Sunbathers might not have appreciated the persistent rains most of Minnesota experienced this spring and summer. But duck hunters likely will smile Saturday when the state’s 2019 regular waterfowl season opens.
That’s because wet conditions that prevailed in recent months likely boosted the state’s duck production to, or near, its maximum potential.
Granted, whatever that potential is, it’s far less than it was before about 90% of the state’s farmland wetlands were drained over the past century. But the opener nonetheless should be productive for many of the estimated 80,000 waterfowlers who will be scattered among the state’s hinterlands this weekend.
Even in the state’s north country, habitat conditions are good. Wild rice across much of the region experienced favorable growing conditions, likely boosting nesting success for that region’s mallards and ring-necked ducks.
“Blue-winged teal, wood ducks and mallards will comprise most of the opening weekend bags statewide with some ring-necked ducks present in northern Minnesota,’’ Department of Natural Resources waterfowl specialist Steve Cordts said. “Wetland conditions are in good shape and hunter access should not be an issue. Most wildlife managers are expecting a good waterfowl opener.’’
Because some parts of southern and central Minnesota have water standing in crop fields and some rivers are flooded, ducks could be dispersed, Cordts said, adding “so scouting prior to Saturday will improve success.’’
The DNR’s breeding duck survey this spring estimated the state’s total duck abundance at 695,000, unchanged from 2018 and 15 percent above the 10-year average. The same survey found 19 percent more semi-permanent and large wetlands than in 2018. And temporary wetlands were 237 percent higher than in 2018.
Much of the Dakotas also received heavy rains this summer, and both North Dakota and South Dakota were believed to have produced significant numbers of broods.
“We have very high expectations for the opener this weekend,’’ said John Devney, vice president of U.S. policy at Delta Waterfowl in Bismarck, N.D.
Prairie Canada, by contrast (including parts of North Dakota along the Manitoba border), was dry in fall 2018 and extending through the spring and summer. The estimated number of ponds in Canadian prairies this spring was 22 percent below the number surveyed in 2018.
Minnesota waterfowl hunting begins one-half hour before sunrise Saturday. The daily limit is six. Restrictions within the state’s daily bag include: four mallards (two can be hens), three scaup, three wood ducks, two redheads, two canvasbacks, two black ducks and one pintail.