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Hunter's Choice regulations simplify laws

When I think of game law regulations and enforcement, I've always supported the idea of factoring in ease of understanding and "hunter-friendly" rules and regulations.

When I think of game law regulations and enforcement, I've always supported the idea of factoring in ease of understanding and "hunter-friendly" rules and regulations.

Granted, friendly is a pretty relative term. To some, hunter-friendly might mean no rules and regulations. To others, regulation is a necessity for opportunity, and anything that creates opportunity is hunter-friendly.

Such is the case with the Hunter's Choice regulations that have guided North Dakota duck hunting the past three years. Some hunters judge them as complicated; others feel they provide more opportunity or even less complexity than the previous framework.

Basically, Hunter's Choice is an alternative to shortened or closed seasons for duck species that warrant additional protection. In the past in North Dakota, both canvasback and pintail seasons have been closed several weeks earlier than the regular duck season, or not open at all in the case of canvasbacks.

With Hunter's Choice, there is not a closed season on any species. But there are some other regulations that make this possible.


This fall, the daily limit on ducks is five per day. The daily duck limit is the same as the mallard limit, which is five per day and 10 in possession. For instance, if all you shoot is drake mallards, you can take five per day. If your first duck is a gadwall, only four drake mallards are allowed the rest of the day.

The daily limit of five ducks can include only one hen mallard, one pintail, or one canvasback. If you shoot a pintail as your first duck of the day, it would be illegal to shoot a hen mallard or a canvasback the rest of the day. If you shoot a hen mallard as your first duck of the day, you can't take a pintail, canvasback, or another hen mallard. In previous years if the pintail and canvasback seasons were open, hunters could take one of each, plus two hen mallards.

Those are the nuts and bolts of the regulations this fall. With Hunter's Choice, hunters don't have to worry about taking an illegal duck on their first shot of the day or for subsequent shots, depending on what birds are taken. On the other hand, if a hunter takes a pintail, canvasback or hen mallard, they'll have to be extra cautious the rest of the day.

That's the trade-off -- giving hunters the opportunity to harvest a canvasback or pintail for the entire duck season, but at the same time maintaining the protection these species need. Without Hunter's Choice, regulations can include closed seasons or closed portions of seasons on some species -- such as pintails or canvasbacks. When that is the case, hunter's need to be very concerned about taking an illegal bird, not only with the first shot of the day, but with every shot of the day. The primary benefit of Hunter's Choice regulations is to safeguard hunters from a significant portion of that risk.

This is the third year that North Dakota has participated in the Hunter's Choice trial in the Central Flyway, which also includes Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota; and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories. Five states worked under the Hunter's Choice regulations, while the other five states maintained shortened seasons for pintails and canvasbacks. After this year, waterfowl managers will evaluate how well Hunter's Choice worked, and decide whether to continue it in the future.

With more than a dozen species of ducks that migrate through North Dakota each fall, it's not practical to manage them under a one-limit-fits-all scenario. Generally speaking, doing this would require a restriction in harvest to protect stocks of ducks that have lower harvest potential. That would mean less generous bag limits; something that may not be appreciated by some duck hunters but preferred by others who desire simplicity, or lack the ability to correctly identify ducks. A single duck bag limit, without species or sex restrictions, is not allowed under current federal duck hunting frameworks. Hunter's Choice is a means to compromise between needs of hunters wishing to shoot five drake mallards and eliminating closed seasons on select species of ducks.

As you enjoy your 2008 waterfowl season, keep these regulations in mind. They may change down the road, and part of the process is testing and evaluating to determine which set of regulations works best -- both for hunters and for ducks.

Leier is a biologist for the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by e-mail at dleier@nd.gov . Read his blog daily at www.areavoices.com/dougleier

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