Minnesota waterfowl hunters don’t care much for a proposed early teal season, don’t support restrictions on spinning-winged decoys, widely approve of the one-day Youth Waterfowl Day and generally are fairly satisfied with current hunting regulations, according to a scientific survey conducted by the University of Minnesota for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The survey, taken of hunters 18 and older last year, is the eighth conducted since 2000 to gauge waterfowl hunter sentiments. The 2014 survey of 1,700 hunters is brimming with interesting opinions and insights that reflect the views of Minnesota’s 77,000 waterfowlers.
Sixty-six percent of duck hunters were satisfied with their overall duck-hunting experience in 2014. Twenty-five percent were dissatisfied. But when it came to actual duck harvest, 46 percent were dissatisfied and 42 percent were satisfied. For goose hunters, 58 percent were satisfied with their general goose-hunting experience, while 39 percent were dissatisfied. But 42 percent were dissatisfied with their goose harvest.
DNR regulations restricting the use of spinning wing decoys during the first two weeks of the season are opposed by a significant share of state waterfowlers. Nearly 43 percent disagree with the restrictions, while 24 percent support them. The rest were neutral.
Previous surveys were more supportive of the spinning wing restrictions, noted Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. The restrictions are in state statute, so the DNR would have to ask the Legislature to change them, which Cordts said might happen. About 42 percent of hunters own them, and 34 percent used them last year.
Early teal season
Minnesota has had the opportunity to offer a September early teal season, but the DNR has declined to do so. According to the survey, there’s not a lot of support for the idea from hunters. Forty-one percent opposed the idea, while nearly one-third supported it. They were asked how such a season would affect their waterfowl hunting, and 40 percent said they thought it would degrade the experience. About 20 percent said it would improve their waterfowl hunting. A majority of hunters thought a teal season would disturb waterfowl before the regular season, and they were concerned that hunters would accidentally shoot other species.
The issue is fairly moot now: the state had a two-year window to offer an early teal season as part of an experiment by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That window has closed.
Youth Waterfowl Day
The special one-day hunt for youths age 15 and under has been somewhat controversial since it began 20 years ago. Some hunters argue the day isn’t needed and that the early disturbance forces ducks to relocate, hurting the regular opener that falls two weeks later. But the latest hunter survey showed growing support. Overall, 69 percent supported the youth hunt, 19 percent opposed; the rest were neutral. About 11 percent of respondents said they took youths out on Youth Waterfowl Day in 2014.
Based on their response, an estimated 16,580 youths would have participated. But Cordts believes hunters have vastly overreported participation.
“It’s like motherhood and apple pie: You ask them if they took a youth last year, and they say yes, but it might have been two years ago,’’ Cordts said. Or maybe they took them on the duck opener. The DNR used to require youths to get a free license to waterfowl hunt, and at that time they had 5,000 youths licensed to hunt. That’s closer to the number of young hunters who go out on Youth Waterfowl Day, Cordts said.
Six-duck bag limits
About 68 percent of hunters said the current six-duck bag limit was about right; 16 percent said it was too high and 13 percent had no opinion. And about 66 percent said the two-hen mallard limit was about right; 16 percent said it was too high and 14 percent had no opinion. And 65 percent felt the three wood duck bag limit was OK; 12 percent thought it too high and 12 percent had no opinion.
About 82 percent support beginning shooting hours one-half hour before sunrise on opening day; 9 percent opposed. Forty-one percent opposed ending shooting hours at 4 p.m. for the first part of the season; 38 percent support that rule.
Hunters hunted about 10 days in 2014, bagging an average of 11.5 ducks and 6.6 geese. Sixty-six percent hunted on opening day. They hunted most frequently (47 percent) in Minnesota’s central zone. On average, they have been hunting in the state 20 years, and 65 percent hunted waterfowl every year during the past five years. Twenty percent hunted waterfowl outside the state in 2014. Their average household income is about $100,000.
More than half belong to a conservation or hunting organization. Thirty-nine percent belong to Ducks Unlimited, 21 percent belong to local sportsmen’s clubs, 6 percent belong to Delta Waterfowl, 6 percent are members of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association. Thirty-eight percent have at last a four-year college degree. The average age of survey respondents was 44.4 years, up from 41.4 in 2000.
“We’re aging slightly,’’ said Cordts.
About 51 percent of duck hunters were satisfied with hunting regulations; about 48 percent of goose hunters were satisfied.
Fifty-three percent support the three-zone system that has been in place for a few years; 11 percent oppose it and the rest were neutral. But the majority said it didn’t help or hurt their hunting experience. Thirteen percent said it resulted in a better hunting experience, and 15 percent said it was worse.
• 47 percent support an August Canada goose hunt; 15 percent oppose.
• 54 percent support a 10-bird Canada goose bag limit in the September intensive harvest zone; 14 percent oppose.
• 44 percent oppose eliminating the waterfowl stamp contest and pictorial stamp in favor of just a stamp validation; 19 percent support the elimination.
• 68 percent agree that a waterfowl hunting trip can be enjoyable even if no ducks or geese are bagged; 13 percent disagree and 18 percent were neutral.
• 38 percent said the DNR does a good job of managing waterfowl in Minnesota; 26 percent disagree and the rest are neutral.
Doug Smith • 612-673-7667