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Sunday, July 5, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Waterfowl hunters could witness prime year

Waterfowl hunters emerge from a pit blind to fire at geese landing in their spread of decoys. (Rich Landers)
Waterfowl hunters emerge from a pit blind to fire at geese landing in their spread of decoys. (Rich Landers)

Waterfowl are booming across the continent this year, leaving hunters with only two other variables for success – securing a good spot for a blind and getting the right weather to bring the bounty their way.

Jim Teare, Idaho Fish and Game Department wildlife biologist, said local production in most Panhandle areas was good this year, especially along the lower Coeur d’Alene River area.

Smart waterfowlers will be out for the first few days of the season – it opens Oct. 11 in the Panhandle – to take advantage of the local birds, which move out or get wary quickly once the season is underway.

Ditto for Washington. Both states will offer 107 days of duck hunting, but Washington has a split starting Oct. 11-15 and continuing Oct. 18-Jan. 25.

Limits for mallard, pintail, scaup, redhead, goldeneye, harlequin, scoter and long-tailed duck will remain the same as last season.

Goose hunting seasons will vary among management areas across both states, but most open in early to mid-October and run through late January.

The overall news is enough to make waterfowlers giddy.

Continental duck populations have increased from 2013 to record levels counted on northern breeding grounds this year, and their habitat conditions have improved, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report released in July.

The preliminary estimate for the total duck population is 49.2 million birds, an 8 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 45.6 million birds, and 43 percent above the long-term average. It’s also the highest population recorded during the annual surveys.

“This spring, as has been the case for the past several years, saw abundant moisture across much of North America’s most important duck breeding areas,” Ducks Unlimited Chief Biologist Scott Yaich said. “But we remain concerned with the continuing and escalating loss of nesting habitat.”

Meanwhile, the report also provides abundance estimates for individual duck species. Most species’ populations, such as mallard and blue-winged teal, remain significantly above the long-term average, while others, including scaup and pintail, are still below.

Here are some details:

• Mallard abundance is estimated at 10.9 million birds, similar to last year’s estimate of 10.4 million birds and 42 percent above the long-term average.

• Blue-winged teal estimated abundance is 8.5 million, which is 10 percent above the 2013 estimate of 7.7 million, and 75 percent above the long-term average.

• Northern pintail estimate of 3.2 million is similar to last year’s estimate of 3.3 million, and remains 20 percent below the long-term average.

• American wigeon were 18 percent above the 2013 estimate and 20 percent above the long-term average.

The annual duck survey encompasses more than 2 million square miles of waterfowl habitat across Alaska, north-central and northeastern U.S. states, and south-central, eastern and northern Canada. The survey area doesn’t include Minnesota.

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