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Dry conditions greet waterfowl hunters

Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald on

Published in Outdoors

Barring a drastic change in weather patterns, dry conditions will play into hunting strategies this fall for duck and goose hunters, especially those who prefer hunting over water.

The regular duck and goose seasons open Sept. 23 in North Dakota and Minnesota. The first week of North Dakota's season is open to residents only; nonresidents can hunt beginning Sept. 30.

Bird numbers are favorable despite this year's drier conditions, and continental duck populations remain higher than the long-term average since 1955, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported last month. Based on results from spring breeding duck surveys in the U.S. and Canada, the service estimated total duck populations at 47.3 million, down slightly from last year's estimate of 48.4 million and 34 percent above the long-term average.

The service projected a fall mallard flight of 12.9 million birds, similar to last year's estimate of 13.5 million.

In northeast North Dakota, smaller sloughs and potholes are less abundant than previous years, but larger wetlands still hold plenty of water, said Mark Fisher, district wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Devils Lake.

"On wetlands that have some size, you really wouldn't notice the difference," Fisher said. "There's a lot of big wetlands over 5 acres in this country, and they still look pretty good."

Based on mid-July production surveys by the state Game and Fish Department, North Dakota's fall duck flight is down 8 percent from last year. Game and Fish crews tallied 3.68 broods per square mile, down 5 percent from last year, but well above the long-term average since 1955 of 2.59 broods per square mile.

Mallards, gadwall and blue-winged teal accounted for about 75 percent of the broods seen in the survey, with mallard broods down 13 percent, gadwalls down 4 percent and blue-winged teal broods unchanged, the department said.

Given dry conditions across much of North Dakota, the Devils Lake region stands as a bright spot for waterfowl hunting prospects, Fisher said.

"It was certainly a dry summer with not a lot of rainfall, but we went into fall and winter so wet in northeast North Dakota," Fisher said. "I know duck production in this area was really good.

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