This year marks the first year of a new regulatory schedule implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Previously, the schedule was divided into an early and late season process. The new regulatory process considers all migratory game bird seasons at once. This schedule will allow the selected seasons to be published in the annual Regulations Digest, which will help hunters in planning.
Hunters should be aware of several significant changes to waterfowl hunting seasons and guidelines for the 2016 season: specifically those relating to sea duck hunting, brant season and youth waterfowl hunting participation. The special sea duck hunting season occurring in the special sea duck hunting area has been reduced from 107 days to 60 days. The season will run from Nov. 21 through Jan. 28. Sea ducks may be hunted in the special sea duck area during this time period. The special sea duck area is defined as the “waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and to those coastal waters south of U.S. 64 that are separated by a distance of at least 800 yards of open water from any shore, island or marsh.”
Additionally, the sea duck bag limit during the special season and within the special sea duck area has been reduced to five. This five-duck limit can consist of no more than four scoters, four long-tailed ducks and four eiders. The reduction in season length and bag limit is in response to suspected long-term declines in sea duck populations and a general lack of understanding regarding some aspects of sea duck biology. The general duck season will overlap with sea duck season, but there will be a period during the general duck season when sea ducks cannot be hunted in the special sea duck areas.
Also after a change to federal rules, youth aged 16 and 17 are now allowed to participate during two special youth waterfowl hunting days. Previously, participation was limited to youth under the age of 16. Special Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days for the 2016-17 season have been set for Feb. 4 and Feb. 11, 2017. Youth under 16 must still be accompanied by a licensed hunter 18 or over. Youth 16-17 years old must be properly licensed and also with hunters 18 or older.
Other migratory seasons of interest include dove which opens Labor Day weekend, September 3rd, and first split goes through October 8th. The second split will be November 21 – January 14. The Resident Canada goose Conservation season will run the full month of September with the usual liberal bag limit of 15, unplugged shotguns and electronic calls allowed. The regular Canada goose season dates are October 5-15, November 12 to December 3, and final split December 17 through February 11. Woodcock season will be December 15 through January 28th.
The Commission also approved the temporary rule to allow bear baiting for the entire season with one exception. The rule will allow baiting for the first segment of the western bear season (Oct. 17 – Nov. 19), but not at all during the second segment (Dec. 12 – Jan. 2).
Turkey season ends this weekend, May 7th. I’ve only been out a couple of times without success. But based on hunter’s comments who share them at the store, it has been one weird turkey season. I’ve only had one customer tell me he bagged a turkey right after coming down off the roost. In fact, a couple of hunters called in and killed toms late in the afternoon. So what’s happening? Without scientific evidence, my guess is because of the increase in turkey flocks there are so many hens the toms do not need to announce their availability by gobbling or going to hen clucks. They’ve got all the action they need where they are! Many hunters tell me gobblers don’t become active until well after mid-morning around 10 a.m.
We’ve also been told by hunters, and personally observed, hens still flocked up late into the season. Our season dates are based on most breeding occurring in late March and early April so toms are actively searching for hens by mid to late season. Either hens are not breeding or started breeding later than normal. We will wait for answers from the WRC after the season.