Looking Good: Waterfowl seasons quickly approaching

Duck hunters looking for mallards and wood ducks will often hunt the small wooded waters. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Duck hunters looking for mallards and wood ducks will often hunt the small wooded waters. Photo: Howard Meyerson

By Howard Meyerson

Michigan’s waterfowl hunting seasons are rapidly approaching and conditions, overall, look good for hunters.

The statewide early goose season opens Tuesday and so does Michigan’s seven-day experimental early teal season.

“Last year was our first teal season,” noted Barb Avers, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources waterfowl program specialist. “It seemed very good, based on comments from hunters who were happy to have the opportunity to hunt them.”

Blue-winged teal are early migrants. They typically fly south before the regular duck season openers in late September and early October.

The 2015 early teal season is the second in a three-year trial for Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa hunters. The experiment was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after each state sought to have early seasons.

Waterfowl hunters will be accessing waters all over the state looking for an opportunity to hunt waterfowl when the seasons open. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Waterfowl hunters will be accessing waters all over the state looking for an opportunity to hunt waterfowl when the seasons open. Photo: Howard Meyerson

All time high

Teal numbers have climbed to all-time highs in recent years, according to FWS officials. They are one of the most abundant ducks in the Mississippi Flyway.

However, hunters participating in the experimental season are expected to stay on target, meaning kill only teal or geese, which are also fair game.

Wildlife and law enforcement officials will be in the field observing hunters again this year, looking to tally the number of non-target ducks that get killed, or that hunters attempt to kill.

Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota have been denied the opportunity of having early teal seasons since 1969 when the FWS officials found hunters were killing too many non-target ducks. Minnesota declined the opportunity to participate in the current experimental season.

“Last year, the non-target damage was lower than expected,” Avers said. “We were well under what was needed for the federal evaluation. We have to do that again for two more years. Michigan did fine (in 2014) and collectively, (with the other states) we did fine. There were some violations, (but overall) hunters behaved and paid attention to what they were shooting. The spotters will be out again this year.

“If we do good for three years, they (the FWS) will lift the experimental status and make the season operational, without the evaluation we do now.”

Hunters can kill six teal each day, but can have only 18 in possession. The experimental early teal season runs from Tuesday through Sept. 7.

Goose season opens

Michigan’s early Canada Goose Season runs from Tuesday through Sept. 10 in the Upper Peninsula and Huron, Tuscola and Saginaw Counties. The season is open Tuesday through Sept. 15 in the rest of the state. The daily bag limit is five geese statewide.

North American breeding waterfowl populations were reported at record highs this year, according to the FWS and Canadian Wildlife Service who jointly produced the “2015 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey” of the prairie regions.

The number of ducks climbed to 49.52 million, just above 49.15 million in 2014, and still 43 percent above the long-term average. The nation’s mallard population climbed to 11.64 million, a 7 percent increase over 2014.

Michigan mallard counts, however, remain about the same as last season, according to

Mallards are the number one duck found in Michigan waterfowl hunter's bags. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Mallards are the number one duck found in Michigan waterfowl hunter’s bags. Photo: Howard Meyerson

Avers. Three quarters of the mallards that Michigan hunters shoot come from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, she said. They are not the birds counted in the prairies.

“We’re still below long-term averages, but we estimate having 238,000 mallards, about the same as last year,” Avers said. “They are still the No. 1 duck in hunters’ bags. Wood ducks

have been pretty stable in Michigan. They and mallards are the two primary birds that hunters shoot. Green-winged teal, buffleheads and redheads round out the top five.”

Hunting season regulations remain the same as 2014 with the exception of the daily limit for Canvasback ducks.

Hunters can shoot two a day, according to Avers. Their breeding population is up 11 percent, according to the FWS and CWS report. They remain about 30 percent above long-term averages.

Hunters also should be aware that the price of a federal duck stamp increased from $15 to $25 this year.

The stamp is required to hunt waterfowl along with an $11 state resident base license and $12 Michigan waterfowl hunting license.

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Regular Season Waterfowl Hunting Calendar

 Ducks:

            North Zone –Sept. 26 – Nov. 22 and Nov. 28-29.

            Middle Zone – Oct. 3 – Nov. 29 and Dec. 12-1.

            South Zone – Oct. 10 – Dec. 6 and Dec. 26-27

 Canada Goose:

            North Zone – Sept. 11 – Dec. 11

            Middle Zone – Sept. 19 – Dec. 19.

            South Zone –Sept. 19-27, Oct. 10 – Dec. 6, and Dec. 26-27.

 Goose Management Unit Hunting

            Tuscola/Huron GMU – Sept. 19-27, Oct. 10 – Dec. 6, and Dec. 26 – Jan. 19, 2016

            Saginaw County GMU – Sept. 19-27, Oct. 10 – Dec. 6, and Dec. 26 – Jan. 19, 2016.

            Allegan County GMU – Oct. 31 – Jan. 30, 2016.

            Muskegon Waste Water GMU – Oct. 17 – Nov. 14 and Dec. 1-22.

For details see Michigan DNR’s waterfowl hunting regulations page.

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Appears in MLive Media Group newspapers and MLive Outdoors.

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