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DNR officials expect more ducks, more hunters

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ST. PAUL - When Minnesota’s waterfowl season opens Saturday, hunting is likely to be pretty good.

That prediction comes from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which reports that record continental duck breeding populations combined with low water levels across the much of the state will work to the hunter’s advantage.

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“A pile of ducks are coming down from Canada and they are going to be more concentrated this year because of less water across the landscape,” said Steve Cordts, the DNR’s waterfowl specialist. “Somewhere someone is going to have the best duck hunting they’ve ever had.”

Cordts said the Sept. 22 opener – the earliest since World War II days – also will help hunters be more successful. That’s because wood ducks and teal, early migrants, should still be abundant throughout the state. Moreover, the DNR has split the state into three hunting zones with different dates as part of an effort to provide additional hunting opportunity as birds migrate from north to south. By adding a third zone in southern Minnesota the hunting season now extends through the first weekend in December.

“There’s a lot of opportunity this year,” said Cordts. “The duck hunter who moves around the state can hunt for more than 70 days.”

Cordts said teal and wood ducks are migrating out of the state every day but more of them will be around this weekend than if the season opened the following weekend. He also noted that Minnesota has good numbers of molt migrant Canada geese moving into the state. These are nonbreeding birds that were in Minnesota this spring, migrated this summer north to the Hudson Bay to shed their flight feathers and are just now returning to Minnesota for the fall. These birds have not yet been hunted.

It’s possible that more duck hunters will be hitting the swamps and sloughs this fall than in recent years, too.

As of last week, waterfowl stamp sales were running ahead of last year and so were youth small game license sales that indicated the licensee intended to hunt migratory birds.

“We won’t have a final license tally until the season ends on Dec. 2, but it’s good to see preseason interest above that of last year,” said Steve Merchant, acting DNR wildlife chief.

As of Sept. 14, Minnesota duck stamp sales totaled 46,001 compared with 44,479 in 2011 for the same time period. Youth small game license sales with a Harvest Information Program certification totaled 7,194 this year compared to 5,879 last year.

The Minnesota DNR issued 89,520 state waterfowl stamps last year, up from the previous year but below the 100,000-plus licenses sold from 1990 through 2007.

Merchant said there is no one explanation for why waterfowl hunting interest is rebounding, but record continental duck breeding numbers, early openers this year, long seasons and other organizations’ efforts to get kids outdoors are all likely factors.

The DNR will post a weekly waterfowl migration report each week during the duck season. The first report should be posted by early Friday at www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/waterfowl.

“If you’ve been sitting on the duck hunting sidelines, this would be a great year to get back in the game,” said Merchant. “You may have to drive a bit based on your local water conditions – but where there is good water there should be good duck numbers.”

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