Everything Coming Up Roses For Duck Hunters in Missouri… So Far

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Duck numbers are up overall, and nesting conditions have been good to excellent over most of North America.

Missouri will have a 16-day early teal season, thanks to burgeoning blue-winged teal numbers. This hunter has a green-winged teal, which also are legal during the early teal season. Details about breeding populations of teal and other ducks are available in Trends in Duck Breeding Populations 1955-2009 at www.fws.gov/. (Missouri Department of Conservation photo)JEFFERSON CITY–Duck hunters will find much to rejoice about in the 2009 breeding duck report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The report estimates North America’s total breeding duck population at 42 million. That is up 13 percent from last year and 25 percent more than the average since 1955.

The FWS estimates the mallard breeding population at 8.5 million. That is 10 percent more than last year and 13 percent above the long-term average (LTA) for the species most sought after by hunters.

The survey estimated breeding numbers of blue-winged teal at 7.4 million, 11 percent more than last year and up 60 percent from the LTA. This has special significance for the early teal season in September, whose length depends on blue-winged teal numbers. This year’s season will run for 16 days, from Sept. 12 through 27.

Estimates of other ducks’ breeding numbers were:

  • Northern pintails, 3.2 million, up 23 percent from last year but still 20 percent below the LTA.
  • Green-winged teal, 3.4 million, up 16 percent from last year and 79 percent above the LTA.
  • Gadwalls, 3.1 million, about the same as last year and up 73 percent from the LTA.
  • American wigeon, 2.5 million, about the same as last year and down 5 percent from the LTA.
  • Northern shovelers, 4.4 million, up 25 percent from last year and 92 percent above the LTA.
  • Redheads, 1 million, essentially the same as last year, but 62 percent above the LTA.
  • Scaup, 4.2 million, up 12 percent from last year but down 18 percent from the LTA.
  • Canvasbacks, 662,000, up 35 percent from last year and 16 percent above the LTA.

Resource Scientist Dave Graber, a waterfowl biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said ducks must find favorable nesting conditions in Canada and the northern United States in order for high breeding population numbers to translate into a strong fall flight of ducks. Particularly important to Missouri hunters is the Prairie Pothole Region of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, plus the north-central United States. The number of ponds in these regions was up 45 percent from last year and 31 percent above the LTA. Pond numbers were especially encouraging in Montana and the Dakotas, which had 108 percent more water than last year and 87 percent more than the LTA.

Graber said the quality of duck hunting in Missouri in a given year depends as much on summer and autumn weather here as it does on breeding duck numbers and nesting conditions. Adequate but not excessive rainfall during the summer produces abundant food on Missouri wetlands to support migrating ducks for longer periods. Adequate autumn rainfall is necessary to flood habitat, making food available to ducks.

Too much or too little rain during the growing season can limit availability of natural foods. A dry autumn can limit the extent of shallow-water areas where migrating ducks rest and feed.

Finally, hunters rely on cold weather in Canada and the northern United States to push ducks southward into Missouri in the fall. Unseasonably warm weather can cause ducks to remain north of Missouri until late in the season, reducing hunting opportunity. In years when winter arrives early, wetland areas freeze up, and ducks fly farther south, again curtailing Missouri’s hunting season.

In years when ducks find open water and abundant food in the Show-Me State, they can linger for weeks or months, producing the kind of hunting season that memories are made of.

“It’s sort of a Goldilocks scenario,” said Graber. “Everything has to be ‘just right’ for a legendary season. Most years are somewhere from fair to very good. So far, things look extremely promising this year. With continued help from the weather, this could be a season to remember.”

For details of the FWS report, visit www.fws.gov/. The Missouri Conservation Commission will consider 2009-2010 waterfowl hunting seasons at its August meeting.