NORTH DAKOTA OUTDOORS/ Doug Leier: Drought dampens generally good waterfowl season outlook in North Dakota
The good news for North Dakota hunters is that the 2017 waterfowl season is similar to last year as far as regulations and bag limits. Continental duck numbers are about the same as last year, as well, and goose populations that frequent North Dakota remain high.
There is, however, a "not so good news" element to the general fall waterfowl forecast, and that relates to drought conditions over much of the Prairie Pothole Region in North Dakota since this spring. That's primarily the reason North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologists estimate a fall duck flight from North Dakota that will be down 8 percent from last year, based on observations from the annual mid-July waterfowl brood survey.
In other words, local duck production is a bit lower than last year, but still pretty good.
Looking at the regulations for this year, one noteworthy change is that the daily limit on pintails is reduced from two to one. Also, the west boundary of the Missouri River Canada goose zone, north of N.D. Highway 200, is extended to N.D. Highway 8.
Opening day this year for North Dakota residents is Sept. 23 for ducks, geese, coots and mergansers. Nonresidents may begin hunting waterfowl Sept. 30 in North Dakota.
The youth waterfowl weekend is Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16-17.
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.
For ducks and mergansers, the possession limit is three times the daily limit.
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.
Still above average
Details from the summer survey indicate this year's brood index came in at 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.
Migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski 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," he said.
Observers also count water areas during the summer survey, and this year's water index was 38 percent lower than last year. Due to drought conditions and sparse precipitation since snowmelt, Szymanski said summer wetland conditions were declining.
"It was already starting to dry up when we did our spring survey, and the pattern continued," Szymanski said. "It definitely affected how breeding pairs settled in the state. Temporary and seasonal wetlands were the first to be hit. Luckily, most medium-sized and larger wetlands were only starting to show stress at the time of the survey."
While it was too late to boost this year's production, August rains did help replenish some wetlands. Whether that pattern continues, or we head back into another dry stretch, will have a significant influence on waterfowl production heading into next year.