Waterfowl Hunters
Bagging More Birds
According to numbers published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), today's waterfowl hunters are spending more time in the field and bagging more birds than any other time in modern history. Although the total number of active adult hunters remains relatively low, those who do hunt are setting new standards for North America's waterfowling sport.

The FWS estimates that during the 1999-2000 waterfowl season, hunters in the United States spent an average of nine days in the field and harvested approximately 10 ducks and two geese each. In total, hunters spent 14.3 million days in the field and harvested more than 15 million ducks — down only 7 percent from the previous season's all-time high. The 1999-2000 estimated goose harvest for the U.S. was 3 million birds, also only slightly below last year's all-time high.

"Waterfowl populations have increased steadily since 1993 as a result of favorable weather conditions on their breeding grounds, government-sponsored programs, and habitat restoration and enhancement work by DU and others across North America," says Dr. Steve Adair, Director of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited. "This surge in waterfowl population, coupled with the loss of half of our country's wetlands since 1790 has likely increased recent harvest opportunities by filling remaining wetlands with greater concentrations of birds."

Mallards were the most commonly harvested duck species, accounting for 35% of the total harvest. Green-winged teal accounted for 14% of the harvest, followed by gadwall (11%), wood duck (10%), and blue-winged/cinnamon teal (7%).

Dr. Bruce Batt, chief biologist for DU, says these harvest numbers indicate that hunters are keeping pace with increased duck and goose populations. Last year's fall flight estimate of 105 million birds was the highest number on record, and this year's estimate of 90 million birds is not far below that record.

However, as Batt explains, the waterfowl population and fall flight estimate are not the sole indicators of harvest success. "The weather, even more than the number of birds, will determine hunter success in specific areas," says Batt. "Dry regions simply will not draw and hold waterfowl, and warm weather in the north may discourage birds from flying south for the winter. But if the weather conditions are right, this year's waterfowl harvest should be right up there with recent record numbers."

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