Missouri duck hunters may be pleasantly surprised this fall hunting season.
Biologists report an overall 16 percent increase in the number of ducks this season, which opens Oct. 25 in the northern zone that includes Boone County.
The increased number of ducks came as a surprise to David Graber, a research scientist with the Missouri Department of Conservation in Columbia. “We had expected fewer ducks this year,” he said.
For the past two years, prime duck production areas in Canada experienced severe drought. This year, the region had similar conditions until April and May, when snow and rain revived wetland habitats. The ducks responded by settling into the area to nest.
Some duck species, such as the blue-winged teal, had large jumps. Teal populations increased 31 percent, rising from 4.2 million to 5.5 million.
On Thursday, the Missouri Conservation Commission approved regulations for the upcoming season, which runs through Dec. 23 in the northern zone.
Bag limits will be the same as last year: six ducks total, no more than four mallards and no more than two of those can be female. The bag may have no more than three scaup, two wood ducks, two redheads, one black duck, one hooded merganser, one canvasback and one pintail.
The number of ducks that will be spending time in Missouri will depend largely on the weather.
Graber said that the ducks will migrate through, but how long they stay will depend on available wetland habitat. If there aren’t wetland conditions, the ducks won’t have an easily accessible food source in flooded vegetation. If there isn’t a large food source, the birds may stop a few days to rest, but continue migrating.
“Even with a favorable habitat, we don’t know when they will get here or how long they will stay,” Graber said.
Even if weather conditions aren’t ideal, Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area in the Missouri River bottoms south of Columbia has the ability to pump water to create desirable habitat.
Jim Loveless, a wildlife management biologist for the conservation department, said conditions at Eagle Bluffs are, “looking excellent. We have a fine crop of natural and cultivated foods and we have fine water conditions.”
Eagle Bluffs can take up to 20 hunting parties a day, Loveless said. During duck hunting seasonalmost all the spots will be full, he said. Last year’s season brought 2,694 hunters who harvested 4,791 ducks.
The overall harvest in Missouri last year was 392,621, Graber said. 50 to 60 percent of these ducks were mallards.
“They are sort of the prize duck,” Graber said, “and they are really good to eat.”
Mallard populations are up this year, but they haven’t seen as big a jump as other species. The number of breeding mallards reported this year in nesting areas in North Amerca was 7.9 million compared to 7.1 million last year.
“When I think of duck hunting, I think of mallards,” Columbia duck hunter Scott Faiman said.
Faiman, who has been duck hunting for 24 years, said he doesn’t go out with a specific goal in mind because he enjoys other aspects of the sport so much.
“I am looking forward to seeing the birds,” he said. “They are beautiful and I really enjoy watching them fly.”
He also said that he likes the opportunity duck hunting gives him to spend with his son and daughter, as well as friends.
“Each time I go out, I am prepared to be happy with whatever I get,” he said. “It’s all about the companionship and having the chance of getting one.”