Dakota Trails - North Dakota Outdoor Sports

Spring Breeding Duck Numbers Tallied

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department completed its 73rd annual spring breeding duck survey in May despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and results showed an index of nearly 4 million birds, up 18% from last year.

 

Migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski said despite most waterfowl surveys in North America being canceled this spring, Game and Fish was able to make adjustments to continue this long-term data set.

 

“Crews were turned into single person crews to make sure there was only one person in a vehicle, and we changed some of the route assignments to accommodate increased driving distances and workloads, but still maintained overlap with our fall wetland survey routes,” Szymanski said. “It was definitely quite a bit more work, and we are grateful that our crew members were up for the challenge.”

 

This spring’s wetland index was the sixth highest on record and the breeding duck index was the 13th highest, both are highs since 2014.

 

For the second year in a row the number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was substantially higher than the previous year, as figures show the spring water index is up 65% from last year. The water index is based on basins with water, and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands or the type of wetlands represented.

 

“Not surprisingly, we found really good wetland conditions during this year’s survey,” Szymanski said. “We had an unusually large amount of rain last fall, but have really been drying up since, especially in the western half of the state. The eastern half of North Dakota is still incredibly wet, and wetland numbers in the western half of the state are still in pretty good shape despite some drying.”

 

The breeding population survey results indicate numbers for all primary species, except redheads (down 12%), were stable to up from 2019 estimates. Ruddy ducks were up 87%, green-winged teal were at a record high and up 66% and blue-winged teal were up 58%. Mallards were unchanged. All other ducks ranged from down 2% (pintails) to up 40% (scaup) from last year’s numbers. All species, except pintails, which were down slightly, were well-above the 72-year average.

 

“Conditions that we have seen since 1994 seem to be the new normal with more precipitation and higher duck numbers,” Szymanski said. “This year’s ranking of our breeding population is a pretty good sign as our 13 highest duck counts are all within the last 26 years. When you start getting around the 4 million range, you are talking about very, very good duck numbers. So it is good to see us getting back to the middle of the road for the new normal.”

 

The July brood survey provides a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for fall, Szymanski said, though hunting success is also influenced by bird movements before and during hunting seasons, and weather patterns during the fall migration.

Wetland Conditions Good for Duck Hunting

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s annual fall wetland survey indicates good-to-excellent conditions for duck hunting throughout the state.

Andy Dinges, migratory game bird biologist, said the number of duck hunting wetlands are up about 65% statewide from a year ago, largely driven by record fall wetland conditions in the south central and southeast regions of the state. The northwest, north central and northeast regions have also seen 30-37% increases in the number of duck hunting wetlands compared to last fall.

“Fall wetland records for the south central and southeast regions were easily broken, and duck hunting wetlands recorded in these regions are up about 300% from average,” Dinges said.

Wetland conditions had been declining for a few years now, Dinges mentioned, but adequate snowmelt and abundant rainfall throughout spring and summer have dramatically improved wetland conditions in the state.

“However, the north central and northeast regions of the state are still recovering from drought conditions experienced over the last few years, and the number of duck hunting wetlands in these regions remain slightly below average,” Dinges said.

The quality of waterfowl hunting in North Dakota is largely determined by weather conditions and migration patterns. Dinges said good reproduction for ducks in traditional breeding areas this year also make for good fall hunting potential in North Dakota. However, he said given these wet conditions, hunters may encounter wetlands with extensive flooded vegetation, potentially making hunting difficult in some areas.

“Hunters should always scout because of ever changing conditions and distribution of waterfowl,” he added. “Hunters should also be cautious driving off-trail to avoid soft spots, and while encountering areas of tall vegetation that could be a fire hazard.”

The fall wetland survey is conducted annually in mid-September, just prior to the waterfowl hunting season to provide an assessment of conditions duck hunters can expect.

Hunting from Duck Boats Requires Safety

Waterfowlers hunting from boats are encouraged to wear properly-fitted life jackets while on the water.

Hunting jackets with life jackets already built in are light and comfortable to wear. In addition, wearing a life jacket will not only keep the overboard hunter afloat, but also slows the loss of critical body heat caused by exposure to cold water.

Capsizing and falling overboard from small boats are the most common types of fatal boating accidents for hunters.

2019 Waterfowl Season

North Dakota’s 2019 waterfowl season opens for North Dakota residents Sept. 21, while nonresidents may begin hunting waterfowl Sept. 28.

The season for swans opens Sept. 28 for both residents and nonresidents who have purchased a swan license.

Hunters may take six ducks per day with the following restrictions: five mallards of which two may be hens, three wood ducks, three scaup, two redheads, two canvasbacks and one pintail. Hunters can take an additional two blue-winged teal from Sept. 21 through Oct. 6. The daily limit of five mergansers may include no more than two hooded mergansers. For ducks and mergansers, the possession limit is three times the daily limit.

The hunting season for Canada geese will close Dec. 16 in the eastern zone, Dec. 21 in the western zone and Dec. 27 in the Missouri River zone. The season for whitefronts closes Dec. 1, while the season on light geese is open through Dec. 29.

Shooting hours for all geese are one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Nov. 2. Beginning Nov. 3, shooting hours are extended until 2 p.m. each day.

Extended shooting hours for all geese are permitted from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset on Saturdays and Wednesdays through Nov. 26, and on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from Nov. 27 through the end of each season.

The bag limit for Canada geese during the regular season is eight daily and 24 in possession, except in the Missouri River zone where the limit is five daily and 15 in possession.

The daily limit on whitefronts is three with nine in possession, and light goose is 50 daily, with no possession limit.

In accordance with state law, nonresidents are not allowed to hunt on North Dakota Game and Fish Department wildlife management areas or conservation PLOTS (Private Land Open To Sportsmen) areas from Oct. 12-18.

Hunters who do not HIP certify when they buy a North Dakota license, can add it through the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, or by calling 888-634-4798 and recording the HIP number on their printed license. Those who registered to hunt North Dakota’s spring light goose season or August Management Take/Early September Canada goose season do not have to register with HIP again, as it is required in each state only once per year.

Hunters should refer to the North Dakota 2019-20 Hunting and Trapping Guide for further details on the waterfowl season.

Youth, Military Waterfowl Weekend is Sept. 14-15

North Dakota’s two-day youth waterfowl and special veteran and active military personnel waterfowl weekend is Sept. 14-15.

 

Legally licensed resident and nonresident youth waterfowl hunters age 15 and younger, and veterans and members of the Armed Forces on active duty, including members of the National Guard and Reserves on active duty (other than for training), may hunt ducks, geese, coots and mergansers statewide.

 

The daily bag limit and species restrictions are the same as for regular duck and goose seasons. Exception: the additional two blue-winged teal allowed during the first 16 days of the regular season are not allowed during this weekend.

 

Resident and qualifying nonresident youth waterfowl hunters must possess a general game and habitat license. Nonresidents from states that do not provide a reciprocal licensing agreement for North Dakota residents must purchase the entire nonresident waterfowl license package.

 

Veterans and members of the Armed Forces must possess a resident hunting license, which includes a general game and habitat license, and a small game license.

 

Hunters age 16 and older must also possess a federal waterfowl stamp.

 

In addition, all hunters must be Harvest Information Program certified, and youth ages 12 and older need to have passed a certified hunter education course.

 

Hunters who do not HIP certify when they buy a North Dakota license, can add it by visiting the state Game and Fish Department website at gf.nd.gov, or by calling 888-634-4798 and recording the HIP number on their printed license.

Hunting from Duck Boats Require Safety

Waterfowlers hunting from boats are encouraged to wear properly-fitted life jackets while on the water.

 

Hunting jackets with life jackets already built in are light and comfortable to wear. In addition, wearing a life jacket will not only keep the overboard hunter afloat, but also slows the loss of critical body heat caused by exposure to cold water.

 

Capsizing and falling overboard from small boats are the most common types of fatal boating accidents for hunters.

 

Eight people have drowned in state waters since 1998 while hunting from a boat, and none were wearing life jackets.

Waterfowl Hunters Reminded of ANS Regulations

Waterfowl hunters are reminded to do their part in preventing the spread of aquatic nuisance species into or within North Dakota.

Waterfowl hunters must remove plants and plant fragments from decoys, strings and anchors; remove plants seeds and plant fragments from waders and other equipment before leaving hunting areas; remove all water from decoys, boats, motors, trailers and other watercraft; and remove all aquatic plants from boats and trailers before leaving a marsh or lake. In addition, hunters are encouraged to brush their hunting dogs free of mud and seeds.

Cattails and bulrushes may be transported as camouflage on boats. All other aquatic vegetation must be cleaned from boats prior to transportation into or within North Dakota.

In addition, drain plugs on boats must remain pulled when a boat is in transit away from a water body.

More ANS information, including regulations, is available by visiting the North Dakota Game and Fish Department website, gf.nd.gov.

Youth Waterfowl is Sept. 15-16

North Dakota’s two-day youth waterfowl season is Sept. 15-16. Legally licensed resident and nonresident youth waterfowl hunters age 15 and younger may hunt ducks, geese, coots and mergansers statewide.

The daily bag limit and species restrictions for the youth season are the same as for regular duck and goose seasons. Exception: the additional two blue-winged teal allowed during the first 16 days of the regular season are not allowed during the youth season.

Resident and qualifying nonresident youth waterfowl hunters must possess a general game and habitat license and a fishing, hunting and furbearer certificate. Nonresidents from states that do not provide a reciprocal licensing agreement for North Dakota residents must purchase the entire nonresident waterfowl license package.

In addition, all youth hunters must be Harvest Information Program certified, and youth ages 12 and older need to have passed a certified hunter education course. Hunters age 15 and younger do not need a federal duck stamp.

Hunters who do not HIP certify when they buy a North Dakota license, can add it by visiting the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov, or by calling 888-634-4798 and recording the HIP number on their printed license.

Shooting hours for the youth waterfowl season are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset. An adult of at least 18 years of age must accompany the resident youth hunter into the field, and a licensed adult is required to accompany a nonresident youth hunter. The two-day weekend hunt does not count against a nonresident adult hunter’s 14-day regular season waterfowl dates.

Federal Duck Stamp Required Sept. 1

Waterfowl hunters age 16 and older are reminded a federal duck stamp is required beginning Sept. 1. Waterfowl includes ducks, geese, swans, mergansers and coots.

 

This year’s 2018-19 federal duck stamp is available for electronic purchase through the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s website, gf.nd.gov, instant licensing telephone number, 800-406-6409, or at license vendors registered with the department’s licensing system. Physical stamps are not available at North Dakota license vendors, but they can still be purchased at many U.S. Postal Service offices.

 

The electronic stamp is a purchase item like any other hunting or fishing license. When the purchase is completed the electronic stamp is valid immediately. The words “Federal Duck Stamp” will be printed on the license certificate, along with an expiration date 45 days from the date of purchase. The actual physical stamp will be sent by postal mail.

 

The physical stamp is processed and sent by the official duck stamp vendor in Texas, and should arrive to the individual buyer well before the expiration date printed on the electronic license. The physical stamp must remain in possession of the hunter after the 45-day electronic stamp has expired. Individuals who have questions regarding the status of their physical stamp can contact the federal duck stamp vendor customer service number at 800-852-4897.

 

The federal duck stamp has a fee of $25. An additional $1.50 fee is added to cover shipping and handling costs of the actual physical stamp.