As a teen, I eagerly looked forward each autumn to Jimmy Robinson’s annual waterfowl forecast in the October issue of Sports Afield magazine.

It was the barometer for how filled with fowl our fall would be. We didn’t know and didn’t care that it was based largely on the continent’s primary breeding grounds in the Prairie Pothole Region and thus had little application to us. We just knew that if Jimmy said so, then it was going to be a successful season.

Jimmy has long since passed to that great duck camp in the sky, and today’s hunters have faster and more direct access to a far greater and more accurate base of information from which waterfowl forecasts are formulated. All indications are this year is going to be a good one, with long seasons, liberal bag limits and lots of shooting opportunities. But before we get into specifics of what we can expect, lets look at how they got there.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) annually sets waterfowl hunting regulations based on harvest data from the previous season, biological and climatological data collected prior to the current season and input from the public. Harvest data comes from state and federal wildlife agencies as well as individual hunters who volunteer to complete a survey and send in wings from the waterfowl they harvest.

From these, biologists can determine species, sex and age of harvested birds, then assess hunting pressure, mortality rates and population status. For example, a high proportion of younger birds means good production, while too many adults could indicate one particular species had poor productivity, and seasons or bag limits might need to be scaled back.

But before that, biologists look at other data sources, including winter and spring aerial surveys, summer brood surveys, and capture and banding efforts as well as seasonal habitat conditions.

Data collected are then analyzed and used by the Flyway Councils, state wildlife agencies and FWS to develop proposals for the forthcoming fall season. After a period of public review and comment, FWS then announces regulatory guidelines, which serve as the framework upon which states build their own specific regulations.

Overall, past harvests and environmental conditions remained favorable and as a result, most duck hunters should enjoy liberal seasons, with Atlantic and Flyway hunters again getting their typical 60 hunting days and a six-duck daily bag.

Despite dipping to 541,000 – an 11 percent decrease from 2016 and 12 percent below its long-term average – the black duck breeding population remained healthy enough to support a two-bird limit again this year. Black ducks are pretty much the foundation of New England waterfowling, yet for years gunners were held to a one-bird daily bag, and in some years were not allowed to shoot any black ducks during the first week of the season.

While it made sense biologically and was necessary to ensure they remained a renewable resource, restrictive limits on the region’s bread-and-butter species did discourage a lot of waterfowlers into switching hip boots for hikers, labs for setters and heading for the high ground.

While black ducks and wood ducks still largely rule the roost in Maine, mallards are the most numerous species of puddle duck just about everywhere else, or at least they were. Thanks to a 7 percent up-tick this year, the mallard limit will remain at four birds, including two hen mallards. But the past 20 years has seen a noticeable long-term decline in these dapper dabblers, so much so that hunters will see next year’s bag limit reduced from four to two.

An interesting side note, mallards haven’t always been so numerous in the northeast. When the species began spreading eastward, biologists thought black duck populations could be vulnerable to eventual swamping through hybridization and introgression.

Favorable water conditions on the breeding grounds should result in numbers of most other species being similar to last year. Even our resident eiders seem to be more abundant this year than I’ve seen in several seasons.

Hopefully they’ll hang around until the mid-November opener because most of the scoters will already have moved through by then, offering great gunning for mid-Atlantic hunters but not for us.

Meanwhile, green-winged teal are up 70 percent over the long-term average but down 16 percent from last year. Blue-winged teal are up almost 60 percent but like the scoters, they’ll be long gone before we get a crack at them.

Last but not least, migratory Canada goose (not to be confused with our local nuisance residents) populations remain low, resulting in the two-bird bag.

Despite that, the overall forecast looks favorable.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, registered Maine guide and certified wildlife biologist who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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