Does duck-hunt­ing sea­son start too early?

Ok­la­homa is al­lowed 74 days of duck hunt­ing. But Ducks are ar­riv­ing in Ok­la­homa later and later each year, of­ten in the first week of De­cem­ber when the hunt­ing sea­son is closed.

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

David Robert­son of Poteau thinks duck sea­son in Ok­la­homa should start later and run un­in­ter­rupted with­out a split.

A bi­ol­o­gist for the Ok­la­homa De­part­ment of Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion whose pri­mary fo­cus was wa­ter­fowl man­age­ment, Robert­son never could get his su­per­vi­sors to agree with him be­fore his re­tire­ment in 2014.

He still hasn’t changed his mind. Ducks are ar­riv­ing in Ok­la­homa later and later each year, Robert­son con­tends, of­ten in the first week of De­cem­ber when the hunt­ing sea­son is closed.

“I don’t like to see us lose (good duck hunt­ing) days,” said Robert­son, who spent the ma­jor­ity of his 41 years work­ing for the Wildlife De­part­ment at the Wis­ter Wildlife Man­age­ment Area.

“Duck hunt­ing is very ex­pen­sive. I don’t feel like we are max­i­miz­ing our days. At Wis­ter, for ex­am­ple, we start get­ting ducks in rea­son­able num­bers right be­fore Thanks­giv­ing. We will have ducks the first of De­cem­ber most of the time.

“We will have ducks a whole lot more the first week of De­cem­ber dur­ing the split than we will the first two or three weeks of Novem­ber.” Ok­la­homa is al­lowed 74 days of duck hunt­ing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice, and the Wildlife De­part­ment chooses when those will be.

Ok­la­homa has dif­fer­ent sea­son dates for dif­fer­ent parts of the state: In the Pan­han­dle; duck hunt­ing zone one (north­west and north-cen­tral Ok­la­homa); and duck hunt­ing zone two (eastern and south­ern Ok­la­homa), which is the largest zone in the state.

For more than 20 years, the Wildlife De­part­ment has opted to open the duck sea­son in early Novem­ber in duck hunt­ing zone two, then close it for nearly two weeks be­fore re­open­ing it in De­cem­ber.

This year, duck sea­son opens in zone one on Oct. 28 and in zone two on Nov. 4. The sea­sons run un­in­ter­rupted in both zones through Nov. 26 be­fore clos­ing and re­open­ing Dec. 9.

Robert­son is not the only Ok­la­homa duck hunter who ques­tions such an early start to the wa­ter­fowl sea­son when the weather of­ten is still warm and few ducks have mi­grated this far south.

“The first two weeks to three weeks (of the duck sea­son) are just a waste,” said Jeff Puck­ett, an avid duck hunter from Norman. “There are no ducks here. It’s hot. There are hardly any geese here un­til Thanks­giv­ing. I would rather have no split and start it later.”

Josh Richard­son, mi­gra­tory bird bi­ol­o­gist for the Ok­la­homa De­part­ment of Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion, said while it does seem like most mal­lards are ar­riv­ing in Ok­la­homa later each year, there is no un­bi­ased doc­u­mented proof of it.

“There has not been what I con­sider a good sci­en­tific study to say or demon­strate that,” he said.

Richard­son con­cedes that mal­lards are king when it comes to Ok­la­homa duck hunt­ing. But even so, there are Ok­la­homans who en­joy wa­ter­fowl hunt­ing in Novem­ber and get­ting the chance to shoot ducks other than green­heads.

Gad­walls, shov­el­ers, pin­tails and red­heads are ducks that mi­grate south based more on the time of year than on weather, he said.

“They are bas­ing (mi­gra­tion) more off of day­light length which co­in­cides more with the cal­en­dar,” Richard­son said. “Th­ese cal­en­dar birds gen­er­ally come through the last week of Oc­to­ber.

“There are a lot of duck

hunters out there who are re­ally not any fla­vor of duck hunter. They just want to get out there and shoot some ducks. That late Oc­to­ber early Novem­ber time pe­riod is a good chance for them to get out and be able to start shoot­ing some birds. We want to make sure to have the sea­son open early enough to catch those birds.”

Also, the Wildlife De­part­ment likes hav­ing a split sea­son to have a sec­ond open­ing day.

“By hav­ing a split, you ba­si­cally get two open­ing day ex­pe­ri­ences,” Richard­son said. “It gets peo­ple ex­cited.”

Hav­ing a break dur­ing the hunt­ing sea­son also gives the birds a respite and al­lows them to feed and re­fuel, he said.

Richard­son said ducks do ar­rive in south­east Ok­la­homa later than any­where else in the state. The Wildlife De­part­ment would start the duck sea­son later

in south­ern Ok­la­homa “if we could put to­gether three or four or five dif­fer­ent (hunt­ing) zones and try to make a per­fect match for ev­ery­body.” But the agency is try­ing to keep the duck hunt­ing reg­u­la­tions as sim­ple as pos­si­ble, and adding an­other duck hunt­ing zone would “just dou­ble your com­plaints again,” he said. “We just try to walk a tightrope in the mid­dle and mit­i­gate the com­plaints as we go along.”

Robert­son, how­ever, thinks there is a trend in mi­gra­tion pat­terns that war­rants the agency to re-ex­am­ine its wa­ter­fowl sea­sons. Other wildlife bi­ol­o­gists in the Cen­tral Fly­way have no­ticed it as well, he said.

Start­ing the wa­ter­fowl sea­son later in Ok­la­homa would give hunters more op­por­tu­nity for suc­cess, he said.

“There are just too many sig­nals that things are chang­ing,” he said.


Ok­la­homa’s wa­ter­fowl hunt­ing sea­son is near­ing with the first youth only wa­ter­fowl hunt­ing day sched­uled for Sept. 30.

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