Publish date:

Good for deer, bad for ducks

Light snow and a warm spring left a bounty of game for most gunners, but for the waterfowl hunter the 1961 season may be the worst ever

Though summer has not yet been given a decent burial in most sections of the country, at least a dozen states have ushered in the fall with the opening of their hunting seasons. In Wyoming the first of the year's antelope trophies have already been brought in. Along the coast of California, the deer hunters have been out for more than six weeks. And in Oregon this week the season on grouse and on mountain quail opens for some 15,000 shotgunners.

As other seasons get under way across the country, the prospects for bringing home game this fall are both as good and as bad as they have ever been. According to a national survey, the prospects for big and small game and for upland game birds have rarely been better. But the conclusion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is that 1961 will be the poorest year ever for duck shooters.

The bright side of the 1961 hunting forecast (below) is very bright indeed. This year's deer crop is the largest in history.

The small-game outlook is even more exciting. States across the country report bumper crops of rabbits and squirrels. But the best hunting of all, according to the forecast, is waiting for the nation's 10 million bird hunters. From New England to California, on Midwestern plains and sedge-covered fields, gunners will find more birds and more sport than they have had in many seasons.

"This is the year for the grouse hunter," says Edward L. Kozicky, who directed the land game survey. "Populations are the highest in a decade and major increases are reported in more than 65% of the range." Quail, the nation's most popular upland target, are also on the increase, with anticipated harvests of 12 million birds; and expanding pheasant populations suggest that this season's hunting, certainly for the upland gunner, will rival any in the past.

Offsetting 1961 's optimistic big-and small-game hunting forecasts, however, is the grim outlook for waterfowlers. Goose and brant shooters can expect about the same mediocre sport they had last year. But duck hunters are faced with game populations which are the lowest in 30 years; as a result, both bag limits and lengths of seasons have been reduced (see below).

Canvasback and redhead ducks are completely protected in all flyways, and many hunters, aware of 1961 's duck depression, expected similar protection for all species. "Considering the reduced bag limits," says one Minnesota gunner, "the season might just as well have been closed for all the hunting we'll get."

Strangely enough the elements responsible this year for record production in big game and small game are the very ones which brought about the depleted duck crop.

A good winter

A warm winter with relatively little snow made survival easier for land animals and birds across most of the continent. In the Rocky Mountain states deer and elk herds, which in previous winters have suffered as high as 50% mortality from winterkill, came through with few losses. Food was more plentiful and more accessible than in many seasons, and with minimum starvation there was minimum disease. An early spring resulted in optimum breeding and nesting conditions. With more and healthier game surviving the winter and spring, the annual production of young increased.

But this mild winter, so helpful to land game, was ruinous to waterfowl. In normal years, accumulated snow and ice provide a major source of water in March, April and May, when wintering birds return north to nest. This year the small amount of snow stored on the barely frozen southern Canadian prairies, where 75% of all American waterfowl is bred, was absorbed during the unusually early spring.

A hot and rainless summer compounded the damage and forced some of the breeders farther north. Others stayed behind to try their luck on inadequate water areas, thus overcrowding those broods that managed to hatch. Many birds that stayed did not nest at all.

"The life of most water areas this year," William G. Leitch, chief biologist for Ducks Unlimited, reported in early summer, "is almost a week-to-week affair, dependent upon rainfall. The life expectancy of waterfowl broods is similarly dictated."

By August the situation on the prairies had not improved. D.U. Biologist J. R. Caldwell reported from Saskatchewan: "The real waterfowl production line—those thousands of small ponds—has vanished."

In view of these conditions, many sportsmen agitated for closed seasons, hoping that the absence of gunning would eventually cure the absence of ducks. "Any man who thinks it out will be in favor of closing the season for one, two or even three years," said Winston-Salem duck shooter Tom Coppedge. "But," he added, "closing the season is not all the answer. The real problem is drought and lack of breeding grounds."

In essence, Coppedge and the thousands of duck hunters who shared his view were expressing a fundamental concept of game management—that the gun alone is rarely the determining factor in the survival of wildlife.

All wildlife—including waterfowl—is a crop. Like all crops it needs the luck of weather, but beyond this it must be managed as a crop if it is expected to grow. This means improvement and expansion of nesting and breeding areas, of food supplies, of protective cover and disease controls. It also means controlled harvesting, even in bad years.

"The first real step toward any solution to the duck problem," says Albert Hochbaum, director of Manitoba's Delta Waterfowl Research Station, "is to establish firm waterfowl programs not only on state and federal levels, but privately as well. In the U.S. and Canada most waterfowl is produced on private land. It is essential that this land be preserved if we are to preserve ducks and duck hunting."

This year the best breeding conditions for at least part of the duck population were found in man-made lakes and in public and private waterfowl refuges. Without these projects, inadequate as they proved to be in so widespread a drought, 1961 's duck-hunting outlook would be even bleaker. With more of them the waterfowler conceivably could be enjoying as good a season as any other hunter.

Wherever similar management programs have been established for other game, populations have shown remarkable increase. Antelope have been restored to the West, wild turkeys in the South and West. From only 28 pheasants planted in the country less than 100 years ago, more than 7 million will be taken by hunters this year. Comparable success stories can be cited among virtually every big and small land species the hunter will meet this fall. And with the continued expansion of game-improvement programs, the excellent outlook for land game in 1961 may be only an indication of more and better hunting in the years ahead.

Worst ever for waterfowl

After receiving the recommendations of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the states last week announced the dates for 1961 waterfowl hunting. In all four flyways the year's poor breeding conditions were reflected in shorter seasons, reduced bags and a complete ban on both canvasbacks and redheads. Furthermore, in all but the Pacific Fly way and Alaska the customary half hour of shooting before sunrise was eliminated. In Hawaii there is no season. Alaska will be open Sept. 1 to Dec. 14 with bag and possession limits on ducks 5 and 10, geese 6 and 12, coots 15 and brant 3. Below is a guide to seasons in the other states—but before going hunting check state authorities for any local exceptions.

Daily bag and possession limits—Ducks: Conn., Ga., Me., Md., Mass., N.H., Pa., 2 and 4; elsewhere 3 and 6. American and red-breasted merganser: 5 and 10. Coots: 6. Geese: 2 and 4. Brant: 10. No season on snow geese. One hooded merganser, two black ducks, two wood ducks (one in Mass., Pa.). First dates below are duck, merganser and coot seasons; second dates, goose and brant. Second line indicates split season.

CONNECTICUT: Nov. 11-Dec. 30; Nov. 11-Jan. 8
DELAWARE: Nov. 6-Dec. 15; Nov. 6-Jan. 4
FLORIDA: Nov. 17-Dec. 26; Nov. 4-Dec. 26
GEORGIA: Nov. 11-Dec. 30; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
MAINE: Oct. 13-Oct. 21; Oct. 13-Dec. 11
Nov. 4-Dec. 9
MARYLAND: Nov. 11-Dec. 30; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
MASSACHUSETTS: Oct. 18-Nov. 11; Oct. 18-Nov. 11
Dec. 11-Dec. 30; Dec. 11-Jan. 8
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Oct. 13-Dec. 1; Oct. 13-Dec. 11
NEW JERSEY: NOV. 21-Dec. 30; Oct. 21-Dec. 19
NEW YORK: Oct. 13-Nov. 5; Oct. 13-Dec. 11
Dec. 19-Dec. 30
LONG ISLAND: NOV. 21-Dec. 30; Oct. 21-Dec. 30
NORTH CAROLINA: NOV. 21-Dec. 30; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
PENNSYLVANIA: Oct. 21-Dec. 9; Oct. 11-Dec. 9
RHODE ISLAND: Nov. 21-Dec. 30; Nov. 1-Dec. 30
SOUTH CAROLINA: Nov. 21-Dec. 30; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
VERMONT: Oct. 14-Nov. 22; Oct. 1-Nov. 29
VIRGINIA: NOV. 10-Dec. 19; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
WEST VIRGINIA: Oct. 21-Oct. 31; Oct. 14-Dec. 12
Dec. 6-Dec. 30

Daily bag and possession limits—Ducks: Ala., La., 3 and 6; elsewhere, 2 and 4. American and red-breasted merganser: 5 and 10. Coots: 6. Geese: 5. Only one hooded merganser, one wood duck, two Canada, two white-fronted or one Canada and one white-fronted goose per bag.

ALAPAMA: Dec. 11-Dec. 30; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
ARKANSAS: Nov. 24-Dec. 23; Oct. 25-Dec. 23
ILLINOIS: Oct. 28-Nov. 26; Oct. 7-Oct. 16
Nov. 6-Dec. 19
INDIANA: NOV. 9-Nov. 25; Oct. 20-Dec. 2
Dec. 21-Dec. 30; Dec. 21-Dec. 30
IOWA: Oct. 21-Nov. 19; Oct. 7-Dec. 5
KENTUCKY: Dec. 1-Dec. 30; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
LOUISIANA: NOV. 10-NOV. 29; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
MICHIGAN: Oct. 13-Nov. 11; Oct. 13-Dec. 11
MINNESOTA: Oct.'14-Nov. 12; Oct. 1-Nov. 29
MISSISSIPPI: Dec. 1-Dec. 30; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
MISSOURI: NOV. 3-Dec. 2; Nov. 1-Dec. 30
OHIO: Oct. 20-Nov. 18; Oct. 20-Dec. 18
TENNESSEE: Dec. 1-Dec. 30; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
WISCONSIN: Oct. 14-Nov. 12; Oct. 7-Dec. 5

Daily bag and possession limits—Ducks: Neb., S. Dk., Wyo., 2 and 4; elsewhere, 3 and 6. American and red-breasted merganser: 5 and 10. Coots: 6. Geese: 5. No season on blue and snow geese in Wyoming, and in certain counties in Montana. Only one hooded merganser, one wood duck permitted per bag. No black-bellied tree-duck season in Texas.

COLORADO: Nov. 22-Dec. 21; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
KANSAS: Oct. 28-Nov. 26; Oct. 7-Dec. 5
MONTANA (east): Oct. 13-Nov. 11; Oct. 1-Nov. 29
NEBRASKA: Oct. 28-Dec. 6; Oct. 1-Nov. 29
NEW MEXICO: Oct. 13-Oct. 25; Nov. 10-Jan. 8
Dec. 15-Dec. 28
NORTH DAKOTA: Oct. 14-Nov. 12; Oct. 7-Dec. 5
OKLAHOMA: NOV. 1-NOV. 30; Oct. 14-Dec. 12
SOUTH DAKOTA: Oct. 18-Nov. 26; Oct. 7-Dec. 5
TEXAS: Nov. 18-Dec. 17; Nov. 3-Jan. 1
WYOMING: Oct. 20-Nov. 28; Oct. 20-Dec. 18

Daily bag and possession limits—Ducks: Ariz., Ore., Wash., 4 and 8; western Montana, 5 and 10; elsewhere, 5. American and red-breasted merganser: 5 and 10. Coots: 25. Geese: Washington, 3 and 6; elsewhere, bag and possession, 6. Brant: 3. Only one hooded merganser and one wood duck per bag. No more than one Canada goose in Utah, and certain counties in California, Arizona and Nevada. Brant seasons: Washington, Dec. 3-Jan. 31; California, Oregon, Dec. 2-Jan. 30.

ARIZONA: Oct. 7-Nov. 5; Oct. 25-Jan. 7
Dec. 1-Jan. 7
CALIFORNIA: Oct. 14-Nov. 20; Oct. 14-Nov. 20
Dec. 9-Jan. 7; Dec. 9-Jan. 7
IDAHO: Oct. 14-Dec. 27; Oct. 14-Dec. 27
MONTANA (west): Oct. 22-Dec. 20; Oct. 22-Dec. 20
NEVADA: Oct. 21-Dec. 24; Nov. 11-Jan. 7
OREGON: Oct. 21-Jan. 3; Oct. 21-Jan. 3
UTAH: Oct. 14-Dec. 27; Oct. 14-Dec. 27
WASHINGTON: Oct. 14-Dec. 27; Oct. 14-Dec. 27