Waterfowl hunters are breathing a sigh of relief with the news that season dates and bag limits will remain similar to last year's.     

Duck and goose seasons will begin Oct. 4 and run for 105 consecutive days in the Pacific Flyway.  In the Central Flyway part of the state, duck and goose seasons will also start on Oct. 4, with duck season running for 97 consecutive days, and geese, 105 consecutive days.  Dates for the statewide Youth Waterfowl Season for those age 12 through 15 will be Sept. 27 and 28.  General bag limits are seven ducks in the Pacific flyway and six ducks in the Central flyway, with some species being more restrictive.   One change from last year is that there will be an abbreviated season on canvasbacks.  The season was closed in 2002.  Check the 2003 Migratory Waterfowl Hunting Regulations for specific information.  Regulations are available online at www.fwp.state.mt.us .  Regulation booklets will be available at all license providers by about Sept. 15.

"We were concerned a more restrictive season might be called for, but significant spring and early summer rainfall in the major duck producing areas of the prairie potholes of the northern great plains and Canada doubled the number of ponds available for waterfowl breeding," said Bob Martinka, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks migratory bird coordinator.

Analysis of May duck population counts and breeding surveys show good duck production and pond conditions, despite the extremely dry weather experienced across the region. Surveys of the northern Great Plains and Canada found healthy breeding populations of both ducks and geese.

The total breeding duck population estimate was 16 percent above last year and nine percent above the long-term average, Martinka said.

The survey results prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to adopt liberal waterfowl seasons and bag limits and the FWP Commission recently approved a similarly liberal package of season dates and bag limits that were the same as those approved earlier as tentative regulations.