Last year Minnesota made serious duck hunting regulation changes including an earlier season opener and more liberal bag limits for hen mallards and wood ducks. These changes encouraged more hunters to take to the marsh and also helped put more birds in their bags.

According to the Star Tribune: “Hunters killed an estimated 621,000 ducks, up 97,000, or 18.5 percent, from 2010, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife figures released last week. Hunters averaged 8.1 ducks for the season, up from 7.5 ducks in 2010…

The more liberal regulations also apparently enticed more hunters to duck blinds: Duck hunters increased 10 percent, from 70,000 in 2010 to 77,000 last fall. Hunting a week earlier than usual, waterfowlers shot far more early migrant ducks. They bagged 150,000 wood ducks, 92 percent more than the 78,000 killed in 2010. Also a factor: The wood duck daily bag limit, previously two, was increased to three.”

But are the new regulations a threat to duck numbers or are there plenty of birds out there to spare? Opinions are mixed.

“Even with the liberalized regulations, only one of three adult mallards we shoot are hens. We’re still giving hens a pass,” Todd Arnold, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, told the Star Tribune.

Other veteran duck hunters in the state aren’t so confident.

“It’s concerning to me,” Roger Strand of the Wood Duck Society told the newspaper. “We’ve been urging biologists to continue to be conservative with wood ducks because we can’t accurately count them. We shouldn’t take it for granted that wood ducks will be able to bounce back. We’re going to have to wait and see.”

Photo: Jeff Coats/Avery Outdoors