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Ducks

A female mallard duck splashes in a pond at the Shiloh Conservation Area.

Waterfowl and webless migratory bird regulations are complete for the 2019-20 hunting seasons. The regulations are online at http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/regulations, and hard copies will be available soon at license providers.

Of special interest to some hunters will be the upcoming deadlines for applying for special licenses for sandhill cranes and swans. There are two changes this year. The deadline for crane and swan applications is July 26. For swans, this is a month earlier than in past years. Another change is that no paper applications will be accepted by mail this year. An application will be available on the website for use or to be taken to an FWP office to be entered over-the-counter. Check the regulations for application details.

Sandhill crane, mourning dove and snipe (webless migratory bird) regulations: Mourning dove season dates will be unchanged, Sept. 1 - Oct. 30, with the same bag limits as last year, while snipe season will be Sept. 1 - Dec. 16. For sandhill cranes, the over-the-counter permit season in the Central Flyway will be Sept. 28 – Nov. 24. For crane seasons regulated under special drawing permits, season dates will be Sept. 1 – Oct. 27.

Waterfowl regulations: The hunting seasons for ducks, geese, swans, and coots have been set as well, for both the Pacific Flyway portion of the state (roughly the western half) and the Central Flyway portion (the eastern half). Regulations will be similar to last year, but one important change is that the daily pintail bag will be decreased from two to one.

In the PF a split season for ducks and geese, with dates of Sept. 28 - Jan. 5 and Jan. 11-15, will allow an additional weekend of hunting. PF swan season dates, for those areas open to swan hunting, will be Oct. 5 – Dec. 1.

In the CF, for Zone 2 (Big Horn, Carbon, Custer, Prairie, Rosebud, Treasure, and Yellowstone Counties), duck season dates will be Sept. 28 - Oct. 6 and Oct. 19 – Jan. 14, with goose season dates Sept. 28 – Oct. 6 and Oct. 19 – Jan. 22. Zone 1 (the remainder of the CF) will have a duck season Sept. 28 – Jan. 2 and goose season dates of Sept. 28 - Jan. 5 and Jan. 11-15. The CF tundra swan season will be Sept. 28 – Jan. 2.

Other than the decreased pintail daily bag, duck and goose bag limits in both the PF and CF will be identical to last season. In the CF, a "bonus teal" bag will allow two additional blue-winged teal in the daily bag for the first nine days of the season, Sept. 28 – Oct. 6.

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Special youth waterfowl hunt: Youth 10 to 15 years old may participate in a special statewide two-day early hunt for waterfowl Sept. 21-22. This is a great time to get the kids out, when they're the only ones who can shoot, as well as giving your retriever a tune-up prior to the regular season. Consult the regulations for details.

Waterfowl outlook

Record or near-record duck numbers the last two years meant that a lot of ducks returned to breed this spring. Ducks found excellent water conditions in nearly all of Montana, the best in several years, and there will be a lot of ducks produced in Montana this year.

Another reason the water in Montana is great news for waterfowl hunters is that there will be more areas to hunt, as the water in many places is likely to last into the fall, more so than in most years.

Some major duck production areas in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta have been quite dry this spring and summer, which will decrease duck production in those areas. Canada goose numbers remain high in Montana and surrounding areas.

By about mid-August the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website (http://fws.gov/birds) will have the Waterfowl Status Report (based on the May breeding duck surveys) giving the overall duck estimates and estimates by species. Survey results will also be found on the Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl websites when they are available. These survey results will be used in setting regulations for next year.

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