First Forecast

March 25, 2009 by  

By Perry Thorvig

This year’s first comprehensive summary of agency reports and anecdotal observations concerning the prospects for the 2004 waterfowl season.

Last month you read that I was pretty discouraged about duck hunting prospects in general because of increased commercialization of the resource. In the space that follows, I will summarize the agency and individual reports related to this year’s hunting prospects.

In a word or two, waterfowl hunting doesn’t look too good this year.

This is what we are hearing.

Rainfall

Rainfall has been at least average across southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and North Dakota for the spring and early summer (April through June). Rain varied from a low of seven inches in Devils Lake to a high of 11 inches in Brandon, Manitoba. The table below shows rainfall by selected hunting locations.

Location
Actual
Normal
Departure
Yorkton, SK *
8
8
0
The Pas, MB*
9
6
+3
Estevan, SK*
11
7
+4
Brandon, MB*
11
7
+4
Williston, ND*
10
8
+2
Minot, ND*
8
8
0
Devils Lake, ND**
7
7
0
Bismarck, ND*
7
7
0
Jamestown, ND**
8
7
-1
Fargo, ND*
11
8
-3
Aberdeen, SD*
12
9
-3

*April 22 – July 22
**April-June
Source: www.agcanada and www.accuweather.com

As of July 20, 2004 drought conditions were not present in most of the counties north and east of the Missouri River. See http://www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html for the latest drought picture.

The rainfall totals above do not tell the whole story, however. Last spring, it was pretty dry in most places as the ducks and geese returned from their winter vacation. Delta Waterfowl reported the following this summer:

“Migrating ducks returning to important nesting areas in the north-central U.S. and southern Canadian prairies this spring were greeted by dry conditions, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual waterfowl survey. Although many areas received winter snow, including a late spring snowstorm in the southern portions of the survey area, the snowmelt was absorbed by the parched ground.”

At least as significant as the dry conditions that existed early last spring was that the number of ducks returning continued the recent downward trend since the mid 1990s. The Delta Waterfowl report explained the situation.

“Last spring a dozen US Fish and Wildlife Service pilot biologists revved their planes’ engines in preparation for next year’s 50th anniversary of the world’s largest wildlife inventory, the spring waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey.

What they found was a significant decline in May ponds and an 11 percent drop in the breeding population of ducks across the traditional survey area that includes Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alaska, Yukon Territory, the Dakotas and western Montana.

Ron Reynolds of Fish and Wildlife’s Habitat and Population Evaluation Team (HAPET) in Bismarck agrees with Olson’s assessment. “Obviously any moisture helps,” says Reynolds, “but as far as pulling us out of a bad start, I doubt the late rains will have a huge impact on productivity. (Emphasis added.)

We should see some production across the northern tier of counties in North Dakota, which attracted quite a few ducks because they were wet early,” Reynolds says. “But we don’t expect much production in the southern part of the state or across South Dakota, which was really dry.”

This opinion by Reynolds seems to be substantiated by field reports from Internet contributors. Here is one from Devils Lake.

“Waterfowl production in the area has been reported by locals as: Poor for ducks, good for geese.” – Posted July 21 on Waterfowler.com.

Ron Gilmore reported on NDO about the area southeast of Jamestown.

“This past weekend I put on a number of miles in the back area’s in south central ND. I visited with a bunch of different landowners and all said basically the same thing: few nesting ducks and few broods hatched. This correlates with what I have been hearing from others that are out and asking and looking through much of the mid tier of the waterfowl producing area in North Dakota. Early drought and lack of rain in April and May forced many ducks to seek other areas for nesting. Many that did nest had their nests washed out and others lost eggs to high skunk and raccoon and crow numbers coupled with below average cold temps through much of June. The only above average area is the northern 1/3 of the state.” – Posted July 19.

Our old friend, Fetch, even chipped in this little report in mid July.

“I’m still not seeing many mallard broods and I drove from Devils Lake to Garrison by back roads last week.”

It appears that even with decent summer rains duck hunting is going to be mediocre at best. A combination of early dry conditions, untimely heavy rains that washed out nests, and predation have substantially diminished the duck hatch.

Despite this rather pessimistic outlook the federal duck gurus met in Duluth, Minnesota in late July and agreed that there will be no mandated reduction in season length or duck limits. So it looks like 6 duck limits and a 60 day season will be the framework for this year.

Canada and Snow Geese

The Canadian Subarctic was snowbound well into May. Even in early June, the nesting areas around Churchill were covered with snow. Did you see Chris Hustad’s link from Delta Waterfowl? It contained photographs of the snow covered nesting grounds accompanied by the following report.

“The spring nesting period in 2004 has definitely been the latest and coldest on record. Unusually heavy snow pack and delayed snow melt has meant that many geese that would normally be nesting in this region of the Hudson Bay Lowlands have been forced to abandon the idea of nesting for 2004.

Researchers arriving at camp on June 7 found snow still drifted over the 9 foot high polar bear fence that surrounds the camp. For those few geese that did arrive on this portion of the breeding grounds in early June, there just were not any areas free of snow to build a nest. Temperatures slightly above 0° C slowed the melting process to the point that geese attempting to nest were at least three weeks later than normal. Production of young will be very limited this year, causing great concern for managers right down the flyway.”

These weather and nesting conditions will adversely impact the Eastern Prairie Population of Canada geese and snow geese. Mature geese are hard to decoy. Look for finicky flocks of mature snows this fall.

The only apparent good news is that the local nesting populations of Canada geese keep right on growing each year. They will continue to provide early season targets for camouflaged hunter with lots of mosquito repellent.

Summary

We came into the waterfowl breeding season with:

• Low soil moisture reserves.
• 11% fewer returning nesting ducks in the prime nesting region.
• Snow covered snow goose breeding grounds in the eastern sub Arctic.
We received average rainfall across the region.
Waterfowl productivity reports are very pessimistic.

Conclusion

Paint up those Big Foots. Canada goose hunting might be the only noteworthy action this fall.


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