Positive results from this year’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Duck Breeding Populations survey mean hunters will be able to bag more pintails next year. The Service recommended increasing the daily limit from one bird per day to two in the 2018-’19 season after the pintail population increased ten percent over 2016’s levels.
The news comes after the release of the survey results last month, with pintails up from 2.618 million birds to 2.889 million. The species fell 14 percent—3.043 million to 2.889 million—between 2015 and 2016, however, so regaining some of that lost ground was encouraging.
With that increase comes a little leniency when it comes to game straps, but the 50 percent increase in the daily bag limit is really just a return to normalcy. Hunters could previously harvest two birds per day, but the Service reduced the total when pintail numbers fell off. Whether that was a wise decision or not is debatable—experts believe a lack of small, shallow ponds needed for pintails to breed and feed, not the art of the gun, accounted for their decline in 2016.
“I think it’s entirely unwarranted,” Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist for Delta Waterfowl, said of the one-bird limit in a recent article for the organization’s magazine. “There’s no data to suggest that hunter harvest is having any effect on the size of the pintail population. A two-pintail daily limit has been tolerated in the past, so unless drought causes a major decline, I think that’s a pretty reasonable number.”
The article also noted that the 2016 pintail population surpassed the canvasback estimate of 736,500, but hunters were still able to take two of the latter per day. Two redheads were also allowed per day despite their numbers being more than a million fewer than the pins.
While pintail numbers are better than 2016, they are still 27 percent down from their long-term average. In total, the Service put the number of breeding North American waterfowl at 47.266 million for 2017, a slight dip from 2016’s estimate of 48.4 million but 34 percent above the long-term average.
The USFWS and the Canadian Wildlife Service conducted the survey during the spring of 2017 across Alaska, Canada, and parts of the north-central U.S. The results were unusual because, while the total number of ducks fell by roughly 1 million, the amount of ponds available for breeding increased over the last year—up 22 percent from 5 million to 6.1 million.