The NFL season opened a few weeks back with many teams having high expectations for a banner year. Such is the case for the North Dakota waterfowl season, which opens Sept. 25 for residents and Oct. 2 for nonresidents.
High expectations, however, are not always realized due to factors that no one can control, like injury in the NFL and weather in the waterfowl hunting world.
With that context in mind, North Dakota's 2010 fall duck flight is expected to be up 20 percent from last year. Canada goose populations are high, and the snow goose migration will have more young birds in the flock than last year.
It appears that only a major weather event, like an extreme mid-October cold front/snowstorm that sends a lot of birds south prematurely, or an abnormally mild October that delays migration of birds into the state until deer season, can get in the way of a promising year for waterfowlers.
Mike Johnson, North Dakota Game and Fish Department game management section leader, said the fall flight estimate comes from statistics gathered during the Department's spring breeding duck survey and summer duck brood survey.
The spring survey indicated a duck index 12 percent higher than in 2009 and 107 percent above the long-term average. Water conditions in May were up 5 percent from 2009 and 76 percent from the long-term average.
The mid-July duck production survey revealed a duck brood index that was up 14 percent from 2009 and 63 percent above the long-term average. Average brood size was 6.7 ducklings, down 0.4 from last year. The long-term average is 7.1 ducklings per brood.
The water index in mid-July was down 14 percent from last year, but still 28 percent above the long-term average.
The index does not count every water body or duckling in the state. Instead, biologists sample representative transects across the state each year. Over time, survey results provide biologists with trend information that allows annual comparisons of waterfowl production in the state.
Duck limits and season lengths for this fall are similar to last year, with the exception of an additional pintail in the daily bag limit. Hunters may now take two pintails daily, instead of one.
The hunting season for Canada geese in the Missouri River zone will close Dec. 31, while the remainder of the state will close Dec. 23. The season for whitefronts closes Dec. 5, while the season on light geese is open through Dec. 31. Shooting hours for all geese are one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. each day through Nov. 6. Beginning Nov. 7, shooting hours are extended until 2 p.m. each day.
Extended shooting hours for all geese are permitted from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset on Saturdays and Wednesdays through Nov. 28, and on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays from Dec. 1 through the end of each season.
The daily bag limit for Canada geese during the regular season is three, with six in possession. The daily limit on whitefronts is two with four in possession, and light goose is 20 daily, with no possession limit.
Nonresidents have the option of buying either a statewide waterfowl license or one with zone restrictions. Nonresidents who designate zones 1 or 2 may hunt that zone for only one seven-day period during the season. Nonresident hunters who chose to hunt in zone 1 or 2 and wish to use the full 14 consecutive days allowed, must use the other seven days in zone 3. Hunters in zone 3 can hunt that zone the entire 14 days.
Nonresidents are not allowed to hunt on Game and Fish Department wildlife management areas or conservation PLOTS (Private Land Open to Sportsmen) areas from Oct. 9-15.
Remember that even with an optimistic forecast, waterfowl hunting can have an off day. But just like in the NFL, there's always next weekend.