Duck Season Forecast
October 23, 2017
Editorial Staff (187 articles)
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Duck Season Forecast

Youth-Only Duck Season Oct. 28-29 in South Zone

By Will Leschper

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report is the gold standard for duck season prospects. Based on recent trends, things are still looking good.

Officials estimated total populations in 2016 at 48.4 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, which is 38 percent above the 60-year long-term average. The 2015 estimate was a record 49.5 million birds.

Scott Yaich, a retired Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist, provided excellent insight into how things can change, even after the annual duck count surveys end in late May and early June. He pointed to last year’s counts as an example.

“In light of the dry conditions that were observed across much of the northern breeding grounds during the survey period, it is reassuring to see that the breeding population counts were little changed from last year,” he said. “But, with total pond counts similar to the long-term average, and with hunting season and winter mortality being a relatively small part of annual mortality, it’s not surprising to see that populations largely held steady.

“What’s not reflected in the report is that there was fairly significant improvement in habitat conditions after the surveys were completed. In some key production areas, heavy June and July rains greatly improved wetland conditions.”

Dave Morrison, small game program leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said it’s tough to sustain the high numbers of ducks that we’ve seen in recent years, simply due to how Mother Nature can change, but this fall and winter should again provide plenty of ducks for waterfowlers in the traditional Texas hot spots.

Regular Duck Season starts Nov. 11 in North Zone, Nov. 4 in South Zone

While Texas remains one of the hotbeds for waterfowl hunting, there have been some alarming insights into just how much of a decrease in hunter participation overall has occurred.

Delta Waterfowl produced a lengthy special report showing just how steep the decline has been. Among the findings is the most glaring numbers of all: In 1970 there were more than 2 million active waterfowlers in the United States, while there were only 998,000 in 2015, according to Delta Waterfowl figures.

The chief concern among that group, as well as conservation groups, is the decline in the number of folks buying the Federal Duck Stamp. Proceeds from those sales go directly back into habitat conservation and if folks just aren’t buying them, that represents a huge wake-up call to groups like Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited, among others.

While duck hunter numbers remain on a decline, the long-term average of duck counts remains stable, hovering at or above 45 million on this continent in dry years and above 48 million in wetter years.

TPWD photo

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