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Waterfowl forecast brilliant, teal season 16 days

The results of this year’s North American Duck Breeding Population Survey are in, and the news is excellent, beginning with news that Missouri will have a 16-day early teal season.

The U.S. and Canadian fish and wildlife services have conducted aerial surveys to estimate breeding-duck numbers since 1955. The survey also evaluates nesting habitat conditions. The annual report of this survey provides an early look at prospects for the coming hunting season. This year’s report estimates total duck numbers at 48.6 million continent-wide. That is a 7-percent increase from last year and up 43 percent from the long-term average, also known as the LTA.

The North American population of mallards, the mainstay species for Missouri waterfowl hunters, is estimated at 10.6 million this year. That is up 15 percent from 2011 and 40 percent above the long-term average. Mallard numbers have exceeded this year’s figure only twice in the past 56 years – 1958 and 1999.

The length of Missouri’s early teal hunting season is set according to the number of blue-winged teal recorded in the annual survey. Blue-winged teal numbers this year are estimated at 9.2 million. That is similar to last year’s population. It also is 94 percent above the long-term average and nearly twice the 4.7 million needed for the maximum early-season length of 16 days under federal guidelines. This year’s early teal season will open Sept. 8 and run through Sept. 23.

Other duck species breeding populations recorded in the 2012 survey include:

• Gadwall, 3.6 million, similar to last year and 96 percent above LTA.

• Pintail, 3.5 million, 22 percent below 2011 and 14 percent below LTA.

• Green-winged teal, 3.5 million, up 20 percent from 2011 and 74 percent above LTA.

• Wigeon, 2.1 million, similar to 2011 and 17 percent below LTA.

• Scaup, 5.2 million, up 21 percent from last year and similar to LTA

• Shoveler, 5 million, similar to 2011 and 111 percent above LTA.

• Redhead, 1.3 million, similar to 2011 and 89 percent above LTA.

• Canvasback, 800,000, similar to 2011 and 33 percent above LTA.

Doreen Mengel, a resource scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), notes that habitat conditions in the north-central United States and central Canada, where most of Missouri’s ducks are produced, were not as good this year as in 2011. She says that could cut into nesting success. However, she also noted that above-average precipitation that occurred in prairie Canada after the survey was completed may have improved conditions for late-nesting species, any re-nesting attempts and for brood-rearing.

“It would have been difficult to imagine that we would see these kinds of waterfowl numbers 20 years ago,” says Mengel. “Having near-record duck populations is a testament to the hard work hunters and conservation groups have made to restore wetland habitat on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. It’s reason for celebration. However, remember that weather, local habitat conditions, and migration timing will play major roles in shaping the 2012 teal and regular waterfowl seasons we experience in Missouri.”

The Missouri Conservation Commission will set opening and closing dates, bag limits and other details of the regular waterfowl season at its August meeting. But one decision already made is that Quick Draw will continue at three waterfowl areas this winter. Hunters can apply twice a week during waterfowl season for spots at Grand Pass, Eagle Bluffs and Otter Slough conservation areas.

Grand Pass, Eagle Bluffs and Otter Slough conservation areas have assigned hunting spots through the online QD system for the past two years. Procedures at those three areas will remain unchanged this year.

MDC Wildlife Programs Supervisor Shawn Gruber says QD is designed to enhance convenience and offer hunters more flexibility at managed wetland areas. He says MDC has received a lot of valuable input regarding QD and will continue to solicit public feedback throughout the upcoming waterfowl season.

“Hunter input will be critical as we strive to utilize technology to make it as convenient as possible for hunters to pursue waterfowl on managed wetland areas,” said Gruber 

According to Gruber, hunters who entered QD frequently were more successful in securing hunting spots than hunters who used the traditional reservation system at Missouri’s other 12 managed wetland areas.

The QD system begins accepting applications a week before the opening of waterfowl season. Hunters can apply twice a week, once for reservations for the following Friday through Monday and once for hunts occurring Tuesday through Thursday.

This is different from the traditional system used at MDC’s other managed wetlands. On those areas, hunters apply for hunting opportunities weeks or months in advance, with little control over which dates they receive and no idea how those dates will relate to weather, which is extremely important to hunting success.

MDC developed QD in response to studies that showed lack of time is a major discouragement to potential waterfowl hunters. QD saves time by letting more hunters know in advance if they will be able to hunt on a particular day, saving them long drives without knowing if they will even get to hunt. The short lead time on QD applications compared to the traditional system also allows hunters to focus their efforts on dates with favorable weather.

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