Watching ducks you can't hunt

The hunting hasn’t been great for waterfowlers in the last few years.

When I first moved to the Delta six hunting seasons ago, the birds were plentiful. 

We would rise early, head to Tribbett and be done shooting in a half hour or so. 

Those half hour hunts became hour-long hunts to kill the same limits. Then the limit hunts became rare. Then we’d go a few days without killing ducks at all.

It wasn’t until this last week I really became aware of how the dates of our duck season and changes in flight patterns have affected the duck hunting.

A friend and I went to check out a spot to take our children for today’s youth waterfowl hunt. With the amount of rain we’d had this year, we wanted to be sure the kids would be able to stand in the water in the spot we’d picked out.

When we crossed through the barbed wire fence, we saw them. Hundreds of ducks decided it was time to leave a spot that hadn’t produced a limit of ducks all season long.

We both sat there looking at the sky slackjawed. It was more ducks than I had seen total in the last couple years. I do know the poral vortex may have had something to do with pushing all those ducks down here. Those type of cold fronts are happening later in the season now.

But there we sat in waders without guns on Jan. 30 as duck season ended on Jan. 27 this year.

Once every six years, we get the opportunity to hunt until the final day of January when it falls on a Sunday. 

But not this year. On this particular day, two guys who’d had a pretty bad duck season watched as ducks circled overhead on a day that could have theoretically been a part of this year’s hunting season. 

Duck seasons are set by a combination of tradition, management and (possibly) witchcraft. 

More than 100 years ago, the basis for setting waterfowl limits was started by a treaty between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada.) 

Further regulations came following a drought in the 1930s which devastated duck populations. Those regulations include the passage of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act in 1934, the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937 and the founding of the Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit program in 1935.

The drought and resulting waterfowl devastation also brought about the banning of guns larger than 10-gauge, live decoys, baiting, sinkboxes and the introduction of the three-shell limit.

These new regulations are believed to have helped bolster the waterfowl population back to huntable levels and still exist today.

Since the implementation of the rules regarding waterfowl hunting, there have also been numerous methods for the determining the seasons. 

Since 2015, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service sets the framework for waterfowl seasons several months in advance of the season and uses previous year’s banding surveys and harvest data.

There has been, and will most likely continue, to be a great debate about what affect, if any, waterfowl hunters have on the greater population of the waterfowl.

I know I had almost zero affect this season and know several other folks who did about the same. 

The questions I posed to Mississippi’s Waterfowl program coordinator this week was simple: what keeps us from starting our season later and ending it later? (He was out hosting a youth waterfowl camp this week. I will follow up with his answers in a later column.)

Even in our best years, the good duck hunting happened at the end of January. Why not cut November out of duck season and give us until Feb. 15?

If we continue along the current paths, children like my son who joined me on a few hunts this year won’t want to stand out in the cold and wet to no longer see ducks. 

It’s going to cost us a generation of hunters if we don’t take a serious look at adjusting our duck seasons. 

Or, perhaps I’m terribly wrong and we’ve just hit a bad-duck anomaly. 

Over the next few weeks I will continue to explore why hunting seasons are set the way they are and what the metrics of changing some of those dates might be.

Angel Alert goes out to Gibson who walked out of the blind and into the decoys to move a single block that had broken away from the spread. It made all the difference. Happy Birthday to Betsy Alexander and Camille Collins.

Jon Alverson is proud to be publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. Write to him at jalverson@ddtonline.comor call him at 335-1155.