Fall is finally here and with it comes my favorite season which is chasing those ducks and geese.
The season could be promising with the continental population estimates. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its report on 2016 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations, based on surveys conducted in May and early June by FWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service.
Overall duck numbers in the survey area were statistically similar to last year and remain steady. Total populations were estimated at 48.4 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, which is 38 percent above the 1955-2015 long-term average. Last year’s estimate was 49.5 million birds. The projected mallard fall flight index is 13.5 million birds, similar to the 2015 estimate of 13.8 million.
The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes of the prairies and the boreal forest. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2016 breeding population survey were generally poorer than last year. The total pond estimate for the U.S. and Canada combined was 5.0 million, which is 21% below the 2015 estimate of 6.3 million but similar to the long-term average of 5.2 million.
“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,” said Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Scott Yaich. “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,” said Yaich. “In some key production areas, heavy June and July rains greatly improved wetland conditions. This could benefit brood rearing and the success of late nesting species, as well as give a boost to overall production through re-nesting by early nesting species.
“Watching the changing habitat over the spring and summer this year underscores the importance of two things: First, we must simply accept that habitat and populations are going to vary over time. They always have and they always will. Second, that’s why we need to keep a steady hand on the course of our conservation efforts. Our job is to steadily make deposits into the habitat bank account so that when the precipitation and other conditions are right, the ducks will do the job that they do so well, which is to produce more ducks and provide us all a nice return on our investments.”
The spring surveys provide the scientific basis for many management programs across the continent, including hunting regulations. Individual states set their hunting seasons within a federal framework of season length, bag limits and dates.
It’s great to be optimistic but Buckeye duck hunters need to remember we had similar numbers last year and it ended up being one of our worse seasons in modern history. Why? Because we are a migration state and so much of our hunting success is dependent on the weather being bad enough for the ducks north of us to want to pick up and leave for warmer areas to the south. Last year we had an extremely warm December and it delayed the major migration until after most of the season was over in our area. Keep your fingers crossed that we have a more normal late fall and it very well could end up being a great season.
Ohio’s duck and goose seasons are broken down into three zones. The zone boundaries have changed from last year so be sure to check on the new changes. The Lake Erie Marsh Zone for ducks and geese will run from Oct. 15 to Oct. 30 and Nov. 12 to Dec. 25 with an extra session for geese only from Jan. 7 to Feb. 11. The North Zone for ducks and geese will run Oct. 22 to Nov. 6 and Nov. 19 to Jan. 1 with an extra session for geese only from Jan. 7 to Feb. 11. The South Zone for ducks will run Oct. 22 to Nov. 6 and Dec. 17 to Jan. 29. The goose season will run Oct. 22 to Nov. 6 and Nov. 24 to Feb. 11.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!