Conditions are prime for this fall’s duck hunting season in the Adirondacks, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“There’s a lot of natural food out there because of the heat and the amount of sun we had,” said DEC biologist John O’Connor. “Some of the wetlands are a little bit low. When the water draws down, it gives some of those plants a chance to germinate and grow, so the wetlands are prime this year. Full of food and looking good to ducks.”
That’s good news for duck hunters.
In the Adirondacks, the waterfowl hunting season season starts in early October and runs into December, though those dates vary according to the particular species being hunted.
O’Connor also said that surveys for ducks were high in wildlife management areas, many of which are in the Lake Champlain Valley.
In the Adirondacks, because of its cold climate, duck hunting is usually stronger early in the season and comes to an end earlier than places downstate. Once mid-November rolls around, ponds start to freeze and most birds head to warmer climates. Although a few do stick around in some places where open water persists.
Waterfowl harvest numbers aren’t available for the Adirondacks, but statewide statistics provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show there were 206,800 ducks harvested statewide in 2009. Of those, there were 91,290 mallards, 21,805 wood ducks, 17,929 black ducks, 11,629 buffleheads and 11,823 green teals.
Those numbers were down slightly from the previous year when 233,000 ducks were taken statewide, including 114,402 mallards and 21,238 black ducks.
Overall in 2009, the average hunter took home 9.5 ducks over the course of the season, down 1.3 ducks from the previous year. There were 21,700 active duck hunters last year and 21,500 the year before.
Those numbers should bounce back closer to the 2008 statistics if late summer conditions are any indication of how the season will progress.
Here in the Adirondacks, hunters should look for black ducks, whose numbers are higher here than in other parts of the state because they like the northern forests. Black ducks were once the most popular bird through the Atlantic flyway prior to human colonization, O’Connor said, but their population has suffered because they are not tolerant of human disturbance but they can still be found in the Adirondacks.
“The black duck is really focused on the boreal forest right now, so the Adirondacks and up in Canada is where you’ll find most of them in the spring and summer,” O’Connor said. “A lot of them will migrate down the Champlain Valley and they’ll winter in the Long Island Sound.”
Statewide, mallards are the most popular duck with hunters because they are such an abundant bird.
This spring, during a DEC survey statewide, biologists found 95,000 breeding pairs of mallards.
“It’s the most numerous duck in the Atlantic flyway,” O’Connor said. “They are a real generalist species. They’ll take advantage of any habitat. They really thrive on human disturbance. Anywhere there are little villages, settlements and stuff, agriculture, they’ve really been able to spread their range and take advantage of that.”
O’Connor said that among this year’s waterfowl regulation changes is that the pintail limit has increased from one per day to two and the daily snow goose limit has increased from 15 to 25.
But hunters shouldn’t expect to find many snow geese in the Adirondacks.
“Unfortunately, they’re not that easy to get,” O’Connor said. “A lot of them fly right over the Adirondacks but they don’t stop except in the big agricultural fields. Gabriels you’ll see some and then further north all up in Malone, Westville, Constable, that area.”