With the duck factories of North America producing a record high number of waterfowl, Montana's waterfowl hunters have something to look forward to this fall.
The tentative opening date for the general waterfowl season is Oct. 1, with the Youth Waterfowl Season the preceding weekend on Sept. 24-25.
Waterfowl estimates are available for 2011 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recent release of its report on breeding ducks and wetland conditions.
This year, the combined population of 10 primary duck species on the traditional spring survey areas totaled an estimated 45.6 million-a record high for the survey that dates back to 1955. It is an 11 percent increase over 2010 and 35 percent above the 50 year long-term average.
"This year all parts of the 'duck factory' kicked in," said Jim Hansen, the Central Flyway coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Billings. "Just about all of the north central U.S. and Prairie Canada have been wet, but certainly it came with flooding that has been terrible."
Among the ducks important to Montana, mallards, the most sought-after species in the state, were up 9 percent from last year at 9.2 million-22 percent above the long-term average. Gadwall numbers were 9 percent higher than last year and at 80 percent above the long-term average.
Pintails, which have been down in numbers, showed a 26 percent increase and were 10 percent above the long-term average. Redheads reached a record high, 106 percent above the long-term average. Canada goose numbers for Montana hunters are likely to be similar to last year.
Overall pond numbers for Prairie Canada and the north-central U.S. combined were 22 percent higher than last year and 62 percent above the long-term average.
While it's no consolation to those affected by flooding, waterfowl hunters in Montana will find water in areas that have been dry for many years and will have more hunting opportunities.
Hansen cautioned that the loss of wetlands and the loss of nesting cover from Conservation Reserve Program lands coming out of the program, will continue to affect duck populations over the next few years.
Hunting success will also be influenced, as always, by weather and local habitat conditions, but it should be an interesting year to pursue ducks and introduce youngsters and other new hunters to waterfowl hunting.
The framework for federal waterfowl regulations is established in early August. Montana's proposed waterfowl regulations will be presented to the FWP Commission in August, with final regulations adopted via an Aug. 31 conference call.
For online information on the federal duck and wetland report, visit www.flyways.us.
Get the latest waterfowl hunting news, tips and tactics in your inbox!