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Opening Day for Duck Season is Nov. 22

A waterfowler wades out to pass shoot wood ducks at dawn. Photo by Jeff Dennis

A waterfowler wades out to pass shoot wood ducks at dawn. Photo by Jeff Dennis

Does the thought of early rising for waterfowl season make for a better state of mind? You bet. The sunrise scenery around the waterfowling areas of the Lowcountry are hard to beat. Cold fingers look to be in the forecast for opening day, but duck hunters wouldn’t have it any other way. With record duck populations this year and cold winter air already affecting the northern states, this could be a memorable season for Colleton County’s waterfowlers.

Of course not everyone is willing to forego extra hours of sleep time and head out into the cold in hopes of merely glimpsing some ducks. One local recently told me that the best part about duck hunting season is the annual Ducks Unlimited waterfowl banquet, and not the hunting at all. Well everyone has an opinion about duck season, but duck hunters just always seem to be avid about their time spent in the outdoors.

According to the 2014 Waterfowl Breeding Survey duck numbers surged upward to the tune of an 8-percent increase over the past year. This continues a three-year trend where ample rainfall at the breeding grounds have played a positive role for population increases. This is the 60th year of the survey that is a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Paul Schmidt is the Chief Conservation Officer for Ducks Unlimited and he was in the Lowcountry on November 2 for the 25th anniversary of Ducks Unlimited. “We are encouraged by the population trends of several duck species, especially American wigeon, which have come back strong during the past two years,” said Schmidt. “Particularly encouraging is the entire suite of birds that are showing good signs due to available wetlands and the upland habitat to rear their young.”

Just since 2013 the American wigeon population has increased 18-percent, which is encouraging to Lowcountry hunters since this species of duck prefers to frequent the ACE Basin. Green-winged teal are up 13-percent and this is one of the species that hunters are most likely to encounter both in the early duck season and later in January. Gadwall are up 14-percent, Mallards are up 5-percent and Redheads are up 6-percent, while the Northern pintail and Canvasback still show declines.

Duck season runs from Nov. 22 through Nov. 29 and legal shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise until sunset each day. The daily bag limit for ducks is six birds per hunter including no more than four mallards (only two of which can be hens), two pintails, one fulvous whistling duck, one black-bellied whistling duck, three wood ducks, two redheads, one canvasback, two scaup and one black or one mottled duck. The daily limit on mergansers is five with only one hooded merganser allowed, and the daily limit on Canada geese is five.

Local scouting reports have come back in as mixed. Larger landholders have attracted good numbers of ducks, while lake and pond scouting reveals numbers are still thin. One hindering factor may be a lack of surface water and the S.C. drought committee will conduct a conference call on Nov. 20 to discuss drought conditions. That being said, hunters should focus on scouting around water holes that don’t go dry, because waterfowl tend to remember such places in dry times.

Hunters must possess a valid hunting license, a federal duck stamp, S.C. waterfowl permit and a HIP migratory bird survey permit. Shotguns must be plugged so they only hold three shells, and non-toxic shot such as steel must be used. There are plenty of regulations on duck hunting and some would argue that it hinders new sportsmen from entering the waterfowling arena, but the recent Duck Dynasty effect seems to be countering that trend by inspiring lots of first time duck hunters.

Whether new to duck hunting or an old veteran, don’t worry if the eight-day Thanksgiving season passes you by without an opportunity to hunt. The second part of duck season opens just one week later on December 6 and runs through January 25. There should be ample opportunities for everyone to hunt in a variety of weather conditions including cold, warm, rain and fog in order to match wits with the ducks.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

 

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (385 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com