Duck numbers lower as seasons approach


Duck hunting is not as popular in the Shenandoah Valley as it is in the eastern and southern parts of Virginia. But for those in the know, good wing-shooting is available locally for a variety of waterfowl species.

The best sport is found by jump shooting, setting out decoys on small ponds and lakes, or float hunting the Shenandoah River. Alternately, sneaking along the edge of smaller creeks is very productive. The landowner’s permission, of course, is required for that type of sport.

Whichever method you choose, now is the time to start planning for upcoming seasons this fall. The first segment is a special early teal hunt, which takes place Sept. 21-30 for our areas west of Interstate 95. The major duck seasons then begin with the Oct. 5-8 segment. Hunting then resumes Nov. 21-Dec. 2. The final segment runs Dec. 15 through Jan. 27. The total bag limit is six per day, with restrictions on how many of each species may be bagged.

According to surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, duck numbers should be slightly lower than last year, but still well above the long-term average for most species.

The Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey is conducted in May and June each year. Results are then detailed in the Waterfowl Populations Status Report, which is drawn from both ground and aerial surveys that cover over 2.1 million square miles of duck breeding areas in the northern part of the U.S. and Canada. The Canadian Wildlife Service also participates in the surveying.

Based on those insights, the population of ducks fell from 47.27 million in 2017 to 41.19 million in 2018. This is a 13 percent decrease from the previous year. It is also the lowest population recorded since 2010.

The decrease in duck numbers was expected because of dry conditions in prime duck breeding areas early this year. That resulted in a lower number of pond counts in locations such as North and South Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba, where most North American ducks breed.

The overall picture is brighter, however. Compared to the long-term trends, most duck species are still over 15 percent above their averages. That’s an indication of how well ducks have been doing in recent years, with the exception of 2018.

Mallards, perhaps the most popular species among Shenandoah Valley hunters, declined 12 percent in the past year, to 9.26 million. This is still 17 percent above the long-term average, however.

Blue-winged teal numbered 6.45 million, down 18 percent from 2017, but still 27 percent above the long-term average.

Gadwall numbered 2.9 million. This is 43 percent above the long-term average, but down 31 percent from the remarkable figures for 2017.

American Wigeon were up from last year, by 2 percent. They were also up 8 percent above the long-term average.

Green-Winged Teal numbered 3.04 million in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service survey, down 16 percent from last year, but 42 percent above the longer average.

Pintails were a disappointment. They numbered just 2.37 million, down 18 percent and also down 40 percent below the long-term average.

Shovelers numbered 4.21 million, down 3 percent, but an amazing 62 percent above the long-term average.

Redheads numbered 1 million. This figure is down 10 percent from 2017, but 38 percent above the long-term average.

Scaup numbered just shy of 4 million, down 9 percent, and also 20 percent below the long-term average. Canvasbacks numbered 690,000, down 6 percent, but 16 percent above the long-term average for this big duck.

All told, the outlook is that birds will be a bit scarcer on the ponds and rivers this fall, but still strong compared to long-term population trends.

And speaking of ducks, Fox Chapel Publishing has just published a new revised edition of the Decorative Decoy Carver’s Ultimate Painting & Pattern Portfolio by Bruce Burk. If you’re into decoy carving and painting, you’ll want to check out this great new offering. Go to foxchapelpublishing.com for more details.