Good news for September teal hunters
By JOHN K. FLORES
Ahh, September. This is the month that’s so transitional. Some of the best fishing freshwater and saltwater occurs at this time of year, but the focus this month tends to shift to hunting with the onset of the special teal season that starts Sept. 14.
So, what’s so special about this year’s early teal season? If you don’t know by now, the daily bag limit goes from four to six teal.
What’s more, the new possession limit increases to three times the day bag, or 18 birds. Both of these new harvest regulations are unprecedented in the state of Louisiana.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Waterfowl Study Leader Larry Reynolds, in speaking to members of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association last month, said, “You know what it’s going to do our harvest? Bupkis. It doesn’t mean anything at all. We’ve been trying to get changes implemented to the teal season for 10 years. Finally, four years ago the United States Fish and Wildlife Service got tired of us asking and said, ‘we’re not going to entertain any more suggestions, ideas or demands from state hunters until we do a teal assessment.’ We did the assessment, and for four years we analyzed all of the data that existed — harvest, banding, surveys and all the data that we have. We put it all together, modeled it and guess what it showed? Even under the most conservative models, we could double the harvest rate for blue winged teal and not hurt the population.”
Waterfowl hunters may remember during the 2012 spring breeding duck population and pond count surveys that blue-winged teal numbers were at an all-time record high level, reaching 9.24 million birds.
In 2013, blue winged teal breeding numbers were down 16 percent this spring but still a whopping 60 percent above the long-term average for this particular species dating back to 1955 when survey’s first began.
Essentially, Louisiana duck hunters should enjoy another September early teal season with plenty of opportunity to achieve that new six teal limit.
But what the numbers boil down to, according to Reynolds, is if the breeding population of blue-winged teal is between 3.3 and 4.7 million birds, then the state will have a short 9-day early teal season. If numbers are below that, the season will be closed. Should the numbers be more than 4.7 million, there will be a 16-day early teal season.
When it comes to possession limits, Reynolds says the department has been fighting about this regulation for three years.
Reynolds said, “We cannot find any evidence that possession limits mean anything to waterfowl conservation. In fact, Canada increased the possession limit to three times the daily bag limit three years ago and is now talking about eliminating it all together. We asked our law enforcement guys a couple of years ago to show us where the possession limit is helping them to make cases. And they couldn’t do it. They tell us all the time that the possession limit allows them to get guys that they know are harvesting over the daily bag limit, but that’s it.”
Reynolds also added that the possession limit is seldom enforced at the final destination, unless enforcement agents have something else they are looking for. And this year, the possession limit for food banks is no longer required.
There is more good news for waterfowl hunters this fall. The 2013-14 waterfowl season will mark the 17th straight 60-day and 6-duck liberal season. It seems moisture the past couple of decades has come just at the right time. Only the older hunters now can remember when there was only a 30-day and 3-bird limit.
As we go into the upcoming season, there is one area of importance that has been lacking where hunters in the Sportsman’s Paradise need to improve. And that’s annual reporting.
Each year a random mail out survey is sent to 2,500 licensed hunters across the state with several follow up reminders sent for them to complete and return. The problem is, according to Reynolds, an embarrassing low number of these “unbiased” random surveys are ever returned, where a true statistical picture of harvest and participation can be achieved.
Reynolds said, “My colleagues in Missouri have a 9-page survey — ours is two — and they have a 62-percent response rate. My colleagues in Minnesota have a 72-percent response rate. And my colleagues in Illinois have a 67-percent rate. I get 26 percent.”
No doubt, Sportsman Paradise hunters can and need to do a better job returning their surveys this upcoming year. The ducks have done their part. The season dates have been set. So, let’s do our part by reporting what we harvest. And now, let the season begin …