Duck numbers strong for weekend hunting opener

MARK SANDQUIST Outdoor Reporter

As the duck hunting season approaches, The Collegian’s outdoor reporter, Mark Sandquist, gives his thoughts on the upcoming season.

Hunters should expect to have a good start to the 2016 duck hunting season around Brookings and its surrounding counties. Duck numbers have remained high in the region as timely rains throughout the summer provided excellent brood rearing conditions for the local duck population.

“The main survey was up from last year roughly 20 percent for total duck numbers,” said Rocco Murano, senior waterfowl biologist for South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “Good local duck production was seen during duck banding this summer, especially from mallards.”

For students gearing up the weekend’s opener, expect to see good numbers of mallards, blue-winged teal and wood ducks while afield. Summer rains have left areas east of Highway 25 and south of U.S. Highway 212 full of water as hunting season nears, so look to this part of the prairie pothole region to hold large numbers of ducks.

In preparation for the season, many students have already put in time scouting new locations in search of duck hunting spots. John Mayrose, a junior wildlife and fisheries major and avid hunter, is impressed with duck numbers around the area.

“There are a lot of ducks everywhere,” Mayrose said. “Even on public ground, it shouldn’t be hard to find ducks.”

This is good news for Mayrose along with other college students who rely on public lands for duck hunting opportunities.

The 2016 South Dakota Public Land Atlas, which can be found online or at local licensing retailers, is one tool to begin the search for areas to hunt opening weekend.

Unlike some seasons, weather conditions have been favorable so far for duck hunters in the Brookings area.

Relatively stable temperatures without any harsh cold fronts mean the local population of mallards, teal and wood ducks have remained in the region. The weather has helped hunters who have been on the search scouting for ducks.

Blue-winged teal usually make up a large portion of the ducks harvested early-season in eastern South Dakota. That being said, they are one of the first ducks to head south each fall for their annual winter migration. To the benefit of local hunters, most teal have hung around the area and should offer tremendous opportunities for all.

Brookings and its surrounding region had great brood rearing conditions. Broods, which are young-of-the-year birds, had the perfect environment to survive this year. A dry period occurred during the nesting season, which was critical to keep nests from flooding and hens from losing their eggs. After hatching, the young leave their nests. Rain is welcomed at this time, providing food and habitat for these young ducks. This was the instance this year, which resulted in high duck populations.

The 60-day waterfowl season opens this Saturday, Sept. 24, for the Low Plains – Middle Zone, which encompasses Brookings and a large portion of eastern South Dakota. Typically, local puddle ducks are the first birds to be harvested. As weeks pass into the season, other puddle ducks like gadwall, pintails and green-winged teal show up in numbers. Late fall brings cooler weather and a large push of mallards and diving ducks into the area from the north.

Opening weekend is an exciting kickoff to the duck hunting season. Between good habitat conditions, high bird numbers and favorable weather, there should be great hunting in the region this weekend.

“I see no reason why it shouldn’t be a really good opener,” Murano said.