MINNEAPOLIS — Say what you will about Minnesota waterfowl managers, they're not shy about revealing their belief that the primary reason ducks exist in Minnesota is to get shot.
As evidence, consider that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Waterfowl Committee proposed this week that a five-day Minnesota teal-hunting season be held this fall, beginning Sept. 4, the same day early goose hunting starts.
The DNR also proposes to allow over-water goose hunting statewide during the September honker season.
Following all of this, on Sept. 12-13, the DNR will again sponsor its Youth Waterfowl Weekend.
But don't worry. The reports of so many shotguns won't scatter mallards, teal, wood ducks and other waterfowl before the regular duck season opens Sept. 25.
Or so says DNR waterfowl specialist Steve Cordts, one of 12 members of the DNR Waterfowl Committee.
"I don't think these changes [a teal season, more over-water goose hunting, a two-day youth hunt rather than the original one day] will have a major impact on the regular duck opener," Cordts said, adding, "My guess is a lot of teal that hunters will shoot won't be our resident teal anyway but migratory teal."
Asked to explain how Minnesota hunters will primarily shoot "North Dakota and Canadian" teal, as Cordts described them, between Sept. 4-8, and not Minnesota teal, he conceded, "We don't actually know what proportion of migrant teal will be shot vs. local teal."
Cordts led an online event Thursday evening explaining the DNR's proposed waterfowl hunting changes. He said most duck hunters support the ideas, though he acknowledged that responses to recent DNR duck-hunter surveys haven't been fully tabulated.
In a phone interview earlier this week, Cordts also said, "I don't buy the argument that if we had more ducks we'd have more duck hunters. Whether people go hunting or not has nothing to do with duck abundance."
Why, then, did Minnesota put 140,000 duck hunters in the field in the 1970s when ducks here were relatively plentiful and now is lucky to suit up 80,000 as participation hovers at all-time lows?
"They're busy with other things," Cordts said.
The DNR is also proposing this fall to end the 4 p.m. closure in the early part of the duck season, a restriction whose intent since the 1970s has been to hold birds in the state longer by providing them resting time.
In recent years, the DNR has made multiple duck-hunting regulation changes with a goal of increasing the duck harvest and/or hunter participation and satisfaction. Yet every year, a few thousand more Minnesotans quit duck hunting â€” or at least stop duck hunting in Minnesota.
Dave Rave thinks he knows why.
"There are no ducks," Rave said. "Or not many ducks."
Similar comments have been made for years by many Minnesota waterfowlers. But Rave's opinion perhaps carries more weight: Recently retired after nearly 30 years with the DNR, he served more than 24 years with the agency's waterfowl research group in Bemidji and later was the Bemidji area wildlife supervisor. He was a longtime member of the DNR Waterfowl Committee.
He has an undergraduate waterfowl-management degree from Michigan State University and a master's degree from Auburn University.
"The DNR's strategy, and it's been this way for some years, is to offer every hunting opportunity that the Fish and Wildlife Service allows," Rave said. "In my opinion, this isn't good for our local ducks. I'm very concerned about wood ducks, for example, since the DNR went to a three-bird limit from two. And teal? I think their numbers are pretty low."
In Rave's opinion, habitat development should be stressed by the DNR, not regulation changes. He also thinks the regular duck opener should be moved back to the Saturday nearest Oct. 1, where it was for years. He also wouldn't expand over-water September goose hunting; he'd nix the proposed September teal season; and he'd find a different time or way to introduce kids to waterfowling.
"Disturbance that those opportunities provide has a lot to do with birds moving around and leaving the state," he said. "After all that shooting, are there really going to be many ducks around two weeks later when the regular season opens?"
The duck shortage isn't limited to Minnesota, Rave said.
"I've been hunting in North Dakota since 1993," he said. "Lately when I go over there, I drive and drive and drive and I might find only a few ducks. It's frustrating and disappointing. Do you really believe, as the Fish and Wildlife Service says, there are many more ducks there now than in the '50s and '60s?"
Rave thinks Cordts is a nice guy. But he fundamentally differs with Cordts on the effect hunting can have on ducks in certain circumstances. He also disagrees with Cordts about why Minnesota has lost so many duck hunters.
"In Bemidji we sit all winter and watch $20,000 to $30,000 ice-fishing wheel houses go by, headed to Red Lake," he said. "Red Lake is a six-hour drive from the Twin Cities. It's not easy to get to and it's expensive. But tens of thousands of anglers go there every winter because they have a reasonable expectation they'll catch fish.
"The same is true for ducks. If people had a reasonable expectation of seeing ducks and shooting ducks, they'd buy hunting licenses and go hunting."
The DNR will take comments on the teal season and other proposals online through April 11 at tinyurl.com/49c5ykmf.
DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen is expected to finalize decisions on the proposals in early May.