Recent rains have improved moisture conditions in northwest Minnesota, but duck and goose hunters will face challenges navigating the waterways at Thief Lake and Roseau River wildlife management areas – two of the region’s more popular waterfowl destinations – managers say.

Minnesota’s regular waterfowl season opens Saturday, Sept. 25.

According to Kyle Arola, manager of Thief Lake WMA near Middle River, Minn., in Marshall County, Thief Lake is 18 inches below target water level, and canoes and kayaks will be the best options for getting around on the waterfowl opener.

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Despite the dry conditions, there are birds to be had, Arola says.

“Our first migrant Canada geese arrived (Sept. 14),” he said. “We currently have good numbers of wigeon, blue-winged teal and pintails.”

An aerial survey is planned for Friday, Sept. 24, the day before waterfowl opener, Arola says, and he’ll have an update on duck and goose numbers at that time.

Hunters during the experimental teal season averaged 4.63 ducks per hunter among 12 parties at Thief Lake on Saturday, Sept. 4, the opening day of the five-day season, Arola said. The heaviest pressure occurred Sunday, Sept. 5, when 15 parties went afield at Thief Lake and averaged 2.0 ducks per hunter.

The remaining three days of season played out as follows:

  • Sept. 6: 11 hunting parties and 2.1 ducks per hunter.

  • Sept. 7: 4 hunting parties and 0 ducks (only one person hunted).

  • Sept. 8: 1 hunting party and 3 ducks per hunter (one person hunted).

About 75% of the harvest was blue-winged teal, Arola said, and hunter participation was pretty much as expected. By comparison, he said, green-winged teal comprised the majority of harvest during the youth waterfowl season on Saturday, Sept. 11, and Sunday, Sept. 12. Only four hunting parties participated in the youth hunt, and they averaged 3.4 ducks per hunter, Arola said.

Roseau River WMA outlook

Similar water conditions await hunters at Roseau River WMA north of Badger, Minn., near the Canadian border, said Randy Prachar, manager.

Water levels remain very low on the Roseau River, and Roseau Lake is dry, Prachar said. The three managed pools on the WMA are 7 to 30 inches below full, he said, with only Pool 3 at a level that would be considered normal for this time of year.

A sign greets visitors to Roseau River Wildlife Management Area in northwest Minnesota on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. Low water levels will challenge waterfowl hunters on the WMA when season opens Saturday, Sept. 25. (Brad Dokken/ Grand Forks Herald)
A sign greets visitors to Roseau River Wildlife Management Area in northwest Minnesota on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. Low water levels will challenge waterfowl hunters on the WMA when season opens Saturday, Sept. 25. (Brad Dokken/ Grand Forks Herald)

The Pool 1 East sanctuary and Pool 2 are particularly low, Prachar said, although water levels on Pool 1 West did rise some with recent rains.

“We are hopeful that we will be at the low end of normal for that pool by the opener,” Prachar said. However, because of low water and/or dense vegetation such as wild rice, hunters should consider using a “mud motor” or paddling to hunting spots.

“In most pools, outboard motors will struggle to operate at current water levels,” he said.

The early teal season did attract some “scattered hunting,” Prachar said, as did the regulation to allow hunting over water during the early Canada goose season, but hunter numbers to date have been low.

“Our first significant influx of migrant Canada geese occurred just in the past few days,” Prachar said Wednesday, Sept. 15. “Duck numbers appear to be low yet, but crane numbers are probably near their peak for this area.”

Lack of ducks and geese has limited hunting success, but on the upside, waterfowl abundance “seems to be changing for the good,” Prachar said.

Minnesota’s duck season opens Sept. 25 and continues through Nov. 23 in the North Zone. Season in the Central and South zones is set for Sept. 25-Oct. 3 and Oct. 9-Nov. 28. Hunters can take six ducks daily, of which no more than four can be mallards (two hens), and no more than three wood ducks, two redheads, two canvasbacks, two black ducks and one pintail. Hunters can take one scaup through Oct. 14 and two per day through the rest of the season.

The regular goose season continues through Dec. 24 in the North Zone. Season in the Central and South zones runs from Sept. 25-Oct. 3 and from Oct. 9-Dec. 29.

For more information, check out the 2021 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations booklet.