WILDFOWL's 2014 Waterfowl Forecast
November 13, 2014
You want ducks? You're about to get 'em. A hair under 50 million breeding birds — 49.2 to be exact — is the most since U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service waterfowl managers started counting them 59 years ago.
"These are great times," said Larry Reynolds, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries waterfowl study leader. "Great times to be a duck. Great times to be a duck hunter."
And when that record-high number of ducks started laying eggs last spring, they had awesome habitat conditions darn near everywhere, giving them everything they needed to go forth and multiply.
"I keep telling our hunters, these are the good old days," said Kent Van Horn, migratory gamebird ecologist with Wisconsin DNR. "It's never been better than this as far as ducks go."
Thanks to above-average rain and snow across most of prairie Canada and the U.S., pond counts in both areas combined was 7.2 million this spring. That's up a bit from 6.9 million last year, and 40 percent higher than the long-term average (LTA). Just to put it in perspective, that 49.2 million estimate is 8 percent above last year and 43 percent higher than the LTA from 1955-2013. Individually, mallards were up 5 percent over last year and 42 percent above the LTA. Some 10.9 million mallards are expected to fly this fall.
Mallard numbers in many areas have never been higher, said Dan Skalos, an environmental specialist with California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Gadwalls hit 3.8 million last spring, which was 14 percent above the 2013 count, and 102 percent above the LTA. Green-wing teal were 69 percent above the average; blue-wing teal were 75 percent higher; and the northern shoveler count was a staggering 114 percent above the LTA.
"There are more ducks out there than most of us have ever seen in our lifetime," said Kevin Jacobs, a waterfowl biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Managers took notice of those incredible numbers and served up a couple exciting new opportunities for this season. Hunters in the Mississippi and Central Flyways will have additional or new chances at trying to get the bead on some screaming-fast teal. Besides that, seasons and bag limits for ducks will mostly be the same as last year, although the daily bag on canvasbacks across the U.S. dropped from two birds to one.
Goose hunters should find the going pretty good this year too. The flocks of dark and light geese that nest in the Arctic basically all found favorable spring nesting conditions, with some populations starting the breeding process earlier than ever before.
Karrak Lake, for example, is an important nesting area for Ross's geese and lesser snows in Nunavut. This spring, ice breakup at the lake was 14 days earlier than the LTA, the earliest in recorded history, which means the nesting light geese there got a serious jump start on breeding.
"Anytime birds can start nesting early, it usually bodes well for nesting success and gosling survival," said Rocco Murano, senior waterfowl biologist for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks.
With good nesting conditions across the Arctic, waterfowlers from coast to coast who love to chase the white devils had better stock up on shells this season. Strong flights of Ross's geese and lesser and greater snows are predicted, with high numbers of juvies.
Both the Pacific and Mid-continent populations of white-fronted geese had super nesting seasons, so speck fans should get their fill of action this year. Most of the honker subspecies did their part to produce an abundance of goslings. Atlantic Population Canadas are reported to have put forth the best nesting effort ever observed.
Expect big bunches of young geese, a recipe for filling limits. Juvies are critical to any goose hunters' success, since they are most susceptible to decoys and calls. They'll dive into a rig, where mature adults might hang back and scope things out for a while, giving the flock a better chance to figure out what's going on down below.
"I would say goose hunters should feel pretty good heading into this season," said Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
This year there is substantial news for waterfowl hunters out of Canada. If you're planning to hunt geese in Canada this season, bring plenty of shells. (And if you weren't planning on hunting up north — do it.) The federal government there has really opened things up for goose hunters.
The following is a blow-by-blow look at what U.S. hunters across the four flyways can expect this season: