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Cold snap could slow duck opener

Minnesota's duck season opens Saturday, a week earlier than in the past several years. The idea was to give northern duck hunters a better chance of seeing wood ducks and teal on the opener. But this week's cold snap, along with brisk northwester...

Mallard
A mallard drake flies near Duluth. File / News Tribune

Minnesota's duck season opens Saturday, a week earlier than in the past several years.

The idea was to give northern duck hunters a better chance of seeing wood ducks and teal on the opener. But this week's cold snap, along with brisk northwesterly winds, might have moved some wood ducks and teal out already.

"Teal don't like frost on their tail feathers much," said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "I think we'll see a lot of teal move. But we're opening early, so there will be good numbers of teal around regardless. Some teal will move in, and some will move out of the state."

Wood ducks could be affected, too, Cordts said.

"It's the right flying conditions, and the birds are moving around anyway," he said.

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Perry Loegering, DNR area wildlife manager at Grand Rapids, said he

hasn't seen many teal in his recent scouting.

"I'm not very hopeful for teal. We had mid-20s this morning (Thursday)," Loegering said. "We often have the same kind of weather pattern the last week of September and (the teal) are all gone. There may be a few hanging around, but even in good years, there doesn't seem to be the numbers there used to be."

Ring-necked ducks, which like the wild rice lakes in the Grand Rapids area, typically show up the last week of September. He isn't sure whether they'll be around in good numbers with the earlier opener.

Minnesota's waterfowl season will open Saturday in both the northern and southern zones (divided by Minnesota Highway 210). The northern zone will remain open through Nov. 22. The southern zone will be open Saturday and Sunday, then close for five days. It will reopen Oct. 1 and continue through Nov. 27.

The DNR went to the one-week-earlier opener, a split season and more liberal limits on some species in order to attract more duck hunters. The state has seen a decrease in duck hunters nearly every year for the past decade. Numbers have dropped from 122,000 in 1999 to 73,000 last fall.

DNR wildlife officials hope that offering hunters more attractive regulations will bolster the ranks of duck hunters.

Cordts said despite the season changes announced in August, he has received little feedback from hunters or potential hunters.

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"It's been by far the fewest calls, inquiries, questions and comments I've had in the eight years I've been here," he said.

Among changes in this year's duck hunt:

* The one-week earlier opener.

* The two-zone framework, aimed at providing additional hunting opportunities for northern hunters early in the season and southern hunters later in the season.

* Shooting hours on opening day will be one-half hour before sunrise rather than 9 a.m. as in recent years.

* The daily bag limit has been increased to two hen mallards (up from one in recent years) and to three wood ducks (up from two in recent years).

* Goose hunting in the northern zone will be open from Saturday through Dec. 17.

Wisconsin waterfowl season

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As in Minnesota, Wisconsin's duck season in the northern duck zone opens Saturday.

Hunters should find good numbers of ducks, according to state wildlife officials.

The duck hunt in the northern zone opens at 9 a.m. Saturday and continues through Nov. 22. A new Mississippi river zone, which was requested by duck hunters, also opens on Saturday and runs through Oct. 2, followed by a 12-day split (closure), reopening on Oct. 15 and running until Dec. 4. Aside from opening day, hunting hours begin 30 minutes before sunrise.

The southern zone duck season opens at 9 a.m. on Oct. 1 and continues through Oct. 9. It then closes and reopens Oct. 15 through Dec. 4.

"Wisconsin waterfowlers have potential for a good hunting season," said Kent Van Horn, migratory game bird ecologist for the state Department of Natural Resources. "Continental breeding surveys that have been ongoing for 56 years reported record high numbers of ducks this spring. However, even with excellent early season indications, local conditions and scouting will be the most important factors when pursuing ducks this fall.

"Many of the ducks harvested in Wisconsin come from birds that breed in the state's wetlands."

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