Duck season is the best time of year. Ten minutes to shoot time. The decoys are set, the wind is right, and wings are whistling overhead. You are ready to bag your limit. But do you know how those limits are set?
Maybe you’re one of those superstitious hunters who won’t even take the strap out until a bird splashes. Maybe not. But when a duck hunter is huddled in the tules, or sitting in a pit blind, the last thing he or she wonders is, “How do they set those bag limits?”
The answer is pretty straightforward. Using a concept called Adaptive Harvest Management, Federal and State agencies work together to establish duck season lengths, daily bag limits, and possession limits. The whole process can be broken down into these five steps:
1. A major waterfowl survey happens in January, The Mid-Winter Survey of Waterfowl Wintering Grounds.
This survey is the primary annual estimate of waterfowl species’ abundance, and is used to guide the setting of hunting regulations.
2. By March, states provide input to Flyway Councils.
Most states do their own waterfowl surveys as well. They provide this information to help refine waterfowl projections.
3. The Big Kahuna of surveys happens in May and early June.
The Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey is the most extensive and important of North America’s waterfowl population surveys. By July, states provide more input.
4. If you live in a flyway with an early season, a framework is proposed in July.
Final season lengths and bag limits are locked in by August.
5. If your state has a late season, a framework is proposed in August.
Final season lengths and bag limits are delivered in September.
Surveying and computer modeling play keys roles in figuring out what and when we can shoot. So, what gets surveyed? Three mallard populations, the mid-continent, eastern, and western greenhead.
Map of Mid-continent, Eastern, and Western Survey Areas
Other species are surveyed and modeled as well, including the American black duck, northern pintail, and scaup. These waterfowl surveys, along with hunter surveys and harvest data, are fed into sophisticated computer models.
All this ducky information is used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to establish frameworks. These frameworks describe the earliest waterfowl hunting seasons can open, the maximum number of days hunting can occur, the latest hunting seasons must close, and the maximum daily bag limit. States must set waterfowl hunting regulations within the federal frameworks.
So, there you have it. The upshot of the whole deal is that a lot of time and effort goes into this thing we call duck hunting. This science-based approach helps ensure there will be plenty of ducks now and in the future.