Signs point to strong opener

MARSHALL – Early season. Warm, but not hot, temperatures. Clear skies.

Sounds like the perfect recipe for a successful waterfowl opener.

The 2013 Minnesota duck opener officially begins one-half hour before sunrise Saturday and will run through Oct. 4. It’s the second straight year the opener has been moved to the Saturday nearest Sept. 24, a major change from the nearest – Oct. 1 opener that was in effect from 2005-11.

That, combined with new duck hunting zones and a significant increase in overall duck breeding numbers compared to last year, helped to increase duck harvest in 2012 and should result in a strong opener Saturday, despite low lake levels in most areas.

“I think the ducks did OK as far as reproduction (this year),” said DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor Wendy Krueger. “They were probably on the late side, too, like everything else. Everything seemed to get a late start this year.”

With an early opener this year, weather could play a factor in how things shape up this weekend. Saturday’s high is forecasted to be in the mid-70s. But Krueger said it would take more than that to keep hunters out of the field on the opener.

“You’re gonna get that opening-day rush regardless of the weather,” she said. “It’s the biggest weekend for harvest; I don’t think that will change. If it’s hot, T-shirt weather, people may quit earlier; there might not be as much effort. But if it’s a nice ‘ducky day,’ people will spend all day out there.”

Krueger said on hot days, birds may opt to sit on big water.

“There’s usually not as much action if it’s a hot, sunny day, but there will still be that initial flurry around sunrise,” she said.

Nicole Schiller, DNR shallow lake specialist, said the drought conditions experienced this summer have lowered water levels in smaller lakes in the region but not to the point where it would affect hunting opportunities.

“I wouldn’t say the shallow lakes are really low, but they are lower than in the past,” said Schiller. “There are some area lakes with mud flats still around them. I don’t think there are any full pools, which is good for shallow lakes. Coming off the drought, maybe some of them had a chance to rejuvenate.”

Schiller said water levels don’t necessarily affect how many birds will be seen on any give lake on a particular day, but they do affect what is happening beneath the surface. Lower water levels help plants to germinate and typically provide more food for migrating ducks.

“It’s possible hunters might see more on those lakes, but all the lakes could have a completely different story,” Schiller said.

She said hunters hoping to get out on a boat could run into some trouble with low water levels that result in open mudflats.

Ryan Doorenbos, area supervisor at the Windom Area Fisheries Office, said the region’s larger lakes are down considerably from recent years.

“We’re probably a foot lower than what is normal for this time of year,” he said. “Then again, that can turn on a dime if we get six inches of rain this fall. It’s basically exactly what happened last year. This year we got rain in May and June, and the previous year it was all in May, and then it just shuts off. Then all you have occurring is evaporation.”