By John Pollmann
There are a lot of reasons to be a little down-in-the-mouth about life these days, but the outlook for the waterfowl season in South Dakota is not one of them. In fact, with a little more help from Mother Nature, the upcoming season of decoying mallards, Canada geese and blue-winged teal may help make 2020 a year to remember – at least in part - for the right reasons.
Optimism has been running high for the upcoming season ever since the winter snow melted in April and revealed a landscape dotted with the small, shallow wetlands that drive duck production across the Prairie Pothole Region of South Dakota. Add to this a large number of fuzzy Canada goose goslings that began appearing across the region in May, and there is every reason to believe that hunters may encounter a “target rich” environment when the seasons kick off this fall.
Outside of a limited August management take for resident Canada geese in the extreme western part of the state, hunters in South Dakota got their first crack at birds on September 5, when hunters likely encountered better-than-average numbers of the big birds.
“Although we didn’t do an official survey this spring, everything I am seeing and hearing points toward high numbers of Canada geese in eastern South Dakota this year,” said state waterfowl biologist Rocco Murano. “It sure looks like one of the better hatches that we have seen in a while.”
The daily limits for Canada geese remain the same for the 2020-21 season. Most of the state features an 8-bird daily limit, while hunters in the Missouri River corridor can shoot four Canada geese per day. Starting on Sept. 26, hunters in South Dakota can add three specklebellies to the bag and 50 light geese per day when those birds arrive from their breeding grounds far to the north.
Murano says there is little known about the number of juvenile snow, blue or Ross’s geese that hunters may see funneling down the Central Flyway this fall, as all Arctic field work, including the banding of young geese, was cancelled because of travel and social distancing restrictions related to COVID-19.
And while the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks did not complete any official survey of breeding duck numbers this spring, Murano believes that the state could be looking at one of the best seasons of duck production in recent memory.
“Based on my observations and those of our staff out in the field, I think this could be some of our highest duck production in many years,” said Murano. “The amount of water out there this spring attracted a lot of ducks, and then the conditions allowed those birds to have a successful nesting season. There seem to be duck broods everywhere, including mallards and an absolute truckload of blue-winged teal.”
South Dakota daily bag limit for ducks is six, with species and sex restrictions as follows: five mallards, of which only two may be hens, one scaup, three wood ducks, two redheads, two canvasbacks, one pintail. Note: An additional two blue-winged teal may be taken September 26 through October 11 only.
So, for hunters in South Dakota, the biggest question mark isn’t going to be the abundance of birds, it is going to be how long Mother Nature will let them hang around in the northern part of the flyway. In the absence of an early freeze or major snow event, it looks to be a very good year for “fowlers” in the state.