Doug Leier: Numbers look good for upcoming waterfowl openers
September may seem like a month to focus on early upland game seasons like grouse and partridge, but we actually have three weekends in a row with waterfowl openers of one type or another lining up in the near future.
North Dakota's youth waterfowl weekend is Sept. 14-15, the resident waterfowl opener is Saturday, Sept. 22, followed by the nonresident or regular waterfowl season starting Sept. 29.
For all waterfowl hunters, biologists expect a fall duck flight from North Dakota that is up 12 percent from last year, based on observations from the annual mid-July waterfowl brood survey. This year's duck brood index was up 37 percent from last year, indicating more ducks produced in North Dakota will migrate south than last year.
Continentally though, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual waterfowl status report estimates a continental fall duck flight that will be about 13 percent lower than in 2017.
Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird management supervisor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said statewide wetland conditions were pretty dry during the May breeding duck survey, but most of the state received abundant rainfall from late May through early July, which was encouraging for the summer survey.
The July brood survey indicted duck production in the northern tier of the state was very good, and areas farther south were still quite favorable. "We have been seeing good numbers of broods since the summer survey, and especially lots of young birds, which indicates renesting efforts were very strong," Szymanski said.
Mallards, gadwall and blue-winged teal are the top three duck species that nest in North Dakota, and together they accounted for about 75 percent of the broods observed in the summer survey. Mallard brood numbers were up about 22 percent from last year, gadwalls were up about 47 percent, and blue-winged teal broods were up 45 percent.
Blue-winged teal are typically the most prevalent breeding duck in North Dakota. In addition, pintail brood numbers were up 142 percent.
Observers also count water areas during the summer survey, and this year's water index was up 11 percent from last year. "Wetland conditions are still on the dry side, as the early summer rains slowed down quite a bit," he added. "The larger basins are in pretty good shape, and even some of the local smaller basins that were dry this spring were filled from the earlier rainfall. But the small, shallow basins are beginning to show the effects and have the potential to dry up before the hunting season begins."
Game and Fish biologists will conduct a separate survey later in September to assess wetland conditions heading into the waterfowl hunting seasons.
One other note, migratory bird hunters of all ages are reminded to register with the Harvest Information Program prior to hunting ducks, geese, swans, mergansers, coots, cranes, snipe, doves and woodcock. Hunters must register in each state for which they are licensed to hunt.
If you haven't already done so, the easiest route is through the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.