

For the hunter that wishes to enjoy the savory taste of ducks beyond the end of the season with as few as twelve ducks and four geese allowed in the freezer, the amount of allowable game is paltry at best.

This problem is compounded exponentially for the traveling waterfowl hunter. For the hunter that decides to take a week’s vacation during the duck season to adventure in the great outdoors, they must begin gorging themselves on six ducks per day to continue shooting throughout the length of their vacation.

If the ruling becomes final and the possession limit increases to an overall three times the daily bag limit, it will be welcomed increase but does very little to address the storage problem every waterfowl hunter faces.

At the end of the day, the Flyway Councils are making steps to improve the regulations for waterfowl hunters and our comments are not meant to be disrespectful. Waterfowl regulations are politics and the Councils have a long-standing history of conservative solutions for many good reasons.

Thankfully the councils remain far more functional than other branches of government descended from any progress to complete dysfunction. As politics trends to become more of a crosstown rivalry and media feeding frenzy, we can only hope the Flyway Councils remain autonomous of that quagmire and continue to make progress, albeit slow and conservative.

Until our next report, begin planning your early teals hunting today.

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