If duck numbers are rising then why are duck hunter numbers falling?
A recent newspaper article bragged that one flock of ducks, estimated at nearly one million, parked itself on a refuge in Aitkin County in late October. It also describes a dismal turnout by the duck hunting fraternity in 2017. Just over 83,000 duck stamps were sold - the lowest total on record.
What is happening? What is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources doing wrong? What is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doing wrong? Minnesota has a lot of Waterfowl Production Areas, and all the water the birds of the Mississippi Flyway need. The 60-day season now starts in September and runs until the end of November. The daily limit of ducks is a generous six per hunter.
A friend of mine who lives to hunt ducks has said many times that "you have to get under them." That might not be the way Plato would put it, but it is absolutely true. You have to make it happen. Are enough of us out there trying to make it happen?
When Tom Landwehr visited Wadena last September, he pointed out that more kids have to be introduced to the outdoors by the older generation. The head of the DNR is afraid the younger generation has lost touch with the shooting sports, and he could very easily be right. With roughly half of Minnesotans living in the metro area, what chance do those youngsters have to hunt regularly?
Can it be the money? You might say no if you walk around a Cabela's Store and see what their customers are buying. Anyone who has attended a Ducks Unlimited banquet knows Minnesota hunters are pretty generous when it comes to supporting their sport. Duck stamps and hunting licenses are minor expenses. The big ones are the guns, the vehicles, the four-wheelers, the boats, the trailers, warm clothes, the ammunition, the decoys, the dogs and the other trappings of the sport. If you are a young hunter, you might not have all these necessities. If you are older and do have them, you might want to take trips to the Dakotas or Canada and spend your dough on their stamps and licenses.
What about the access to those good hunting holes here in Minnesota? Nobody is allowed to cross a Federal Waterfowl Production Area in the fall in a vehicle to reach a slough. If you are fit enough to drag your boat for a hundred yards or more (sometimes much more) you can do some hunting, but can you drive to the edge of that slough and drop off your stuff? No dice. What is so important about a WPA in the fall? The waterfowl the feds are so interested seeing produced arrive in the spring and early summer. By the time the hunting season begins, they are flying. If a duck hunter sticks to one road, how is that going to hurt that WPA?
Another reason why we need more places to hunt? Duck hunters have an aversion to crowding each other. It might not be a big consideration on a good-sized lake, but when you are talking about a 10-acre slough it is another story. Finding the spot they have scouted out and intend to hunt can kill a hunt faster than three-inch BBB load. They might get up at 4 a.m. and head out to a spot only to find that another group got up at 3:30 a.m. Bigger lakes have their accesses, but too many of the ones I know have private hunting land to go with them. Try and hunt those, and you are going to run into the trespass law.
Maybe a lot of us duck hunters are getting too old? It was not easy 45 years ago when my pals and I were manhandling our leaky, old duck boat full of guns, shells and decoys over the railroad tracks into our favorite lake, so why would it be now?
The DNR wants to see their duck stamps sales climb back into six figures? Some of the solutions could be in their hands, and "opportunity" might be the magic word.