Lots of geese, a fair amount of mallards and plenty of scaup provided waterfowlers in the Fergus Falls region with action, Richards said. Reports from the field included unusually frequent sightings of greater scaup, he said.
Hunters in and around Lac qui Parle County reported mixed results, "but everyone had something to shoot at," said Madison-based game warden Luke Gutzwiller.
In the greater Lac qui Parle area, flooded corn and bean fields attracted ducks during a delayed harvest. He said hunters were quick to adapt and took advantage of the offbeat dispersal. Another memorable facet of the 2017 season was a late-season reward for those who sat out the opening days of the traditional Minnesota firearms deer season. Those hunters rewarded themselves and their dogs with the chance to harvest late-departing ducks, Gutzwiller said.
"The birds stuck around and waterfowl hunters did very well during the early deer season," he said.
In the 1970s, when Minnesota's farming regions had considerably more wetlands and less water pollution, duck hunting in the state was in its glory. Back then, the DNR sold an average of 140,000 licenses per year. Cordts, the DNR waterfowl specialist, said the absolute peak during that time was about 170,000 -- double the participation recorded this year.
By Nov. 27 of this season, the DNR sold 83,340 waterfowl stamps of all types, down nearly 4 percent from the same period in 2016. When all sales are tabulated, 2017 will be associated with the lowest total on record, Cordts said.
But ask about any duck hunter in Minnesota, Cordts said, they will say that there's still "too darn many" waterfowlers. As individuals, they thrive on minimal disturbance in the field and plan their hunts in many cases to avoid other hunters.
"They are not going extinct," Cordts said.
The DNR is months away from providing a hard count of the 2017 waterfowl harvest. But Cordts said anecdotal evidence points toward a slightly more productive hunt than the norm in recent years. For instance, bag check surveys on opening weekend at Thief Lake and in the Carlos Avery State Wildlife Management Area indicated a norm of three ducks per hunter per day.
"We did have some huntable numbers of ducks this year," Cordts said. "It was OK all the way through to the end."
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