With the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicting a fall flight of more than 10 million mallards, prospects for Montana waterfowl hunting appear much better than anticipated earlier this year.

"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.

Duck and goose seasons will begin Oct. 4 and run for 105 consecutive days in western Montana's Pacific Flyway.  In the eastern half of the state, duck and goose hunting in the Central Flyway will also start on Oct. 4, with duck season running for 97 consecutive days, and the season for geese, 105 consecutive days. 

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 was set at 36 million birds, 16 percent above last year and nine percent above the long-term average, Martinka said.

The survey results prompted USFWS to adopt liberal waterfowl seasons and bag limits and the FWP Commission recently approved a similarly liberal package of season dates and bag limits.

In western Montana's Pacific Flyway, which includes Freezout Wildlife Management Area, duck and goose seasons will begin Oct. 4 and close Jan. 16, 2004. Hunters can take three light geese and four dark geese daily, with a possession limit of twice the daily limit. The duck bag can contain seven ducks daily (including mergansers), but no more than two female mallards, one pintail, one canvasback, two redheads, and four scaup. The possession limit for ducks is twice the daily limit. The season for pintails and canvasbacks closes Dec. 2. The tundra swan season, which is regulated by a $3 permit that hunters had to apply for by Sept. 5, will open Oct. 18 and close Dec. 1. Falconry season for ducks and coots and geese will run Oct. 4 - Jan. 16, 2004.

            In the Central Flyway, which generally includes the eastern half of Montana, duck and goose seasons will open Oct. 4, with the duck season closing Jan. 8, 2004 and the goose season ending Jan. 16, 2004. Hunters would be allowed to take five light geese and four dark geese daily. The duck bag will contain six ducks daily (including mergansers), but no more than five mallards (only two female mallards), three scaup, two wood ducks, two redheads, one pintail, one canvasback, and one hooded merganser.  The possession limit for both ducks and geese is twice the daily limit. The season for pintails and canvasbacks will close Nov. 11. 

            The swan season in the Central Flyway, which is regulated by $3 permit that hunters had to apply for by Sept 5, will open Oct. 4 and close Jan. 8. The portion of the sandhill crane season that is regulated by free permits available from local FWP or National Wildlife Refuge offices, will open Sept. 27 and close Nov. 23. Falconry season for ducks and coots will run Sept. 24-Jan. 8 and for geese from Oct. 4-Jan. 16, 2004.

            Martinka noted that youth hunters, ages 12-15, will once again be provided with a special two-day hunt statewide Sept. 27-28, except for the Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area where a half-day morning hunt will be offered.

            Check the 2003 Migratory Birds Hunting Regulations for specific information.  Regulations are available online at www.fwp.state.mt.us and at all FWP license providers.