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Hunter’s Choice Approved for Waterfowl Season
AUSTIN, Texas — The Hunter’s Choice experiment option for the Central Flyway gained approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and gives Texas waterfowlers more latitude during the entire season in exchange for a reduction to the daily bag limit from six to five birds.
Believing a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, along with four other states in the Central Flyway, will have an experimental Hunter’s Choice bag limit starting with the 2006–07 season. As part of the Federal Framework adopted last week, the Hunters Choice experiment option will be in effect for the next few years.
With many duck species having maintained or increased their numbers during the last decade, the Service has granted states in the Central Flyway a liberal package framework for determining hunting regulations. But, there have been caveats.
Concerns for select species of ducks have led the Service to take steps to restrict harvest. Those precautionary measures have resulted in complex and confusing regulations, such as “seasons within the season” on some species important to Texas, like pintails.
TPWD officials say the Hunter’s Choice alleviates the need for seasons within a season, while providing both protection of certain ducks and season length opportunity for hunters. Five states in the Central Flyway will continue to operate under the 39-day season within a season framework for pintails and canvasbacks
The Hunter’s Choice allows hunters to shoot five ducks daily, but only one in the aggregate of certain species. In the aggregate category of less abundant ducks, that one bird could be either a pintail, or a canvasback, or a “dusky duck” (mottled, black duck or Mexican-like duck) or a hen mallard.
“The Central Flyway believes the Hunter’s Choice should reduce overall pintail harvest across the flyway,” said Dave Morrison, TPWD waterfowl program leader. “In Texas, we believe it will reduce harvest on mottled ducks and address some of the concerns the Service has shown in that species. Had we not gotten Hunter’s Choice, we could be looking at other restrictive harvest measures on mottled ducks, but this option gives us time to work with the Service to better understand mottled duck issues.”
Although pintails and canvasback populations rebounded somewhat this year, according to the Service’s preliminary 2006 Waterfowl Breeding Ground Population and Habitat Survey estimates, they remain below long term goals set in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. And, while total duck populations improved 14 percent from last year’s estimate and remain well above the long term averages, this year’s survey also showed drops in scaup and wigeon populations.
The Hunter’s Choice will not affect the early teal season in Texas, set for Sept. 9–24 with a daily bag limit of four.
The general duck season length will be the same as last year; 74 days in the North and South Zones and up to 89 days in the High Plains Mallard Management Unit.
How the season structure will unfold is still being discussed, but TPWD has developed a proposal and is seeking public comments prior to presenting recommendations to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for final approval on Aug. 24.
According to federal guidelines, the general duck hunting seasons in Texas can only occur between Sept. 24 and Jan. 28. In making its recommendations, TPWD takes into consideration calendar shifts to maximize weekend and holiday hunting opportunity, and factors in years of survey data on bird migration and hunter harvest. Following is a rundown of the TPWD recommendations being considered:
South Zone — TPWD proposes the following dates: youth-only season Oct. 28–29, regular season Nov. 4–26 and Dec. 9–Jan. 28. This season format will provide a two-week split giving hunters and ducks a rest, while maximizing opportunity during peak historic migrations. It will also provide hunting opportunities until the end of the framework, something many hunters have requested.
North Zone — TPWD proposes a season structure identical to last year, simply adjusted for the calendar shift. Duck season dates would Nov. 4–26 and Dec. 9–Jan. 28, which would give the birds a two-week rest between splits. This format would create an opportunity for a true second split opening day. The youth-only season would run Oct. 28–29.
High Plains Mallard Management Unit — The HPMMU offers one of the longest duck hunting seasons in the nation. To provide a season that takes advantage of this lengthy opportunity, TPWD is recommending season dates of Oct. 21–22 for the youth-only season and Oct. 28–29 and Nov. 3–Jan. 28 for the regular season.
The proposed daily bag limit for all ducks is five and may include no more than two redheads, two scaup, two wood ducks, and one aggregate duck.
As for geese, TPWD is proposing a season similar to last year.
Eastern Goose Zone — White-fronted geese: Nov. 4–Jan. 14; Canada and Light Goose: Nov. 4–Jan. 28.The daily bag limit is three Canada, two white-fronted and 20 light geese.
Western Goose Zone — Nov. 4–Feb. 6 with a daily bag limit of three Canada, one white-fronted and 20 light geese.
The possession limit is twice the daily bag limit for Canada and white-fronted geese and no possession limit for “light geese.”
The Light Goose Conservation Order would start at the close of the regular goose seasons and run through March 25 in both zones. This allows relaxed regulations to hunt through various atypical means in order to control light goose overpopulation that has caused damage to Canadian habitat.
Public comment about the waterfowl proposals will be accepted through Aug. 18. Comments should be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail to Dave Morrison, TPWD Waterfowl Program Leader, 4200 Smith School Rd., Austin, TX 78744. Input may also be made online via the Public Comment link on the TPWD Web site home page.
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