Waterfowl seasons not expected to be altered

Springfield —  The harvest of mallards in Illinois fell dramatically during the 2015-16 season, which was in line with a lower overall duck harvest in the state.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates, hunters shot 137,339 mallards last season, compared to 192,265 in 2014-15. The total Illinois duck harvest in 2015-16 was estimated at 263,100 – well below the 2014-15 total of 409,900.

It may not be a case of absentee ducks.

Most of the blame for the decrease in harvest could rest on the fact that fewer hunters spent fewer days in the duck blind. In its annual report, USFWS put the number of active hunters at 24,300 in 2015-16, a significant drop from the nearly 30,000 active hunters the year before.

And hunter days afield fell from 264,200 in 2014-15 to 195,400 last year.

These numbers didn’t seem to surprise anyone at the federal level, as the USFWS announced it will keep waterfowl season lengths and bag limits essentially unchanged for the 2017-18 seasons.

USFWS’ proposed rules for the season, which can be viewed at www.federal
register.gov, allows for duck hunting season lengths of 60 days in the Mississippi Flyway, with a daily bag limit of six ducks. Restrictions within the overall daily bag limit for most duck species stayed the same as those in the 2016-17 season except that the daily bag limit for black ducks increased from one to two birds and the daily bag limit for pintails decreased from two to one bird nationwide.

Another 16-day special September teal season with a six-bird daily bag limit is also proposed.

As always, the USFWS sets the framework for the seasons and the Illinois DNR then sets the state’s seasons from within that framework.

The process was moved up a couple of years ago so that states could set their seasons in the spring, instead of late summer.

While it’s much too early to estimate the Illinois duck harvest for the recently ended 2016-17 season, the USFWS tends to look at long-range harvests and past breeding grounds census figures to determine season lengths and bag limits.

According to USFWS data, the only duck species to show harvest increases in Illinois in 2015-16 were wigeons (4,123 last year compared to 3,787 in 2014-15) and hooded mergansers (3,013 last year compared to 1,748 in 2014-15).

Numbers for both blue-winged and green-winged teal crashed, as did those for northern shovelers and gadwalls.

Goose harvests experienced steep declines, too.

According to USFWS figures, Illinois hunters took 73,509 Canada geese in 2015-16, down from the 105,998 taken in 2014-15. White-fronted goose harvest dropped from 8,050 to 5,928.

On the upside, snow geese (5,6691 in 2015-16 compared to 4,920 in 2014-15) and blue goose (4,980 compared to 1,789) saw harvest increases.

Nationally, more than 1 million hunters harvested 13,270,400 ducks and 3,327,000 geese in 2014-15. Roughly the same number of hunters harvested 10,993,000 ducks and 2,538,000 geese in 2015-16.

Meanwhile, waterfowl researchers also suffered a dip – the 2014-15 Waterfowl Parts Survey collected 76,955 duck wings and 13,762 goose tails and wingtips from 4,145 hunters in 2015-16. They collected 83,028 duck wings and 15,996 goose tails and tips the year before.

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