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Outdoors Notebook: North Dakota expects smaller fall duck flight, Game and Fish sets 2017 waterfowl season, Minnesota outlines 2016 hunter trends etc.

Mallard numbers in North Dakota were down about 13 percent from last year during the Game and Fish Department's annual mid-July waterfowl production survey. Overall, the department expects an 8 percent decline in North Dakota's fall duck flight. (North Dakota Game and Fish Department photo)

N.D. fall duck flight down 8 percent

North Dakota's fall duck flight is expected to be down 8 percent from last year, the Game and Fish Department said, based on results from its annual mid-July waterfowl brood count survey.

This year's brood index was 3.68 broods per square mile, down 5 percent from last year. The statewide average since the survey began in 1955 is 2.59 broods per square mile. Overall brood size was up 8 percent from last year.

Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird management supervisor for Game and Fish in Bismarck, said production was better in the northern tier of the state, with northernmost routes experiencing increased counts over last year.

"Moving south and east, fewer broods were observed than in 2016," Szymanski said.

Observers also count water areas during the summer survey, and this year's water index was 38 percent lower than last year. Drought conditions and sparse precipitation since snowmelt have resulted in declining wetland conditions, Szymanski said.

Mallards, gadwall and blue-winged teal are the top three duck species that nest in North Dakota, and together they accounted for nearly 75 percent of the broods observed in the summer survey. Mallard brood numbers were down about 13 percent from last year, gadwalls were down about 4 percent,and blue-winged teal broods were unchanged.

Blue-winged teal typically are the most prevalent breeding duck in North Dakota.

In addition, pintail brood numbers were down 65 percent, but shovelers were up 44 percent.

The Game and Fish summer duck brood survey involves 18 routes that cover all sectors of the state, except west and south of the Missouri River. Biologists count and classify duck broods and water areas within 220 yards on each side of the road.

Department biologists will conduct a separate survey in September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.

The waterfowl production survey started in the mid-1950s, and all routes used today have been in place since 1965.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

NDGF sets 2017 waterfowl regulations

North Dakota's 2017 waterfowl season is set, with the season framework similar to last year.

Noteworthy changes include the daily limit on pintails is reduced from two to one, and the west boundary of the Missouri River Canada Goose Zone, north of state Highway 200, is extended to state Highway 8.

Opening day for North Dakota residents is Sept. 23 for ducks, geese, coots and mergansers. Nonresidents may begin hunting waterfowl in North Dakota on Sept. 30. The season for swans opens Sept. 30 for both residents and nonresidents.

Hunters may take six ducks per day with the following restrictions: five mallards of which two may be hens, three wood ducks, three scaup, two redheads, two canvasbacks and one pintail. Similar to last year, hunters can take an additional two blue-winged teal from Sept. 23 through Oct. 8. The daily limit of five mergansers may include no more than two hooded mergansers. For ducks and mergansers, the possession limit is three times the daily limit.

The hunting season for Canada geese in the Missouri River zone will close Dec. 29, while the remainder of the state will close Dec. 21. The season for white-fronted geese closes Dec. 3, while the season on light geese is open through Dec. 31. Shooting hours for all geese are one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Nov. 4. Beginning Nov. 5, shooting hours are extended until 2 p.m. each day.

The bag limit for Canada geese during the regular season is eight daily and 24 in possession, except in the Missouri River zone where the limit is five daily and 15 in possession.

The daily limit on whitefronts is three with nine in possession, and light geese is 50 daily, with no possession limit.

The early Canada goose season will open Tuesday, Aug. 15 and continue through Sept. 15, except in the Missouri River Zone where the season ends Sept. 7. The early Canada goose season has a limit of 15 daily and 45 in possession.

The special youth waterfowl hunting season is Sept. 16-17. Legally licensed residents and nonresidents 15 years of age or younger can hunt ducks, coots, mergansers and geese statewide.

For more information on regulations and license requirements, check out the 2017 North Dakota Waterfowl Hunting Guide, now available online at gf.nd.gov. Paper copies will be at license vendors in early September.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

DNR accepts prairie chicken apps

Hunters can apply through Friday, Aug. 18, for one of 125 permits available for this year's Minnesota prairie chicken hunting season.

The nine-day prairie chicken season begins Saturday, Sept. 30, and is open only to Minnesota residents.

Hunters will be charged a $4 application fee and may apply individually or in groups up to four. Prairie chicken licenses cost $23. Apply at any DNR license agent; the DNR License Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul; online at mndnr.gov/buyalicense; or by telephone at (888) 665-4236. An additional fee is charged for orders placed online or by phone.

The hunt takes place in 11 prairie chicken quota areas in west-central Minnesota between St. Hilaire in the north and Breckenridge in the south.

More info: mndnr.gov/hunting/prairiechicken.

-- Minnesota DNR

Small game hunter numbers decline

Fewer small game hunters took to the field last year in Minnesota than in 2015, the Department of Natural Resources said. By species, grouse hunters were up slightly, but duck, goose and pheasant hunters were down slightly, according to DNR's annual small game survey.

There were 67,301 duck hunters in 2016, fewer than the previous year, which led to a decline in the duck harvest from 663,811 in 2015 to 606,458 but the take per active hunter was up slightly in 2016 (9.0 ducks per hunter compared to 8.7 ducks per hunter in 2015).

Canada goose harvest edged up slightly to an estimated 204,825 geese harvested despite the decline in hunters from 45,938 in 2015 to 40,950 in 2016. Estimated take per hunter increased from 5.7 to 7.1 geese per successful hunters.

In 2016, the number of grouse hunters was 82,348, representing an increase of 4 percent from 2015. Ruffed grouse harvest increased slightly from 267,997 grouse in 2015 to 308,955 in 2016.

An estimated 59,965 pheasant hunters went afield in 2016, down slightly from 2015. Estimated ring-necked pheasant harvest declined from 243,176 roosters to 196,141, similar to 2011 levels. A wet fall and standing corn throughout much of the pheasant range likely contributed to some of the reduced harvest.

The DNR annually surveys small game hunters to make estimates of both hunter numbers and harvest trends. For the 2016 season, 7,000 small game license buyers were surveyed, of which 3,371 surveys were returned and usable.

The complete report is on the DNR website at mndnr.gov/publications/wildlife.

-- Minnesota DNR

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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