There’s good news for duck hunters. In fact it’s some of the best news in years.
North America's total spring duck population is the highest ever recorded, according to the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey.
That doesn’t mean all of those ducks will make their way through Indiana come the fall hunting season, but it’s a reasonable assumption there will be more birds this fall.
Most of Indiana’s ducks are found around reservoirs and along streams such as the White, Wabash and Ohio Rivers. Many make their way to Hovey Lake in Posey County during the fall and early winter migration.
Conducted each May by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service, the annual waterfowl breeding population survey puts the duck population at 48.6 million birds. That represents a seven percent increase from 2011's record number of 45.6 million.
"This is the highest duck count since we started the survey in 1955," says Dr. Frank Rohwer, Delta Waterfowl's scientific director. "We had excellent wetland conditions in 2011, the second-highest pond count ever. So last year, we made a pile of ducks. This year, we're counting them."
Mallards, blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, gadwalls, canvasbacks, northern shovelers and scaup are all up significantly from last year, with both species of teal and shovelers at all-time highs. Blue-winged teal are estimated at 9.2 million, green-winged teal number more than 3.4 million and shovelers now top 5 million.
Mallard breeding numbers sit at 10.6 million, a 15 percent increase over 2011 and 40 percent over the long-term average.
"All in all, this is a great duck count," says Rohwer.
While the total breeding population is strong, the news is different for breeding habitat.
Significantly, the biggest decline in wetland conditions has occurred on the U.S. prairies. The pond estimate for the Dakotas and Montana is 1.7 million, which is 49 percent below the estimates from last year. The overall pond count is still nine percent above average, but as the prairies dry out, you can expect a direct impact on hunting, says Joel Brice, Delta's senior director of conservation.
"Let's not forget that we hunt the fall flight, not the spring count," says Brice. "Lots of ducks jammed into fewer wetlands negatively impacts breeding success. There's a good chance we won't see as many juveniles as last year, and those are the birds that are easiest to decoy. Still, it promises to be great year. We may just have to work a bit harder."
# # # #
BOW HUNT WORKSHOP -- Hoosiers interested in preserving Indiana’s bowhunting heritage can attend a July 26 workshop at Atterbury Fish & Wildlife Area that will teach them how to pass along the sport to others.
According to the Department of Natural Resources, the target audience is adults who work with children, ages 11-17. This includes school teachers, after-school teachers, outdoor educators, parks and recreation program leaders, scout leaders and camp counselors.
The workshop, called Explore Bowhunting, is designed not only to help adults teach bowhunting skills but also instill a respect for and comfort with the outdoors to preteens and teenagers. It is being offered for the first time in Indiana, run by the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Hoosier Outdoor Heritage Program.
Participants do not need prior experience with bowhunting.
Explore Bowhunting is free and is funded through a partnership between the Archery Trade Association and DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife.