Banner season forecast for goose hunters
Outlook for duck hunters not as rosy
By P.j. Reilly - Woods & Water
Published: Aug 10, 2006 8:28 AM EST
DUNCANNON - Pennsylvania goose hunters are expected to have a banner season this year. Duck hunters are not.
So said the Pennsylvania Game Commission's waterfowl-management team last Friday at the annual waterfowl symposium. The symposium is held each year so waterfowl hunters can offer their suggestions for shaping the duck and goose hunting seasons and bag limits for the coming year.
All migratory bird hunting in the state is regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Each year, the federal agency provides to individual states a framework of hunting seasons and bag limits and it's up to the states to establish their specific season dates and bag limits within those frameworks.
Cal DuBrock, chief of the game commission's bureau of wildlife management, said the agency is expected to set Pennsylvania's waterfowl hunting seasons and bag limits by Aug. 14. That information will be posted on the game commission's Web site at www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Kevin Jacobs, one of the game commission's waterfowl biologists, said Canada goose hunters can expect to see lots of geese this fall and winter, thanks to excellent breeding conditions this past spring for the populations of geese that migrate through the state each year.
The Atlantic Population of Canadas, which migrate through the eastern third of the state, was estimated at 1.4 million, which is similar to last year's estimates.
Population surveys conducted on the birds' breeding ground this past spring indicated the geese had an outstanding nesting season.
"We're anticipating a large fall flight of Atlantic Population geese and there should be lots of juveniles in the flock," Jacobs said.
The Southern James Bay Population of Canadas, which migrate through the northwestern corner of the state, was estimated at 160,400 total birds this spring, which is up 3.5 times over the 2005 estimate and is the highest on record since surveying began in 1990.
The number of resident Canada geese in the state -- about 229,000 -- is down slightly this year from 2005, but is statistically similar to long-term population estimates.
A late cold snap this spring probably caused a spike in gosling mortality, Jacobs said. As a result, the fall population of birds is expected to be down from the past few years.
"Statistically, the decline in our resident population is not significant," Jacobs said.
Greater snow goose numbers for this year are the highest on record. The spring population estimate of 1.016 million is up 25 percent over last year.
This year's nesting season was not as successful as last year's for the snow geese, Jacobs said, due to the late melting of snow on the breeding grounds. As a result, fewer juvenile birds than average are expected to make the migration this fall, but the flight still is expected to be large due to the huge population.
Goose hunters in Pennsylvania enjoyed great success last season, according to harvest estimates provided by the game commission.
Canada goose hunters bagged an estimated 181,000 birds, which was up 7.7 percent over 2004, and allowed Pennsylvania to maintain its position as the number-one goose hunting state in the Atlantic Flyway, in terms of harvest. It's held that position since 1995.
Of the total Canada goose harvest, 39.4 percent of the birds were taken during the September season; 43.3 percent during the fall season; and 17.3 percent during the late season.
Snow goose hunters last year bagged 8,300 birds, which was 2.3 times higher than the 2004-05 harvest.
The duck hunting forecast for the coming fall is not quite as rosy as the predictions for goose hunting. Two of the top ducks hunters look for each fall -- mallards and black ducks -- seem to be on the decline in the state.
The state's mallard population is estimated at 80,667 breeding pairs as compared to the long-term average of 99,500 pairs.
"It seems pretty clear that mallard numbers have been declining over the past 10 years," Jacobs said.
For the third year in a row, no black ducks were counted during the spring survey period. Across the northeast U.S., the black duck population is believed to be 26 percent below the long-term average.
"Black duck numbers are a real concern," said John Dunn, the game commission's chief waterfowl biologist. "We're going to be taking a closer look at that population in the future."
Last year, Pennsylvania duck hunters bagged 66,500 mallards, which was down 7 percent from the previous year. The black duck kill was 7,100, which was up 27 percent from 2004-05.
Overall, Pennsylvania duck hunters took 132,000 birds, which was down 5 percent from the previous year. Jacobs and Dunn said they expect this year's duck harvest to be similar to last year's.
"According to our surveys, the duck hunting effort increased last year, but the kill was down," Jacobs said.
On a brighter note, numbers of wood ducks and green-winged teal seem to be on the rise. Wood duck numbers were estimated at 61,000 breeding pairs this past spring, which is above the long-term average of 50,000 pairs. Green-winged teal numbers were estimated at 7,172 pairs, which is 55 percent higher than average.
Last season, Pennsylvania hunters bagged 28,600 wood ducks, which was similar to the previous year, and 6,100 green-winged teal, which was up 22 percent from 2004-05.
The waterfowl hunting seasons and bag limits proposed for the coming year essentially are similar to last year's, with a few exceptions.
Canada goose hunting in the northwest's Pymatuning Zone will be allowed to jump from 35 days, with a one goose-per-day limit, to 50 days and a two-bird-per-day limit. The daily bag limit for hooded mergansers will be allowed to jump from one to two birds.
And the restrictions imposed for the September season in a special area around Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area will not be extended to the fall seasons.
Hunters will be allowed to take three geese per day -- the normal limit for the surrounding area -- inside the special zone, except on the Middle Creek property and adjacent State Game Lands (SGL) 46, where the fall limit has been one bird per day the past few years.
The game commission created the zone in July and announced that September goose hunters on private land within that zone will be limited to taking one bird per day, even though the bag limit is eight geese per day in the rest of the state.
There is no September hunting at Middle Creek or SGL 46. The restriction is intended to protect the dwindling number of resident geese that live at Middle Creek.
P.J. Reilly's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org