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State duck hunting outlook is bright

For last duck season and for the one coming up, the numbers look good.

High points of the duck hunting outlook are (1) last year’s hunter successes were close to an all-time high, and (2) duck populations here in 2013 are well above average even with a slight dip from last year’s count.

For the individual Arkansas waterfowler, the definition of a “good” duck year comes down to whether he or she sat in a blind with a decoy spread and had birds come winging in or looked forlornly at empty skies. In the latter scene, a far-off sound of boom-boom-boom added to frustrations.

Luke Naylor, waterfowl program coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said a few days ago that the pond count is up in the duck breeding grounds of the Canadian prairie provinces and the Upper Midwest of the United States. Pond count is a key ingredient for biologists working with ducks. Dry years mean fewer ponds and fewer ducks hatched.

The pond count, 24 percent higher than a year ago, plus the aerial surveys of duck nests led to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service setting a 60-day season framework for the Midwest Flyway that includes Arkansas. It will be the 17th consecutive year of 60 duck days, the “liberal” season structure by federal rules.

Arkansas duck enthusiasts are used to 60 days of allowed hunting. They may forget the arguments and agonizing when 45 days was the allotment. They certainly don’t want to think of the 30-day seasons once decreed for Arkansas.

The 60 days of duck hunting will be spread in three segments over 65 calendar days. Duck hunting dates are Nov. 23-Dec. 1, Dec. 5-Dec. 23 and Dec. 26-Jan. 26. The Youth Waterfowl Hunt will be Feb. 1-2.

Federal rules say duck hunting can run no longer than Jan 31, and the Arkansas season traditionally ends on the last Sunday in January.

Another bit of good news is the daily limit will again be six ducks, of which four can be mallards but no more than two mallard females. We’ve had this overall limit for quite a few years now, although in Arkansas the mallard female limit was just one for a few years.

Arkansas is a land of mallard hunters, the folks who say “if it ain’t a greenhead, I ain’t shooting it.” Greenheads are mallard drakes.

Last year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 529,500 mallards were taken in Arkansas, more than twice as many as any other state. California was second and Louisiana third in mallards bagged by hunters.

In overall duck hunting successes, Arkansas was third in the nation in 2012-2013 behind California and Louisiana.

This year, the breeding grounds count of mallards is down a tad from last year — 6 percent less — but the current count is a third higher than the long-term average. This is another key tool for waterfowl biologists and administrators.

Looking a little deeper into that six-duck daily limit, four can be mallards. Two can be canvasbacks, up from one last year. Three can be scaup, down from four last year. One can be a mottled duck and one a black duck, same as last year. Wood duck limit remains at three, pintail limit at two and red head limit at two. The daily limit is six for other species — the three varieties of teal, wigeon, gadwall, shoveler, ring-necked, bufflehead and ruddy.

Along with the six-duck daily limit, hunters can take five mergansers and 15 coots each day if they so choose.

And we are not in drought conditions here in late August 2013.

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Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock.

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