AUSTIN, Texas — Patience and sharp bird identification skills are important traits shared by most waterfowl hunters. They will need both during the upcoming hunting seasons.

Among the changes to the 2005-06 waterfowl hunting regulations adopted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission include a reduced scaup limit, an aggregate “dusky duck” bag limit and a 39-day season within the season for pintails and canvasbacks.

The good news is that pond counts are up 37 percent from last year in the surveyed areas of the northern U.S. and Canada and despite dry conditions during the spring, precipitation across much of Canada’s waterfowl breeding grounds from late May through the end of June should boost production for late nesting species important to Texas, like gadwall and blue-winged teal, according to wildlife biologists. They say it should also help with re-nesting success as well as increased brood survival.

“How all this will relate to hunting in Texas depends on local conditions when these birds arrive,” says Dave Morrison, waterfowl program leader with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “Weather conditions to the north, localized hunting pressure and a variety of other factors will play a part. I am cautiously optimistic that we will have a fairly decent season in some parts of Texas.”

This year’s season will run concurrently in both the North and South Zones, with a 12-day resting period between splits. The opening split will run Nov. 5-Nov. 27 and the second split is set for Dec. 10-Jan. 29. The youth only special weekend season is Oct. 29-30.

The season for the High Plains Mallard Management Unit in the Panhandle will run Oct. 22-23 and reopen Oct. 28-Jan. 29. Youth only special weekend season is Oct. 15-16.

Morrison notes that despite a 17 percent increase in breeding pairs observed this year, pintails remain 50 percent below the long-term average set in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Because canvasbacks also lost ground to the long-term average this year, harvest of both species will be limited to a 39-day season and one each daily bag limit. The season within the season will run Dec. 22-Jan. 29 statewide.

Ongoing concerns about the population trends of some ducks, like pintail and canvasback, by officials at the national level, and the continuation of seasons within seasons is the impetus for an innovative alternative by Central Flyway states called the Hunter’s Choice. The goal is a more hunter friendly aggregate bag limit that would alleviate those concerns and eliminate the season within the season.

The Hunter’s Choice option advocated by the Central Flyway would continue to provide opportunity for abundant species, while at the same time give protection to species of concern through an aggregate bag.

“With the season within the season for pintails and canvasbacks this year we are trying to position ourselves to go to the Hunter’s Choice bag limit next year,” says Morrison. “To do that, we need to have three years of harvest data with the season within the season framework and this will be our third year.”

With a scientific baseline for comparison in hand, Texas will be looking for permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a Hunter’s Choice next year that would allow hunters the flexibility of harvesting one bird daily during the entire regular season from a list that could include pintails, canvasbacks, dusky ducks and mallard hens. If duck populations improve next year and more liberal bag limits are offered, Texas would not include pintails in the Hunter’s Choice, assures Morrison.

TPWD has begun addressing the Service’s concerns about mottled duck harvest by implementing a one “dusky duck” aggregate daily bag limit. A dusky duck is defined as a mottled duck, black duck or a Mexican-like duck. “We hope this action will alleviate any identification problems in the field and aid in law enforcement activities for waterfowl,” says Morrison.

In addition, Morrison reports scaup levels are at the lowest on record. As a result, the Service has taken steps to reduce harvest by dropping the bag limit from 3 to 2 daily.

The rest of the daily bag limit on ducks remains virtually unchanged from last year and stands at 6 birds in the aggregate and can contain no more than 5 mallards (only 2 of which may be hens), 2 wood ducks, and 2 redheads. The limit for mergansers is 5 per day, no more than one hooded merganser and 15 daily for coots.

Another change this year comes in response to concerns about white-fronted goose numbers. Although white front population surveys indicated a slight increase this year and were at the threshold for allowing full season hunting, the Central Flyway made a proactive decision to reduce the season by two weeks because of long term trends indicating a population decline.

“We had the option of going 86 days with a one bird daily bag or 72 days and two bird bag. We chose two birds,” says Morrison.

The goose season in the Eastern Zone for light geese and Canada geese is set for Nov. 5-Jan. 29, and white-fronted geese from Nov. 5-Jan. 15. Daily bag limit is 3 Canadas, 2 white fronts and 20 light geese in the aggregate.

The Western Zone goose season will run Nov. 5-Feb. 7 for all geese with a 20 bird daily bag limit on light geese, and four bird bag limit on dark geese, of which 3 may be Canadas and 1 white front in the aggregate.

The light goose conservation order will occur in the Eastern Zone from Jan. 30-Mar. 26 and in the Western Zone from Feb. 8-Mar. 26.

The commission also adopted a change in the sandhill crane season, which will be delayed one week in Zone C, running Dec. 24-Jan. 29 with a 2 bird daily bag limit. The season in Zone A is set for Nov. 5-Feb. 5 with a 3 bird daily bag and in Zone B the season will occur Nov. 26-Feb. 5 with a 3 bird daily limit.

– Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide