Courier Journal (Louisville) – Kentucky’s duck season will open Thanksgiving Day for four days, then close for a couple of weeks before reopening and continuing for 56 days.
The reason for the split season is tradition linked with the seasonal framework outlined and mandated by federal waterfowl officials.
“We have two duck hunting traditions in Kentucky,” said John Brunjes, waterfowl program coordinator for the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We like to hunt Thanksgiving weekend. That’s a tradition hunters really enjoy. And we also like to hunt the last day that federal guidelines will allow us to hunt, which is the last Sunday in January. This season that’s January 31.”
The split season, which this year is Nov. 26-29 and Dec. 7-Jan. 31, allows both Thanksgiving and last-day-of-the-season action.
“We can only hunt ducks for 60 days,” Brunjes said. “We can’t hunt the Thanksgiving weekend then go straight through to the last day allowed. So we hunt the four-day Thanksgiving weekend then start at the last day we’re allow to hunt and count backward for 56 days.”
According to Duck Unlimited, there are nearly 50 million breeding ducks in North America, an estimate based on May and June surveys conducted by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service. The numbers include 11.6 million mallards, an increase of about a half million birds from 2014. Mallards are the most populous duck in North America and the species most hunters target.
This season’s bag limit reflects the strong duck numbers. Kentucky hunters can sack six ducks, not to include more than four mallards (two hens), three wood ducks, two redheads, two pintail, one black duck, three scaup and two canvasback. The daily bag also includes 15 coots and five mergansers (two hooded). The possession limit is triple the daily bag.
Canada geese, white-fronted geese, snow geese and brant season also opens Thanksgiving Day. The season for all goose species runs through Jan. 31. The white-fronted, snow and brant season is open statewide. The Canada goose season will be open everywhere except in the Northeast zone, which will open Dec. 19. The daily goose bag is five birds, to include no more than three Canada geese, two white-fronts and one brant. There is no bag limit on snow geese.
Brunjes doesn’t expect much early season goose action. Migrating goose numbers are practically nonexistent across the state. The Sloughs WMA, for example, was holding about 100 Canada geese and 175 white-fronts along with a handful of snow geese last week. Resident geese are more numerous but are often tricky to decoy.
“Summer (goose) nesting numbers were down considerably,” Brunjes said. “I think they were just nesting really late. We’re going to keep an eye on them.”
A Thanksgiving Day season-opening duck hunt may be a tradition with many hunters but it doesn’t always end with a duck in the bag. Early season ducks are sometimes few and far between. This may be one of those years.
“It’s been so warm we have very few (migrating) ducks at this point,” Brunjes said. “Our bird counts last week reported 12,880 birds at the Sloughs Wildlife Management Area. They had about 90 percent Mallards and 10 percent gadwalls. That’s actually pretty good for this time of the year. Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley have had a few ducks come in. Most of our moist soil units have good vegetation.”
Weather is always the waterfowl season wild card. Cold, wintery conditions across the upper Midwest and northern plains generally mean birds travel south. Mild weather tends to keep birds north of the Ohio River.
“(Weather) is always the unknown,” Brunjes said. “I was talking with a guy from DU Canada in (south-central) Saskatchewan last week. He said they still had tons and tons of a mallards up there.”
Duck season is open statewide in all waterfowl zones. Special regulations apply to some areas. For more information check the Kentucky waterfowl guide or go to www.fw.ky.gov or check out our very own duck hunting tips article.
Indiana’s duck, coot and merganser south waterfowl zone re-opens Saturday, Nov. 28, and runs through Jan. 17. Hunting for Canada geese also opens Nov. 28 in the Hoosier south zone. Goose hunting in the south zone runs through Jan. 31.
For more information, including daily bag and possession limits, go to http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3569.htm.