Record Number of Ducks Should Make for Good 2012 Season

For duck hunters in the Pacific Flyway, these are the best of times. Just when West Coast waterfowlers thought life couldn't get any better after a few years of maximum 107-day duck seasons and seven-bird daily bag limits, it has.

Flyway biologists this year counted record numbers of breeding ducks on their prairie nesting grounds in the United States and Canada, which should translate into another fantastic fall season of duck hunting on the left coast.

Spring surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tallied an estimated 48.6 million birds, representing a 7-percent increase over last year in the traditional survey area, which encompasses the north-central United States, south-central and northern Canada and Alaska.

These promising results prompted the USFWS to adopt a continued federal framework of liberal season dates and bag limits for the 2012-13 season. The framework allows states to offer up to 107 days in their general duck seasons between Sept. 22, 2012, and Jan. 27, 2013. The proposed daily bag limit is seven ducks, including no more than two mallard hens, two redheads, two pintails and one canvasback.

States may adopt more restrictive regulations on season dates and bag limits within that federal framework, so be sure to consult your state's waterfowl regulations.

Despite the fact that biologists observed record numbers of breeding ducks this spring, wildlife managers don't expect record-breaking brood production. Flyway managers don't conduct surveys of successful broods, but they know that less water in the prairie pothole country this year means less nesting productivity. Still, as one biologist pointed out, there were so many ducks in the nesting grounds this spring that they were certain to "produce a bunch of ducklings."

That should set the stage for another great fall flight, with perhaps a slightly higher percentage of adult birds in the bag this season.

The total Pacific Flyway harvest has hovered around 3 million ducks for the past few years, including close to a million mallards and a half-million green-winged teal. Those species enjoyed another great year, both for migratory birds and resident populations. In Oregon alone, biologists recorded an increase from 60,000 mallards to around 100,000 in the areas they survey.

Gadwalls, redheads and shovelers also have soared to record numbers in the flyway. Wigeons have not shown the big increases that some other species have enjoyed, but are holding their own. Canvasbacks appear to be maintaining their historically modest population level.

While the rich have gotten richer, the poor northern pintail still struggles, and that means continued restrictions on pintail bag limits. Pintails took another dip this year, and they languish well below their long-term average. Biologists estimate pintail numbers at half their historical highs of the 1950s.

Scaup provided the rags-to-riches story of the year as they rebounded to levels that have allowed wildlife managers to lift the special bag limit restrictions on them this season.

So the ducks are abundant, the season is long, and the bag limits are generous. All that remains is for the weather to move the migrants into shotgun range. That's not a given if we see a repeat of the mild weather we saw last season.

The Pacific Flyway continues to experience a goose glut that challenges wildlife managers to offer additional opportunity for the most abundant goose species and yet provide protection for those that still struggle.

The federal framework adopted by USFWS calls for another 107-day season for the Pacific Flyway between Sept. 29, 2012, and March 10, 2013. Proposed daily bag limits offer as many as 10 light geese and 6 dark geese. States make many exceptions to the basic bag limits and season structures for geese, so consult your state's regulations for special restrictions.

Early seasons target resident populations of Canada geese before struggling subspecies of migrants arrive, and late-winter seasons aim to haze white geese away from private lands.

Canada goose harvest has topped 250,000 in the flyway for the last couple of years.

Snow and Ross' goose populations continue to flourish in the Pacific Flyway. Snow goose populations have increased an average of 2 percent annually in recent years, but this year's spike of 10 percent suggests that special seasons aimed at controlling their numbers aren't putting a dent in the overall population.

White-fronted geese are estimated at more than double their management objective of 300,000 birds. The estimated population of 664,200 represents a 10-percent increase over last year, and maintains a trend that has averaged a 6-percent annual increase over the past decade. The speckle-belly harvest has soared, as well. After a slow 20-year recovery from the drought conditions of the 1980s, white-front harvest has more than tripled from less than 20,000 birds annually to more than 60,000 the last few years.

With waterfowl populations flying high in the flyway, wildlife managers encourage hunters to take advantage.

"We have long seasons and liberal bag limits," said USFWS Pacific Flyway Representative Robert Trost. "Go out and enjoy."