Ducks are Up again
Waterfowl hunters in 1997 will be enjoying one of the largest fall flights of ducks in this half of the century. Ducks and duck habitat have rebounded to near unprecedented levels from record low numbers and drought conditions during the 1980s.
A 5-year run of wet conditions on the U.S. and Canadian prairies coincided with the Conservation Reserve Program and conservation programs under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The result is a duck recovery that few would have predicted.
Predictions for large duck flights are raising expectations among waterfowl hunters throughout North America. Estimates of breeding ducks from May surveys were the highest since surveys began in 1955.
Duck numbers in May 1997 (42.6 million) were 60 percent higher than just 4 years ago and 70 percent higher than in 1988. Nesting gadwall, shoveler and redhead numbers were the highest on record. Mallard numbers, 25 percent higher than in 1996, were the highest since 1970. Even a pintail decline was reversed in 1997 (up 30 percent from 1996) reaching the highest breeding population level since 1982.
Numbers of ponds surveyed in the prairies in May 1997 were 150 percent higher than in 1988 when drought prevailed. In July, wetland conditions still were excellent; pond numbers were 50 percent greater than the long term average. Biologists counted a record number of duck broods in the Dakotas. In prairie Canada brood numbers were 40 percent greater than average. The result is a forecast of 92 million ducks in the fall flight for 1997. This is similar to the 90 million in 1996, and is 56 percent higher than just 4 years ago.
Duck hunting opportunity will be the greatest experienced by all but about 15 percent of Missouri waterfowl hunters - those who began waterfowling before the 1960s. This year's 60-day duck season is the longest since the 70-day season in 1958.
Actually, with 60-day seasons in each of Missouri's three duck zones, hunters have even more opportunity than 40 years ago. They can hunt from October in the north to January in the south zone. Although bag limits are not as liberal as those during the point system 15 years ago, there still will be ample opportunity for roast duck this fall.
It can't last
Despite this fall's outlook for duck numbers and hunting opportunity, most hunters and biologists realize that it can't last. The past 40 years have shown us