As duck numbers fall, hunters dwindle, too

Last fall’s Minnesota duck season not only was dismal, but an increasing number of waterfowl hunters simply stashed their decoys and waders and quit, continuing a decades-long trend.

And officials aren’t sure how to stop it.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service duck harvest estimates for 2009 paint a gloomy picture for Minnesota’s duck hunters. Among the lowlights:

• Hunters harvested only 392,300 ducks, nearly 33 percent fewer than the 584,000 killed in 2008, and the sixth-lowest harvest since 1961.

• Harvest of mallards, the state’s No. 1 duck, fell a dramatic 46 percent, from 188,974 in 2008 to 101,280 last year. That’s the lowest since the severe drought of 1988, when 81,000 mallards were killed. And it was the second-lowest mallard kill in 48 years.

• The seasonal duck harvest per hunter fell 21 percent to 6.4 birds, down from 8.1 birds in 2008.

• But perhaps the most disturbing figure: The number of active duck hunters — 61,100 — fell by 15 percent from 2008, to about half the 120,000 active duck hunters tallied 10 years ago.

"We knew we weren’t having a very good season last year, and this confirms that,’ said Dave Schad, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fish and wildlife section chief. "But the really alarming thing is the drop in hunter numbers.’

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