The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is proposing continued liberal hunting season lengths and bag limits for the upcoming 2013-14 late waterfowl seasons. The annual results of cooperative population surveys, banding programs and harvest surveys guide the Service’s waterfowl conservation programs under authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. All of this information represents the largest data set on any wildlife species group in the world, and helps provide hunting opportunities while ensuring the long-term health of waterfowl populations. States select their individual seasons from within the federal frameworks that establish the earliest beginning and latest ending dates and the maximum season length and bag limits.
The Service’s 2013 Waterfowl Population Status Report summarizes information on the status of duck and goose populations and habitat conditions during spring of 2013. Overall, population estimates for most species of ducks remained strong for this breeding season. In the traditional survey area, which includes the north-central United States, south-central and northern Canada, and Alaska, the 2013 total duck population estimate was 45.6 million birds, a decrease of six percent from last year’s estimate of 48.6 million, but still 33 percent above the long-term average (1955-2012).
Overall, habitat conditions were similar to or slightly improved from last year. The 2013 pond estimate for the north-central U.S. was 2.3 million. Pond numbers in the U.S. were 41 percent higher than 2012. While initially dry, late spring rains helped recharge wetlands, which benefited late-nesting waterfowl.
The proposed federal frameworks include duck hunting season lengths of 60 days in both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, 74 days in the Central Flyway (with an additional 23 days in the High Plains areas), and 107 days in the Pacific Flyway. The proposed frameworks include a full season on pintails with a two-bird daily bag limit nationwide, and a full season on canvasbacks with a two-bird daily bag limit nationwide. The Service is also proposing to increase possession limits for ducks and geese to three times the daily bag limit. The proposed late season waterfowl frameworks will appear in a mid-August edition of the Federal Register for public comment.
Each year, the Service works in partnership with states from the four flyways to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting season lengths, dates and bag limits. Flyway-specific highlights of the proposed late-season frameworks are as follows:
Atlantic Flyway (Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia):
• Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days between September 21, 2013, and January 26, 2014. The proposed daily bag limit is 6 and may include no more than 4 mallards (2 hens), 4 scoters, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 2 hooded mergansers, 2 scaup, 1 black duck, 2 pintails, 2 canvasbacks, 1 mottled duck, and 1 fulvous whistling duck. The proposed daily bag limit of mergansers is 5, only 2 of which may be hooded mergansers. In states that include mergansers in the duck bag limit, the daily limit is the same as the duck bag limit, only 2 which may be hooded mergansers.
• Geese: For light geese, states will be able to select a 107-day season between October 1, 2013, and March 10, 2014, with a daily bag limit of 25 birds and no possession limit. Seasons for Canada geese would vary in length among states and areas depending on the populations of birds that occur in those areas. The daily bag limit will be 5 birds in hunt zones established for resident populations of Canada geese. In hunt zones established for migratory populations, bag limits will be 3 or fewer and vary among states and areas. For Atlantic brant, the season length may be 30 days with a daily bag limit of 2.
Mississippi Flyway (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin):
• Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days between September 21, 2013, and January 26, 2014. The proposed daily bag limit is 6 and may include no more than 4 mallards (2 hens), 3 wood ducks, 1 mottled duck, 2 redheads, 3 scaup, 2 pintails, 1 black duck, and 2 canvasbacks. The proposed daily bag limit of mergansers is 5, only 2 of which may be hooded mergansers. In states that include mergansers in the duck bag limit, the daily limit is the same as the duck bag limit, only 2 which may be hooded mergansers.
• Geese: Generally, seasons for Canada goose would be held between September 21, 2013, and January 31, 2014, and vary in length among states and areas. States would be able to select seasons for light geese not to exceed 107 days with 20 geese daily between September 21, 2013, and March 10, 2014; for white-fronted goose the proposed season would not exceed 74 days with a 2-bird daily bag limit or 88 days with a 1-bird daily bag limit between September 21, 2013, and February 16, 2014; and for brant it would not exceed 70 days with a 2-bird daily bag limit or 107 days with a 1 bird daily bag limit between September 21, 2013, and January 31, 2013.
Central Flyway (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming):
• Ducks: Duck season frameworks are between September 21, 2013 and January 26, 2014. The daily bag limit is 6 ducks, with species and sex restrictions as follows: 5 mallards, no more than 2 of which may be females; 3 wood ducks, 3 scaup, 2 pintails, 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks, and 1 mottled duck. Mottled ducks may not be harvested during the first 5 days after the beginning of the regular season in Texas. In the High Plains Mallard Management Unit (roughly west of the 100th Meridian), a 97-day season is proposed, and the last 23 days can start no earlier than December 7, 2013. A 74-day season is proposed for the remainder of the Central Flyway.
• Geese: States may select seasons between September 21, 2013 and February 16, 2014 for dark geese and between September 21, 2013, and March 10, 2014, for light geese. East-tier states are able to select a 107 day season for Canada geese with a daily bag limit of 8. For white-fronted geese, east-tier states will be able to select either a 74 day season with a daily bag limit of 2 birds or an 88 day season with a daily bag limit of 1 bird. In the West-tier, states may select a 107 day dark goose season with a daily bag limit of 5 birds. In the Western Goose zone of Texas, the state could select a 95 day season with a daily bag limit of 5 dark geese (including no more than 1 white-fronted goose). For light geese, all states would be able to select a 107-day season with a daily bag limit of 50.
Pacific Flyway (Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming):
• Ducks: States are allowed a 107-day general duck season between September 21, 2013, and January 26, 2014. The proposed daily bag limit is 7 ducks, including no more than 2 mallard hens, 2 redheads, 2 pintails, 2 canvasbacks, and 3 scaup. For scaup, the season length would be 86 days, which may be split according to applicable zones/split duck hunting configurations approved for each State.
• Geese: 100-day seasons in California, Oregon and Washington are proposed for the Pacific Flyway between September 24, 2013, and March 10, 2014. 107-day seasons in the remainder of the states are proposed. Proposed basic daily bag limits are up to 20 light geese and 10 dark geese. There are many exceptions to the basic bag limits and season structures for geese in many states, so consult state regulations for specific details. In California, Washington and Oregon, the dark goose limit does not include brant. For brant, the proposed season lengths are 16 days in Oregon and Washington and 30 days in California, with a 3-bird daily limit. Washington and California are able to choose seasons in each of the two zones described in state regulations.
While most duck populations remain strong, where and when waterfowl will be encountered this year depends on many factors. Weather, food availability, and water conditions influence local duck abundance, distribution, behavior, and ultimately, hunter success.
The Status of Waterfowl report can be found at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/. To view a video of the Status of Waterfowl video visit: http://flyways.us/status-of-waterfowl/video-report/.