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Waterfowl changes should help but how about a few more?

Sportsmen have been clamoring for changes in the Minnesota waterfowl season for years without making any real headway.

Last week it was announced that Tom Landwehr, the new Department of Natural Resources commissioner, was finally saying "OK."

To a hunter, it was a little like a father suddenly tossing the keys to his teenage driver and saying "go for it." Some hunters do not like it and a lot of them are scratching their heads.

The DNR is going to change some rules. They are going to open the duck season Sept. 24. The Fish and Wildlife Service has given Minnesota that option for years. The state is going to give us an extra hen mallard and one extra wood duck in our six-bird daily bag. I cannot say I am wild about an extra hen mallard but I have been waiting for the state to relax the bag restriction on woodies for 20 years. Opening day shooting hours will begin one-half hour before sunrise. That is not going to hurt anything. It just means hunters will have to be a little more organized than they have been with these mid-morning openers.

The Youth Hunting Day will be Sept. 10. I will always be in favor of giving youth a chance to hunt. The first duck I shot as a kid was a blue-winged teal and I shot it in September, during an early season the state was offering on teal. I can still remember sneaking up on those teal with my brother. He shot the first one that day but I shot mine in the air.

The season is going to run for 60 days, rain, snow sleet or shine, and the state is going to be split in two - with ducks and geese south of Minnesota Highway 210 enjoying a five-day cease fire - and the season south of 210 lasting an extra five days. We have had split seasons before. Chances are the hunters in northern Minnesota are not going to be hunting ducks over water when their season ends Nov. 22. Southern Minnesota hunters might but they could also be frozen out by that time.

You can hear some say that Landwehr is bowing to the fact that the state is selling 40,000 fewer waterfowl licenses. Maybe he is, but the changes he has given the green light to have been suggested to him by waterfowl hunters - the people that buy those licenses.

A friend of mine who has hunted ducks and geese all of his life has one basic rule - go where the ducks are. They do not like hunting in Minnesota. This is a rule that a lot of Minnesota hunters have followed straight to the Dakotas and Canada. They do not like hunting in Minnesota.

My pal did not grow up in a family that owned good hunting land so he had to hunt it up for himself. During the season he scouts for ducks. If he finds a good spot he will try and get the green light from the landowner. The next morning he will be out there setting decoys in the dark according to how the wind is blowing, or if the wind is blowing. If the wind changes or if the ducks are shying away he will make adjustments.

Landwehr seems to be on the same wavelength. You try something and if it does not work, you try something else. The key word here is "try."

Now here are some other ideas.

Migrating waterfowl are looking for two things when they pass through Minnesota - food and rest. It is a long way to their wintering grounds so the migrants that drop down on western Minnesota are not only looking for a place to rest but also for duck potato, wild rice and freshwater shrimp. Once migrating birds arrive they will stay only as long as the food holds out and the lakes and ponds remain ice-free. The more food they find the more likely they are to stick around, even if the weather turns nasty. We live in times when Minnesota lakes that used to hold thousands of migrating waterfowl for weeks are being passed by because the migrants are not finding enough to eat. This has to change. They also take a dim view on being hammered at all day long and chased by big boats. Shooting hours should also be adjusted. Ducks are most active in the early morning and late evening. There is not much of a reason to hunt beyond 10 a.m. The evening hunt, if there had to be one, could last from 4 p.m. to sunset. This would give the birds a daily cease-fire period when they could rest and feed.

Here is one for the hunters and one the DNR and the FWS would probably hate. Give them the right to drive to a Waterfowl Production Area or Wildlife Management Area pond during the season and drop off their boat, decoys and guns, provided they have someone drive their vehicle back out to the main road once they have unloaded and park it there. Dragging duck boats is good exercise but it also drag on the sport and a waste of time if there is a road to the pond they want to hunt. Duck hunting is enough of a physical challenge without dragging a boat full of gear for a half a mile. Doing this would spread out the pressure on the birds and give more hunters a chance to pull the trigger.