Minnesota is debating whether to follow the lead of neighboring states Wisconsin and
Iowa and offer an early teal duck hunting season.
The teal population is believed capable of supporting an increased harvest. Supporters believe an early teal season is an opportunity to introduce more to waterfowl hunting and reverse the decline in the numbers of waterfowl hunters in the state.
One of this area’s most passionate waterfowl hunters is among those urging the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources not to establish an early teal season.
An early teal season might be popular, said Roger Strand of rural New London, but we risk harming our native duck populations by harvesting too many hens. A teal season in early to mid-September would occur when native hens and their broods would be harvested disproportionately in comparison to drakes. There are lots of banding studies that reveal that Minnesota hens and their broods are still around at the time, while the drakes are not as likely to be around, he explained.
Strand is a long-time member of the Wood Duck Society. He recently stepped down after roughly 15 years as editor of its publication, the Wood Duck NewsGram.
He is especially concerned about the toll an early teal season might take on our native wood duck population.
He pointed out that Minnesota offered an early teal season in 1965. The experience showed that most hunters had difficulty identifying ducks whizzing by in the low light conditions and with early season plumage. There were plenty of “mistake” ducks shot.
Rather than see hunters stomp mallards and wood ducks into the mud to avoid getting caught, neighboring states have allowed hunters to include one “mistake’’ duck in their daily bag during early teal seasons. Strand said the most likely candidate of all for a “mistake” duck is a native wood duck hen.
Minnesota has already liberalized its regular waterfowl regulations in recent years to allow a greater wood duck harvest. Last year’s bag limit allowed hunters to keep three wood duck hens, as compared to two mallard hens, he pointed out.
He believes we increased the wood duck limit without accurately knowing the wood duck population in the state. Wood ducks nest in tree cavities and are notoriously secretive; their populations are not as readily measured by the field surveys conducted to monitor mallard and other duck populations, he said.
The DNR has made a commitment to do more banding work to better know the state’s wood duck population, and that is commendable, said Strand. But we don’t have those results yet. By opening up more opportunities to harvest the birds – including as “mistake’’ birds – we could harm the population, he warns.
Strand has been maintaining wood duck nesting boxes since he erected his first in 1956. He’s been documenting the individual birds and their nesting success for nearly as long at his Stony Ridge Farm near Sibley State Park. He knows that many of the hens return year after year to the same nesting boxes.
Our harvest should focus more on the drakes than the hens. We should protect our Minnesota breeding hens so they can continue to produce progeny, he argues. “We’re talking about the same hen that produced 14 wood ducks this year. Why shoot her in the dark in an early opener?’’ he asked.
Strand is also member of the Concerned Duck Hunters, a group that has long advocated for a more conservative management of our waterfowl. Protecting our native nesting hens is critical to protecting our waterfowl populations.
Until recent years, Minnesota restricted the shooting hours on the opening of the regular waterfowl season. Hunters had to wait until 9 a.m. to shoot on the opening day, and could not shoot after 4 p.m. during the first two weeks of the season. The shooting hour restrictions were championed by Robert (Bob) Jessen all for one reason: To protect our native hens, said Strand.
We’ve done away with those protections, and have yet to do the banding work and science needed to really know its implications for our native wood ducks, said Strand. He and others believe the longer shooting hours during the start of the duck season mean we are harvesting a larger share of our native hens. And now, we appear ready to risk harming our wood duck population further with an early teal season.
He hopes the Minnesota DNR continues to hold off on allowing an early teal season until we can learn more about our native nesting duck populations and more accurately determine what such a season might do to them.
“Why not error on the conservative side?’’ he asked.