Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Empty Skies

As legal shooting time crept in on opening morning of the 2010 Minnesota waterfowl season my anticipation grew. Not because I was so excited about how great it was going to be, instead, I was curious about just how bad it was going to be. Preparing myself for another poor, at best, duck opener never seems to do the trick. Even when I know it will be slow the disappointment never lessens. If I were asked to describe Minnesota's recent waterfowl seasons in one sentence it would go something like this. Cold shotgun barrels, bored dogs, and empty skies.

You can blame the weather all you want, but if there's ducks around on opener they are in the sky no matter what the conditions. The weather conditions usually play the role of how high the ducks are, not if they are around or not. I have grown up in a waterfowl based family. My grandfather, Dr. Paul John Komarek, has done more for waterfowl in Minnesota than any one man I had ever heard of doing. He has created over 120 Minnesota wetlands and has recieved conservation awards as well. Ducks are his thing. We have an 80 acre tract in our family that was designed and is managed for waterfowl. This is were it all started for me and has been a complete duck factory. It breaks my heart to say this, but that seems to be in the past.

Mainly wood ducks, some teal, and the occassional mallard were the ducks we harvested this opener. If you got your 2 woodies, you were pretty much done. I remember better times. At one point or another we all have heard someone say to us the old line of ," This is nothing, you should have seen it when I was young." In my short life of 31 years I to can say that already. Hundreds of ducks and geese singing the best songs you have ever heard on our family farm seems to have become just a memory. Numbers were high and limit numbers were low. Three ducks was all you could shoot then and you really took your time waiting for those nice vibrant drakes to set in.

Like my Grandfather says, when you went into town for lunch all the hunters would say it was a great morning and they took their 3 ducks. Now when you go into town for lunch everyone is complaining of how bad of a morning it was because they only got 3 ducks. It really makes me think of what some have become as outdoorsman and the people who make the rules and regs for them. Having a 6 duck limit is the most ridiculous thing I have ever encountered. Why and what would a hunter need 6 ducks a day for? Last year was tied for the worst opener I have ever experienced along with most other hunters that hit the marshes. In the last issue of the Ducks Unlimited magazine it stated in the 2010 forecast that just about all puddle duck species were down from last year. And still the 6 duck limit remains. Why? Some species, like the pintail, even had their limit increased. Again, why? A slight rise in numbers is no reason to push those numbers right back down. The ducks need recovery time.

I have been educated in what it really takes to have good nesting qualities for waterfowl, but nothing is as important as habitat. My observations have been drying wetlands, tile being used everywhere, CRP turning into fields, and so on. Our habitat is vanishing along with our waterfowl numbers. What good is a leather couch if you don't have a home to put it in? The bottom line is, if you don't have the habitat you don't have the ducks. Do to the quality of nesting grounds, or lack there of, the flyways shift little by little away from Minnesota. It sounds rather strange to me that the land of 10,000 lakes has a lack of ducks.

If the people making these regulations, who obviously have little respect for waterfowl, continue on this trend we will be left with nothing. If generating revenue for the state is the main concern then perhaps some of these people should slide over and let some true outdoorsman in. Sacrifice is needed and no one is willing. When duck numbers were high limits were low, and now duck numbers are low and limits are high. You don't have to be a bio chemist to figure that one out. I'm not saying that it's the cause, but it's sure a good start. The numbers of duck hunters has dropped dramatically in the past decade as well. These generous regulations don't encourage the hunters to stay, it pushes them away. They are out in the mud and see what it's like out there. Spending hard earned dollars to stare at empty skies is not on their agenda and does not encourage nonresidents to join in.

We need to focus on the reality and the true problem. We need to bring the ducks back. After that, everything else will follow along with hunter numbers and higher revenue. We need regulations that are strict and more beneficial habitat programs to make for a good start. Habitat is everything. If you build it they will come. Trees may be a renewable resource, but the land they grow on is not. Once it's all gone, it's gone. We have done our share of taking and it's time to do a little giving back. Let's make Minnesota, Minnesota again.

Special thanks to my Grandfather, Dr. Paul John Komarek, for caring enough to ensure that I have a mash to stand in with my dog and stare at the sky and for giving back to waterfowl for what they have given to us.