By Doug Leier

Take your time and learn to pick out the drakes when in pursuit of ducks

About 15 years ago I attended my first Game and Fish Department advisory board meeting. I was a fisheries and wildlife management student at North Dakota State University, and had a goal of one day working in the natural resource field. I decided it might be a positive learning experience to attend this open public meeting, and it sounded like more fun than studying for a statistics exam.

I still recall then Game and Fish Director Lloyd Jones discussing the upcoming waterfowl season and regulations. Having hunted waterfowl I knew full well the needed difference between regulations for ducks as compared to upland game like pheasants and grouse.

I also understood migratory species required more coordination between states, and specific species of ducks such as canvasbacks couldn't withstand the harvest levels that blue-winged teal could. Then and now it was a complicated equation balancing hunter opportunity with buffering the species needing shelter.

For the most part it made sense, but I still recall the question I asked, and smile at most advisory board meetings when similar questions or comments are made. For the record, I asked, "Wouldn't it be easier to just set the limit at three or four ducks and not have all these restrictions for shooting five or six?"

The response is still etched in my mind. "Are you looking for a job?" Jones replied, in essence summarizing the goal of wildlife managers and desire of hunters to have less cumbersome regulations.

What I've learned since then is that setting waterfowl limits, seasons, rules and regulations is a science, and it should be. What I mean is that biologists, researchers and administrators do the best the can with the data and tools they have for all vested interests -- hunters and ducks alike.

Such is the case with a new set of duck regulations that will be in effect this fall. The new slate of regulations is called Hunter's Choice, which in concept, is supported by hunters surveyed in a nationwide survey last year. Results from the survey indicate that about half the duck hunters preferred making selective choices within a daily bag limit, rather than having shortened or closed seasons for certain species, or reduced bag limits and season lengths for more abundant species to protect those species that have less harvest potential.

Youve got 74 days to hunt waterfowl - find time to get out

Under Hunter's Choice this year, the duck season is 74 days for all species, so there is no closed season on pintails and canvasbacks while the regular duck season is still open. In the past few years, the seasons for pintails and canvasbacks had closed after 39 days.

To allow for a full season on pintails and canvasback, hunters will have to make some choices. The daily limit structure looks like this:

• This fall the daily limit on ducks is five per day. The daily duck limit is the same as the mallard limit, which is five per day and 10 in possession. For instance, if all you shoot only drake mallards, you can take five per day. If your first duck is a gadwall, for instance, only four drake mallards are allowed the rest of the day.

• The daily limit of five ducks can include only one hen mallard, or one pintail, or one canvasback. If you shoot a pintail as your first duck of the day, it would be illegal to shoot a hen mallard or a canvasback the rest of the day. If you shoot a hen mallard as your first duck of the day, you can't take a pintail or canvasback or another hen mallard. In recent years when the pintail and canvasback seasons were open, hunters could take one of each, plus two hen mallards.

Those are the nuts and bolts of the waterfowl regulations this fall. Hunters no longer have to worry about taking an illegal duck on their first shot of the day. On the other hand, if a hunter chooses to take a pintail, canvasback or hen mallard, they'll have to be extra cautious the rest of the day.

North Dakota is one of five states in the Central Flyway adopting Hunter's Choice regulations on a trial basis. South Dakota is also included. Five other Central Flyway states will continue with a closed season for pintails and canvasbacks after 39 days.

At the end of the proposed three-year trial, waterfowl managers will evaluate the merits of Hunter's Choice, for ducks and for hunters.

As waterfowl season approaches take a minute to review rules and regulations. License vendors should have the 2006-07 North Dakota waterfowl guide by Sept. 15 or so. It's also available on the Game and Fish Department's website at

You'll notice a few changes and hopefully Hunter's Choice is a step closer to balancing hunter wants with sound wildlife management.