Sep. 23—MIDDLE RIVER, Minn. — Hunters at two of northwest Minnesota's most popular waterfowl hunting destinations should encounter favorable access conditions when the state's duck and goose season opens Saturday, Sept. 24.
As for waterfowl numbers, that's kind of a mixed bag.
At Thief Lake Wildlife Management Area in Marshall County near Middle River, lake levels are 3 inches above the target level, thanks to a wet spring that quashed any concerns about lingering effects of last year's drought, said Kyle Arola, manager of Thief Lake WMA. The lake in mid-May crested 4.1 feet above the target level.
For hunters, getting around with an outboard motor will be easier, but abundant submerged vegetation may require occasional stops to clean the prop.
The flooding, coupled with a late spring, hampered local duck and goose production, and refuge staff reported seeing very few ducklings and almost no goslings during brood surveys. During Minnesota's experimental teal season that ended Sept. 7, DNR staff checked 65 hunters who harvested 190 teal, for an average of 2.92 teal per day; 86% of the teal were blue-wings.
Goose numbers remain low, but that will change as more birds begin migrating into the area from Canada.
Habitat and access conditions also are improved at Roseau River Wildlife Management Area in northern Roseau County. According to Randy Prachar, manager of Roseau River WMA, water levels in the WMA's three managed pools are good, and recent rains have raised the Roseau River to the point where it again should be navigable for duck boats.
"You're still going to find a rock or two, maybe, but it is going up now," Prachar said.
Roseau Lake has pockets of "slush water," he says, which is holding geese, sandhill cranes and even a few ducks.
"Crane and goose numbers look good — especially geese," Prachar said.
As with Thief Lake, high water and the late spring hampered Canada goose production, but bird numbers have improved, Prachar says, driven by occasional migrants from Canada.
Breeding duck pair numbers "were nothing to write home about" this past spring, but production was surprisingly good, Prachar says.
Local birds, coupled with some ducks that have trickled down from the north — mainly mallards — should provide hunters with shooting opportunities for opening weekend, Prachar says.
"Through the summer it looked really bleak. We had hardly any production. Duck numbers are good — they're not great, they're good," Prachar said. " We have plenty of teal around yet, wood ducks are plentiful in places and it seems like mallards are around."
Hunters checked during the experimental early teal season did well, Prachar says.
"We're talking three to four teal per hunter per day," Prachar said. "I think that's a good hunt."
Going into the regular waterfowl opener, mallards and geese are scattered across the countryside, taking advantage of the abundant stubble fields left by harvested small grains crops, Prachar says.
"It's hard to get a handle on numbers, but overall it looks pretty good, but when they're so scattered, it's hard to say," he said. "It's good that they're not concentrating in one or two places, because while it's easier to count them, it's tougher to hunt them."
* The duck season across Minnesota starts a half-hour before sunrise Sept. 24. In the north, it runs continuously to Nov. 22. In central and south areas, it closes from Oct. 3-7 and then reopens Oct. 8 to Nov. 27.
* The daily limit is six ducks, of which no more than four can be mallards (two hens maximum.) The daily limit for other species include wood duck, 3; redheads and canvasbacks, 2; black ducks, 2; pintail, 1; scaup, 1 daily through Oct. 13 and 2 daily after; teal, 6; ring-necked ducks, 6; all other species, 6.
* The goose season in northern Minnesota runs Sept. 24 to Dec. 23 with a limit of five daily statewide. In central and southern zones, the season starts Sept. 24, closes Oct. 2-7 and then reopens Oct. 8 to Dec. 28.
* Possession limit is three times the daily limit (but only starting three days after the season begins.)
* In addition to the early September teal season, rule changes that started in 2021 continue this year, including hunting allowed until sunset all season with no 4 p.m. closures and use of spinning wing decoys and remote controls allowed all season. — John Myers, Duluth News Tribune