The Minnesota DNR this week released a pair of news releases regarding duck hunting in the state. The first one discusses the season to date, and offers specifics about season closures. The second is a good reminder about remembering to keep safety at the top of your mind when duck hunting.

Duck season off to great start
With three duck hunting zones in effect in Minnesota, hunters in the Central and South duck zones are reminded of closed dates in those zones that split the season into two parts to provide more hunting opportunity later in the fall.
The waterfowl season in the Central Duck Zone (south of Highway 210) will be closed from Monday, Oct. 5, through Friday, Oct. 9, and then reopen Saturday, Oct. 10.

In the South Duck Zone (south of Highway 212), the waterfowl season will be closed from Monday, Oct. 5, through Wednesday, Oct. 14, and then reopen Thursday, Oct. 15, which coincides with a long weekend off for many students.
Goose season is also closed in the central and south duck zones when duck season is closed.

Opening weekend report
Over the opening weekend of waterfowl season that began Sept. 26, duck numbers were good and hunter numbers were similar to last year. Blue-winged teal, wood ducks, and mallards comprised most of the harvest, according to Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota DNR.

wearing life jackets in duck boat

Image courtesy of Minnesota DNR

“As always, results varied throughout the state, but overall I’d say it was a very good opening weekend – especially with the shirt-sleeve weather, which isn’t conducive to duck hunting,” Cordts said.

Lac qui Parle Refuge had the second best opening day in 26 years with 3.6 ducks per hunter. Big White Oak Lake had the best opener in at least 15 years with three ducks per hunter. Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area, Roseau River WMA, Big Rice WMA near Remer, and Swan Lake all averaged more than two ducks per hunter and above their long-term averages for opening day.

“The outlook for the rest of the season remains good, athough there will be the typical lull until new birds migrate into the state,” Cordts said. “Migrant ring-necked ducks will soon begin to build in numbers in northern Minnesota. Teal and wood ducks will still be fairly common in southern Minnesota this weekend.”

For more information on waterfowl hunting, including waterfowl migration reports, click here.

Late season waterfowl hunters reminded that cold water kills
Wearing a life jacket is best defense against dangers of cold water. Late season waterfowl hunters are reminded that with water temperatures rapidly dropping across the state, wearing a life jacket is the best defense against the dangers posed by cold water, the Minnesota DNR said.

In Minnesota, one-third of all boating fatalities occur during the cold water season, when water temperatures are below 70 degrees. Cold water shock can cause even the strongest swimmers to drown in a matter of seconds if they fall in while not wearing a life jacket.

“If you ask the average duck hunter for safety advice, they will most likely recite firearm safety rules,” said Debbie Munson Badini, Minnesota DNR boat and water safety education coordinator. “But year after year, more waterfowl hunters die from drowning, cold water shock and hypothermia than from firearm accidents.

“The importance of water safety and life jacket use needs to be impressed upon waterfowlers in the same manner as the tenets of firearm safety,” Munson Badini said. “Duck hunters are boaters, too, and they are often boating on dangerously cold water.”
Since 2010, five Minnesotans have died in duck hunting-related boating accidents, including two minors. Last year, two drownings occurred; neither victim was wearing a life jacket.

Common causes of these fatal accidents included falling overboard, capsizing, or swamping due to overloading of passengers and/or gear, but in nearly all cases the accident would not have been deadly if the victim had worn a life jacket.

“The message is clear: Cold water kills, and life jackets save lives,” Munson Badini said. “Waterfowl hunters can hit two birds with one shot by simply wearing their life jackets.”

The wide variety of comfortable life jackets designed specifically for waterfowl hunting includes inflatable vest and belt-pack styles, insulated flotation jackets, and foam-filled vests with quilted shoulders and shell loops. Flotation jackets and foam-filled vests will offer hunters the best insulation against cold air and water.

At the very least, all boats must carry one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each passenger, and boats longer than 16 feet must also have a throwable flotation device immediately available. Children under 10 must wear a life jacket. Other water safety tips for duck hunters include:

• Don’t overload the boat; take two trips if necessary.
• If wearing hip boots or waders, learn how to float with them on.
• Stay near shore and avoid crossing large expanses of open water, especially in bad weather.
• Share trip plans with someone and advise them to call for help if traveling party does not return on schedule.
• Use a headlamp, spotlight or navigation lights to alert other boaters to your presence in dark and/or foggy conditions.

For additional information, visit the boating safety page to download the DNR’s “Water Safety for Duck Hunters” brochure, or call 888-646-6367 to request one by mail.

We’d like to congratulate the Hautman brothers – Bob, Jim, and Joe – for their recent performance in the federal duck stamp contest. As you may have heard, they took the top three places in this year’s competition.

Joe Hautman’s winning painting. Photo courtesy of USFWS

Joe was the winner, while Bob and Jim took second and third place, respectively. It’s really an amazing accomplishment, and marks the 11th times one of the brothers has won the contest.

Following is the news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A trio of brothers from Minnesota made history today as they took the top three spots in the 2015 Federal Duck Stamp art contest. The announcement was made by Jerome Ford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) Assistant Director for Migratory Birds, at the annual art contest, held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, W.V.
Joseph Hautman, of Plymouth, Minn., won the contest with his acrylic painting of a pair of trumpeter swans.  This is Hautman’s fifth Federal Duck Stamp contest win, making him one of only two artists to have his art appear on five duck stamps.

Bob Hautman 2nd place

Bob Hautman’s second-place painting. Photo courtesy of USFWS

Hautman’s painting will be made into the 2016-2017 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or Duck Stamp, which will go on sale in late June 2016.  The Service produces the Federal Duck Stamp, which sells for $25 and raises about $25 million each year to provide critical funds to conserve and protect wetland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge System for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of people.

Robert Hautman of Delano, Minn., placed second with his acrylic painting of a pair of mallards.  Robert Hautman has won the Federal Duck Stamp contest twice.

James Hautman of Chaska, Minn., took third place with his acrylic painting of a pair of mallards.  He is a four-time winner of the Federal Duck Stamp Contest.

Among them, the Hautmans have won 11 Federal Duck Stamp contests.

Jim Hautman 3rd place

Jim Hautman’s third-place painting. Photo courtesy of USFWS

Of 157 entries in this year’s competition, 10 entries made it to the final round of judging today.  Eligible species for this year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest were the blue-winged teal, cinnamon teal, gadwall, mallard and trumpeter swan.

“I congratulate Joseph Hautman on his win and the entire Hautman family on their artistic talent,” said Ford.  “This is not just any piece of art, but one whose impact will be felt for generations to come.  Duck Stamps have helped to protect more than six-and-a-half million acres of waterfowl habitat in our National Wildlife Refuge System; now that is a lasting legacy.”

“Buying Federal Duck Stamps remains the simplest way to make a difference in conserving our nation’s birds and their habitats,” said Ford.  “For more than 80 years, hunters, bird watchers and millions of people who simply care about the environment have ‘put their stamp on conservation’ with their Duck Stamp purchases.”

The judges for this year’s Federal Duck Stamp Contest were: Deb Hahn, international relations director for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies; Donald Messersmith, professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, who taught courses in entomology, ornithology and environmental education; James O’Donnell, museum specialist in the Collections Department of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum; Constance Sanchez, director of the Important Bird Areas Program with the National Audubon Society; and Jonathan Alderfer, an artist and author who is the birding consultant for National Geographic Books.

Waterfowl hunters age 16 and older are required to purchase and carry the current Federal Duck Stamp. Conservationists, stamp collectors and others may purchase the stamp in support of habitat conservation.  A current Duck Stamp can be used for free admission to any national wildlife refuge that charges an entry fee.

Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from sale of the Federal Duck Stamp go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports the purchase of migratory bird habitat for inclusion into the National Wildlife Refuge System. You can contribute to conservation by buying Federal Duck Stamps at many national wildlife refuges, sporting goods stores and other retailers, through the U.S. Postal Service, or online at
Electronic files of the winning artwork can be downloaded from  A gallery of all 2015 Federal Duck Stamp Contest entries is at:

It’s pretty likely that many people haven’t heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, even though it’s been around for 50 years. That’s too bad, because it’s super-important to wildlife habitat and the outdoors in general, and it’s set to expire on Sept. 30 unless Congress takes action.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Here’s how the fund is described in a letter, signed by 100 outdoor industry businesses in 23 states, that was sent to House and Senate leadership: “Supported by off-shore gas royalties – not taxpayer dollars – the Land and Water Conservation Fund has served to improve habitat and provide public access for hunting and fishing across America for 50 years. Since its inception in 1964, the fund has been used to invest over $16 billion in conservation and outdoor recreation, including the establishment of new public fishing areas, new access into landlocked and checkerboarded parcels of public lands, and the acquisition of new public lands for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and the sporting public.”

And this from Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which was responsible for spearheading the letter: “Where conservation so often loses out in the federal budget, it wins big in the Land and Water Conservation Fund without being a burden on taxpayers. Congress has enough to debate before the end of the fiscal year. Reauthorization of this successful program should be a no-brainer.”

We agree that it’s an important program, and encourage everyone to contact their member of Congress to encourage them to support the LWCF’s reauthorization.

Every year, the Minnesota DNR surveys a random group of hunters who bought small-game licenses for the previous year. The responses, then, become the basis for an annual report on small-game hunting in Minnesota.


The results from the 2014 season aren’t exactly great.

According to the DNR’s survey, hunters harvested an estimated 699,620 ducks in Minnesota in 2014. There were an estimated 75,170 duck hunters in the state last year. The average hunter killed 9.3 ducks last year, which actually is a pretty good number.
The concern, of course, is in the number of duck hunters in the state. The number of duck hunters in Minnesota in 2014 was the lowest since 2010, when there were an estimated 72,770 in the state. Those are the two lowest years since at least 2002, when the DNR estimated there were 111,619 hunters in Minnesota.

One bit of good news is that state duck stamp sales appear to have stabilized. Last year, the DNR sold 90,376, which was a hair down from 2013 but about the same as it has been since 2008.

If you want more details, the full report is here.

Below is the DNR’s press release announcing this fall’s duck and goose seasons.

DNR announces fall duck and goose seasons
Minnesota’s regular waterfowl season will open a half-hour before sunrise on Saturday, Sept. 26, with similar bag limits and season dates that were in place last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

“While the season structure is similar to recent years, we adjusted the duck season dates in the south duck zone based on hunter preferences,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

MallardThe waterfowl seasons are based on a federal framework that applies to all states in the Mississippi Flyway.

More information on duck, goose, sandhill crane and other migratory bird hunting seasons will be available in the 2015 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations, available in mid-August in booklet form and online at

Duck seasons and limits
Duck season will be open for 60 days in each of the three waterfowl zones.

• In the north zone, duck season is Saturday, Sept. 26, through Tuesday, Nov. 24.
•In the central zone, duck season is Saturday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 4, closes for five days, then reopens Saturday, Oct. 10, and runs through Sunday, Nov. 29.
• In the south zone, duck season is Saturday, Sept. 26, through Sunday, Oct. 4, closes for 10 days, then reopens Thursday, Oct. 15, and runs through Friday, Dec. 4. The re-opening coincides with the annual statewide teachers’ conference on Oct. 15-16 when many schools do not schedule classes.

The only bag limit change from the 2015 season is for canvasback, which increases from one to two per day. The daily duck bag limit remains six ducks per day. The mallard bag limit remains four per day, including two hen mallards. The daily bag limits remain at three for wood duck and three for scaup.

All states in the Mississippi Flyway were offered the option for a September teal season or two bonus blue-winged teal during the regular season. Minnesota did not participate in either teal option last year and again made the choice not to take a teal season or bonus blue-winged teal option this year.

“We’ve had nearly two decades of liberal duck seasons with 60 days of hunting and six-duck daily bag limits,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “In recent years, the duck season has opened one week earlier than in the past, which has afforded Minnesota hunters more opportunity to take teal and wood ducks.”

In addition, waterfowl hunting in open water on five large water bodies in Minnesota has also been allowed.

“For these reasons, we don’t believe that an early teal season or further liberalization by adding two bonus blue-winged teal to the daily bag for the first part of the season is needed,” Landwehr said.

Mallard abundance from a continental spring survey that includes Minnesota is used to determine overall duck season length. This year’s estimate was 11.8 million mallards, which was well above the long-term average. Since 1997, duck season length has been 60 days each year and the mallard population has ranged from 6.8 million to 11.8 million mallards.

“The status of mallards, and most other species of ducks important to Minnesota hunters, is very good this year based on spring populations surveys,” Cordts said.

Youth waterfowl day
Youth Waterfowl Day will be Saturday, Sept. 12. Hunters ages 15 and under may take regular season bag limits when accompanied by an adult age 18 or older. Youth may take Canada geese, mergansers, coots and moorhens from a half-hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. Motorized decoy restrictions are in effect. Five geese may be taken statewide. The accompanying adult can’t hunt ducks that day and does not need a license. However, an adult may take Canada geese if properly licensed.

Canada goose seasons and limits
Canada goose hunting is open in the three duck zones, and also in an intensive harvest zone. For a map of the intensive zone and other information, see

The August Canada goose management harvest is Saturday, Aug. 8, through Sunday, Aug. 23, in the intensive harvest zone only. The bag limit is 10 per day. A $4 permit is required. This is the third year Canada goose harvest has been allowed during August due to high populations of Canada geese and the damage they cause to agricultural crops.

The early September Canada goose season will open statewide on Saturday, Sept. 5, and run through Tuesday, Sept. 22. Bag limits for Canada geese are 10 per day in the intensive harvest zone and five per day in the rest of the state. A $4 permit is required to hunt Canada geese during the September season. The restriction prohibiting hunting within 100 yards of surface water remains in effect in the northwest goose zone, Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, Ocheda Lake Game Refuge and an area surrounding Swan Lake in Nicollet County. Early season goose hunters should consult the 2015 Waterfowl Supplement for zone maps and additional details.

Minnesota’s regular goose season will open in conjunction with the duck season statewide on Sept. 26, with a bag limit of three dark geese per day the entire season.  “Dark” geese include Canada geese, white-fronted geese, and brant. Goose season will be closed in the central and south duck zones when duck season is closed.

Sandhill crane season
The season for sandhill cranes is Saturday, Sept. 12, to Sunday, Oct. 18, in the northwest goose and sandhill crane zone only. The daily bag limit will be one sandhill crane per day. A $3 sandhill crane permit is required in addition to a small game hunting license.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this week released its report on migratory bird hunting activity during the 2014 hunting season. (It also includes data from 2013.)

These reports are based on responses to Harvest Information Program responses, and give an initial indication of the waterfowl kill the previous fall. The state also reports on the number of waterfowl killed, usually in the early part of August.

Image courtesy of USFWS

Image courtesy of USFWS

According to the report, hunters in Minnesota killed a total of 571,300 ducks in Minnesota during the 2014 duck season. That’s down from 607,800 in 2013 and well down from the early 2000s, when hunters were shooting more than 800,000 ducks every year.

While the number of ducks killed certainly is interesting, what’s even more notable about these annual reports is the information they contain about the number of active waterfowl hunters. Last year in Minnesota, there were 70,500, a number that looks good when compared with the 2013 total of 58,600. But when you put the number in perspective, things change. The past two years – 2013 and 2014 – have seen the lowest number of active waterfowl hunters in more than a decade. In fact, up until about 2005, there were more than 100,000 active waterfowl hunters each year.

While hopefully we’ve been able to reverse the trend of declining waterfowl hunter numbers, it’s going to be difficult to increase them. After all, even though the USFWS tells us there are more breeding ducks now than there ever have been – and numbers have been exceptionally high for years – we’re still not doing great when it comes to hunter numbers.

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association held its third annual charity golf tournament on Monday the New Prague Golf Club. It was a hot and muggy day, but another great event!

The Hautman brothers won the golf tournament with a score of 58.

The Hautman brothers won the golf tournament with a score of 58.

We had 15 teams participate in the tournament, which was a scramble-style format. The Hautman brothers – Jim, Joe and Robert – won the tournament with a score of 58. The 15 teams that participated this year was the most we’ve had in the tournament.

It was a fun event that drew people of all ages. Included among the tournament field was two kids who will be attended Woodie Camp next month.

In addition to the golf, there was a marshmallow drive competition, chipping contest, beer raffle, wine raffle, and gun raffle.

Below is a DNR press release on the discovery of a second bird infected with avian influenza.

A second confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been reported in a wild bird. A chickadee recovered in Ramsey County and delivered on June 10 to a wildlife rehabilitation center later tested positive for avian influenza.

The DNR will continue testing birds for avian influenza. Image courtesy of Minnesota DNR

The DNR will continue testing birds for avian influenza. Image courtesy of Minnesota DNR


“Since spring, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been conducting wild bird surveillance and we continue to investigate how the virus is impacting birds,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We are seeking more information about the chickadee, and are continuing plans to conduct expanded surveillance over the summer and fall by testing ducks and geese, and will be sampling hunter-harvested waterfowl throughout the state this fall.”

In April, a Cooper’s hawk from Yellow Medicine County was the first Minnesota wild bird to test positive for the HPAI virus. While waterfowl are known to carry and potentially spread the virus, they don’t get sick or die. However, raptors and songbirds are thought to die from it once infected.

Since December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported other individual wild-bird species in other states have tested positive for the virus. Among them are a Cooper’s hawk, several Canada geese, a peregrine falcon, two red-tailed hawks, a snowy owl, and a bald eagle.

Since the discovery of HPAI in domestic poultry, DNR staff have collected almost 4,000 avian influenza samples, including just over 600 geese sampled as part of DNR’s statewide banding program.  Until today, the Cooper’s hawk was the only positive sample identified.

“The report of a chickadee testing positive for avian influenza is the first detection of the disease in a songbird,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager. “This is further evidence that while waterfowl species can serve as a reservoir for avian influenza, other species are susceptible to the disease.”

Cornicelli added that the chickadee was not turned into the DNR, so the agency does not have complete information about the circumstances surrounding the submission. “It is common for small birds to be sent directly to rehab facilities. We will not be able to determine where or how the bird was infected, but these results highlight the complexity of how this virus is spread, and that it can impact both wild and domestic birds,” Cornicelli said. “Although highly pathogenic H5 was diagnosed, the laboratory was unable to determine the exact virus strain, so we don’t know if was H5N2 or some other highly pathogenic strain.”

The Legislature recently appropriated $350,000 to the DNR for avian influenza testing DNR plans to collaborate with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the University of Minnesota on research projects that identify both active virus and virus exposure using serology. For more information on avian influenza and the DNR’s surveillance effort, visit the DNR avian flu Web page.

Following is a brief description of the continental waterfowl counts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released last week. Watch the blog for additional information.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report summarizes information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats during spring 2015, focusing on areas encompassed by the Service and Canadian Wildlife Services’ Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. The total duck population estimate was 49.5 million in the traditional survey area, an estimate similar to the 2014 and is 43 percent higher than the long-term average.

Here’s a link to the report.

Below is the DNR’s news release, issued today, about results of the May breeding waterfowl survey in Minnesota.

Breeding mallard numbers down, other species up from last year

(Released June 22, 2015)

Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down from last year while other species saw increases, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 206,000, which is 20 percent below last year’s estimate of 257,000 breeding mallards, 17 percent below the recent 10-year average and 10 percent above the long-term average measured since 1968.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The blue-winged teal population is 169,000 this year, 66 percent above the 2014 estimate of 102,000, but the population remains 21 percent below the long-term average of 212,000 blue-winged teal.

The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 149,000, which is 29 percent higher than last year and 16 percent below the long-term average.

The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) was 524,000, similar to last year’s estimate of 474,000 ducks.

The estimated number of wetlands was 220,000, down 36 percent from last year, and 13 percent below the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation.

“We generally expect to see lower duck numbers during dry years. We did see lower mallard numbers this year, but blue-winged teal and other duck numbers were improved from last year,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “In addition to our counts, the continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and they provide an indicator of what hunters can expect this fall.”

The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.

A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 250,000 geese, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 244,000 geese. This doesn’t include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

“The number of Canada geese in Minnesota remains high but the population has been very stable for many years. With the early spring this year, we should see a good hatch of goslings as well,” Cordts said.

The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in April. The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.

The DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations later this summer. Read the Minnesota waterfowl report online.