Minnesota duck hunters enjoyed above-average success during the season's opening weekend, according to random bag checks conducted by the Department of Natural Resources.
"My assessment is that we had a very good-to-excellent opener statewide,'' said DNR waterfowl specialist Steve Cordts.
Of the nine locations where hunters' bags were checked by DNR wildlife staff members, three records were set, one record was tied, and one came just short of a record. By "record,'' Cordts means the best opening-day, ducks-per-hunter average over the past 20 years of bag checks at the respective locations.
At the 7,100-acre Thief Lake near Middle River, Minn., for instance, the average bag at this year's opener was 3.6 ducks per hunter. That fell just shy of the highest opening-day average at Thief Lake over the past 20 years of 3.7 ducks per hunter.
At many of the locations where bags were checked, the average duck harvest was more than three birds per hunter. Most bags held a mix of species, including wigeons, pintails, teal, wood ducks and some mallards, Cordts said.
"That's fantastic to be over three ducks — not just in Minnesota, but anywhere in the flyway,'' Cordts said.
Of the nine opening-day locations monitored by wildlife staff, the lowest ducks-per-hunter average came in Lac qui Parle County, where the opening-day average fell below the 20-year average. Cordts said access to good hunting areas was part of the problem.
At Swan Lake in Nicollet County, bags checked by the DNR averaged 2.6 ducks per hunter, shy of the opening-day record but well above the 20-year average of two ducks per hunter.
Cordts said the bag-check results were in line with anecdotal evidence of good hunting around the state. A duck camp manager at Lake Christina told Cordts that full bag limits of six ducks per hunter were commonplace on opening day.
Participation in the opener slumped once again. Cordts said DNR sold 61,000 duck stamps through opening weekend, down 3% from 2022's opener. It's the continuation of a decades-long slide in duck hunting in Minnesota. The state hit its peak in the early 1970s, when participation over the entire duck season amounted to about 160,000 hunters.