By Kyle Wintersteen, Managing Editor
Based on spring 2016 breeding population surveys, hunter harvest estimates and other data, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued its 2017 Adaptive Harvest Management Report, which includes regulatory frameworks for the 2017-2018 duck season.
Duck hunters in all four flyways will again enjoy liberal season dates: 60 days in the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways, 74 days in the Central Flyway and 107 days in the Pacific Flyway. The frameworks include a seven-duck limit in the Pacific Flyway, and a six-duck limit across all others.
However, there’s disappointing news for hunters who like to shoot pintails: The limit has been cut to one bird daily in all flyways due to several springs of lagging production. The 2016 breeding population survey estimated 2.62 million pintails, which is 34 percent below the long-term average, a 14 percent drop from 2015, and the fifth straight survey in which pintails have declined. The population estimate falls well within the USFWS Adaptive Harvest Strategy’s threshold for reducing the daily limit, while maintaining a liberal season length.
It’s the first time since 2008 that Pacific Flyway waterfowlers are faced with a one-pintail limit.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow, because we see so many pintails in the Pacific Flyway and certainly here in Utah,” said Jeff Adams, chairman of the Willard Peak Chapter of Delta Waterfowl in Brigham City, Utah. “It’s a revered duck that shows up here before the season starts and can be found until the last days. But most of us understand the population estimate is a survey of North America, not just our backyards.”
Still, not everyone who’s learned of the reduction is happy.
“There’s been plenty of griping among hunters and on internet forums,” said Adams, who paused while talking — ironically to call at a flock of pintails. “In my opinion, some hunters don’t have a broad perspective of the resource. They see piles of pintails and canvasbacks and wonder why they can’t shoot more.”
Arguably the most exciting change for next season — especially for Atlantic Flyway waterfowlers — is the increase to two black ducks daily. The move marks the first time in decades that hunters are permitted more than one black per day.
USFWS calculated several factors in making the change, notably the 2016 Eastern Survey Area estimate of 612,000 black ducks (a 13 percent increase), the risk of competition on the breeding grounds from an estimated 409,000 eastern mallards and ongoing monitoring of the black duck hunter harvest. Despite doubling the daily bag limit, modeling estimates that the hunter harvest will only increase by a sustainable 30 percent.
“I trust the science behind the service’s decision and I think this is a great opportunity for hunters to put an extra duck in their bags,” said Chris Williams, Delta Waterfowl senior regional events director for the Atlantic Flyway. “The black duck is a big-time trophy here in the Atlantic and it’s been a lifelong dream of many hunters to see the limit increase.”
Williams has heard from hunters who are concerned that the increased limit goes too far. While Delta has never shied from voicing disagreement over waterfowl regulations — notably when the bluebill limit was disproportionately slashed in 2008 — USFWS modeling clearly supports the change.
“The service tends to be conservative with its regulations, and I’m confident it has done its homework,” Williams said.
Additional species-specific regulations include two canvasbacks and two redheads daily in all four flyways. Four mallards may be shot daily in the Atlantic and Mississippi flyways, five in the Central and seven in the Pacific, only two of which may be hens. The daily limit on bluebills is three in all flyways except the Atlantic, where two are permitted.