WATERFOWL OPENER COULD BE SLOWER THAN LAST YEAR, SAYS USFWS
North Dakota residents taking part in the opening weekend of waterfowl season will need to do their scouting, and should not expect to see as many birds or as much water as last year. According to the weekly report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, duck production was down in much of the state, and very few birds have moved in from Canada.
Northwestern North Dakota has good numbers of local ducks, but a very late hatch means hunters will have difficulty identifying them. Tim Kessler of the Crosby Wetland Management District says gadwall, blue-winged teal and mallards are plentiful, and much of the area has decent water conditions. He reminds hunters that the small grain harvest is very late, and they should avoid unharvested fields. Kessler adds that resident Canada geese had very poor reproduction this year.
Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge near Kenmare is holding about 2,000 mallards and gadwall, along with about 500 Canada geese. Refuge operations specialist Chad Zorn says virtually no migrants have arrived, but he predicts a pretty decent season later on because of water conditions and food supply.
It should be a fairly quiet opening weekend near Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge in Ward and Renville counties. Darla Leslie says local ducks and Canada geese will have to provide most of the hunting opportunities, as very few birds have moved out of Canada.
Good numbers of blue-winged teal can still be found in Sheridan, McLean and southern Ward counties. Audubon National Wildlife Refuge project leader Mike McEnroe adds that small flocks of mallards are being seen on a lot of wetlands, but locating them will require scouting. He cautions that a late hatch and early season have resulted in poor coloration on drakes, so identification will be difficult. McEnroe says Lake Audubon is holding a couple thousand Canada geese, and lesser Canadas are starting to move into the area. Flocks of up to 500 sandhill cranes are being reported in western McLean and southern Ward counties, and slightly smaller flocks on the east end of the refuge.
Very few migrant ducks and geese have reached Burleigh, Kidder and Emmons counties. However, Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge biologist Gregg Knutsen says small, scattered groups of giant Canada geese should be fairly easy to find. He notes that most wetlands that are still holding water have at least a few ducks, but the larger concentrations will be harder to locate. Knutsen says the best water conditions are in northern Burleigh and northern Kidder counties. The refuge is holding about 2,000 sandhill cranes, with smaller concentrations throughout the area.
Wetland conditions in Eddy and Foster counties have improved in the past couple of months. Paulette Scherr of Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge says most wetlands have good vegetation growth for cover. She reports the refuge is holding about 1200 Canada geese and up to 6,000 ducks.
Fair numbers of ducks are scattered throughout Stutsman and Wells counties. Mick Erickson of the Chase Lake Prairie Project says hunters willing to do some scouting should find blue-winged teal, mallards, pintails and gadwall. He says the best water conditions may be in southwestern Wells County. Erickson adds that some early sandhill cranes are also starting to arrive.
Hunters in the Kulm area should expect success rates below average, and considerably below last year. Bob Vanden Berge of the Kulm Wetland Management District says most of the small wetlands in his four-county district are dry or drying, and the local duck hatch was way down from last year. He believes most of the local ducks will be gone after opening weekend, but adds that fair numbers of Canada geese are still in the area.
Water conditions are a major concern to hunters in southeastern North Dakota. Jesse Lisburg of Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge says overall duck numbers appear good, and numbers of Canada geese have remained high since the early season. He notes that many of the smaller wetlands are drying up, and cooler weather forced out many blue-winged teal. Lisburg says good numbers of mallards and wood ducks have been feeding with Canada geese south of Milnor, southwest of Lidgerwood, west of Lisbon and between Cogswell and Gwinner, while some flocks of 400 to 600 mallards and gadwalls have been seen on larger wetlands.
Wetland conditions have deteriorated in Barnes and Cass counties, but Griggs and Steele county wetlands are in much better shape. Kory Richardson of the Valley City Wetland Management District says he is seeing more groups of ducks on wetlands, but no large groups yet. A high number of standing corn and bean fields could make things more difficult for hunters.
Waterfowl populations are up from last year in northeastern North Dakota. Cami Dixon of the Devils Lake Wetland Management District says the area had a good duck hatch, and wetland conditions are good. Larger groups of mallards have been spotted recently. She suggests hunters try Nelson and Benson counties, which both have full wetlands. Dixon adds that sandhill cranes are starting to show up in northern Towner County.
Duck numbers are down in north-central North Dakota. Gary Erickson of J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge says local production suffered because of dry conditions in the spring, followed by a cold, wet summer. He advises hunters to scout wetlands in the southern and eastern portions of his district.
Nonresidents can begin hunting waterfowl in North Dakota on October 2, but they can’t hunt on Wildlife Management Areas controlled by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department or on Conservation PLOTS areas from October 9 through October 15. Nearly all National Wildlife Refuges in the state are closed to waterfowl hunting, but all 1,100 Waterfowl Production Areas(WPA) are open, and have signs saying they’re open. Waterfowl hunters must be currently registered with the Harvest Information Program. They can do that by calling 888-634-4798.