Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Waterfowl hunting looking good by the numbers, but habitat and weather are wild cards

Missouri 60-day duck season opens end of October.
JEFFERSON CITY MO. – While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the number of North American ducks to be at a record high of 49.5 million for fall hunting, experts with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) caution that local habitat conditions, weather, and migration timing will be the main factors affecting Missouri’s upcoming 60-day duck season.
"Wetlands should have plenty of water going into fall, but extensive and repeated flooding over the summer will mean food and cover could be patchy," explained MDC Resource Scientist Andy Raedeke. "Moist-soil seed production will be excellent in wetlands that benefitted from a wet spring and early summer but did not have late-summer flooding. Those that did experience late flooding will likely have poor moist-soil seed production and limited vegetation for cover. Due to flooding, food provided by crops, such as corn, will likely be well below average."
Raedeke added that weather conditions play a significant role in affecting duck movements and distribution. "Long-term weather forecasts are calling for milder than normal fall and winter weather in the upper Midwest," he said.
Habitat conditions and weather combine to influence waterfowl migrations.
"The primary uncertainty is how ducks will respond if we have a hunting season with mild weather, plenty of water, and below average food and cover," said Raedeke. "In the absence of significant cold fronts, ducks may disperse throughout the Mississippi Flyway resulting in lower peak numbers in Missouri. Once ducks arrive in Missouri, habitat conditions will influence how long they stay. Species that depend entirely on wetland sources of food may depart sooner than normal. For species that also field feed, such as mallards, the combination of ample water for roosting and harvested grain fields for feeding may help offset effects of below average wetland conditions."
He added that hunters will need to be flexible in when and where they hunt. "If it is a mild fall, it will be especially important to time hunts with cold fronts and migration events. Hunters should also be willing to try new locations for potentially better habitat conditions," Raedeke said.
DID YOU KNOW:
Conservation makes Missouri is a great place to hunt waterfowl for nearly 100,000 migratory bird hunters. More than 93 percent of Missouri land is privately owned, including extensive areas of land used for waterfowl hunting. MDC intensively manages almost 32,000 acres of public wetlands on 15 conservation areas that provide managed waterfowl hunts. MDC also maintains more than 80,000 acres of public wetland habitat on 169 conservation areas where walk-in waterfowl hunting is allowed. Activities related to waterfowl hunting have an annual economic impact for Missouri of about $149 million, support nearly 2,000 jobs, and contributemore than $13 million in state and local taxes.
DUCK and COOT SEASONS:
North Zone: Oct. 31 – Dec. 29
Middle Zone: Nov. 7 – Jan. 5
South Zone: Nov. 26 – Jan. 24
YOUTH HUNTING DAYS:
North Zone: Oct. 24 and 25
Middle Zone: Oct. 31 and Nov. 1
South Zone: Nov. 21 and 22
GOOSE SEASONS:
Light geese: snow, blue, and Ross's: Statewide, Oct. 31 - Jan. 31
White-fronted geese: Statewide Nov. 7 - Jan. 31
Canada geese and brant: Statewide Oct. 3 - Oct. 11 and Nov. 26 - Jan. 31
LIGHT GOOSE CONSERVATION ORDER:
The Conservation Order for light geese will be in effect Feb. 1 through April 30.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Get more information on waterfowl hunting, including regulations, limits, areas, species population estimates, and more from MDC's 2015-2016 Waterfowl Hunting Digest, available from permit vendors, MDC offices and nature center, and online athuntfish.mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/downloads/Waterfowl_Digest_2015_0.pdf.