SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – With fall just around the corner, the start of waterfowl hunting season has arrived.
Before you head out for hunting season this fall, it’s important to stay updated on new changes this year.
Due to the unprecedented drought facing Utah this year, the population of ducks, geese, and swans was affected, with lower numbers reported this year, according to officials.
With the exception of swans, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says all waterfowl hunts are open to anyone with a Utah hunting license. Make sure to grab a Harvest Information Program (HIP) number to hunt any waterfowl in Utah, and a federal duck stamp if you are over the age of 15. You can register for a HIP number on DWR’s website and duck stamps are available at your local post office or from a licensed agent.
For ducks, geese, and swans, make sure to take note of the following condition changes this year.
For ducks, current data shows that populations have dropped this year due to drought, which negatively impacted the natural breeding cycle. For this reason, the pintail limit is one this year.
“Many of the core breeding areas for most duck species were dry this summer due to drought conditions,” says Blair Stringham, DWR Migratory Game Bird Program Coordinator. “The low spring runoff this year left many of Utah’s wetlands dry, as well. That means there are fewer nesting ducks and fewer birds in the overall population to migrate south this fall. Utah hunters will likely see fewer ducks this hunting season.”
With dwindling populations, knowing each bird’s habitat and their natural routines will make it easier to spot targets on your next outing. The general season duck hunt runs from October 2 to January 15 in Utah’s northern zone and October 16 to January 29 in the southern zone.
“Hunters can greatly improve their success during the duck hunt by spending some time scouting before each hunt,” says Stringham. “Learning where and when birds are in a specific location can allow hunters to be where the birds want to be, when they want to be there, and will greatly increase the number of birds they harvest.”
The DWR says diving ducks such as canvasbacks and redheads enjoy large, open bodies of water. Puddle ducks such as teal and shovelers are typically found in shallow water. Popular species such as mallard ducks can be found just about anywhere.
“Think about the species you are hunting and then look for them in the habitats they want to be in,” says Stringham. “If you aren’t finding the species you are targeting, move around to different areas until you find them.”
For those looking to find geese, the DWR recommends nailing a good geese call.
“Calling is a very important part of goose hunting,” says Stringham. “Geese are very social birds, so being able to sound like a goose can help hunters harvest more birds.”
Officials suggest getting creative and experimenting with other sounds such as wigeon or pintail whistles to increase success. Bringing along your dog to retrieve downed birds could also expose fowls that prefer hiding in thick cover.
Thousands of swans migrate every year through Utah on their way to California. The DWR says hunters should be aware of swans’ feeding routines throughout the day to determine the optimal hunting times.
“Swans migrate and stop over at the same locations each year,” says Stringham. “Traditional hunting areas such as the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge will hold swans beginning the first part of November until the marshes freeze up. Hunting along a swan’s flight path or in their feeding locations will increase your odds of harvesting a swan.”
DWR officials are warning hunters to take extra note of the swan they’re targeting before proceeding. The swan hunting season was cut short for the past two years because the federal quota for trumpeter swans was reached. Currently, trumpeter swans have a federal quota of 20 this year.
To easily identify trumpeters, officials say they are much larger than tundra swans and lack any yellow color area around their eyes. They also make a distinctive trumpet-like sound. The general swan season runs from October 2 to December 12
Due to extreme drought conditions and low water levels, officials say access to Waterfowl Management Areas (WMA) will be difficult in some areas.
The Willard Spur WMA is currently mostly dry, but should slowly fill up throughout the fall.
The Clear Lake WMA is also seeing drought and won’t fill up until much later in the hunting season.
“With some common waterfowl hunting areas having really low water or being totally dry this year, the WMAs will likely be crowded since more people will be concentrated in the areas that do have enough water,” says Stringham. “Please be courteous and respectful of others hunting in the same areas as you.”