State Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe recently announced that the agency has made its selections for the 2012-13 migratory game bird hunting seasons and bag limits.
Annual waterfowl seasons are selected by states from a framework established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Game Commission selections were made after reviewing last year's season results, waterfowl survey data, and input gathered from waterfowl hunters and the public. Final approval from the USFWS is expected by late September.
Roe said the Game Commission has posted the annual waterfowl and migratory bird season brochure and zone maps on its website, www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Game Commission waterfowl biologist Kevin Jacobs said the outlook is mixed for waterfowl populations important to Pennsylvania.
"Banding studies indicate most of Pennsylvania's mallard, wood duck, and Canada goose harvests are derived from birds breeding in Pennsylvania and surrounding states," Jacobs said.
The populations are monitored through the Atlantic Flyway Breeding Waterfowl Survey. This year, because of the mild winter and early spring, the Pennsylvania portion of this multi-state survey was advanced a week earlier than normal for the first time.
"At the state level, the estimated number of indicated mallard breeding pairs (60,500) was 35 percent below the 1993-2011 long-term average of 93,000 pairs,"?Jacobs said. "Southeastern Pennsylvania had the highest density of breeding mallards, followed by northeastern Pennsylvania. The 68,000 wood duck breeding pairs estimated in 2012 was 31 percent above the long-term average of 52,000 pairs."
He said the estimate could be the result of larger than average numbers of migrating wood ducks being in Pennsylvania at the time of the earlier survey.
"Trends in wood duck abundance have indicated stable to slightly increasing populations across all years of the survey," Jacobs said. "Wood duck densities were highest in northwestern, southwestern and northeastern Pennsylvania. American black ducks were not observed in Pennsylvania's 2012 survey. Black ducks have been observed at very low and declining densities since the survey was initiated in 1989.
However, black duck populations in eastern Canada remain healthy, allowing this species to continue to account for about five percent of Pennsylvania's total duck harvest."
The Pennsylvania estimates of total blue-winged teal (3,000) were slightly below average, while green-winged teal numbers (7,500) were above average in 2012. Teal abundance in this survey can vary dramatically from year to year, due to weather-related impacts on teal migration. Teal migration appeared average in 2012.
"We don't believe these estimates are indicative of true breeding populations of teal in Pennsylvania as many migrating teal are encountered during the survey period," Jacobs said. "Estimates of total hooded mergansers (5,700) and common mergansers (24,000) were above average. The trends for both breeding merganser species have increased since 1993."
Jacobs noted that Pennsylvania's spring 2012 Canada goose population was estimated at 220,000 birds.
"The resident goose population appears to have declined over the past nine years following highly significant population expansion from 1990 to 2004, but it remains well above the Resident Population management plan goal of 150,000 spring birds," Jacobs said. "We continue efforts to achieve the management plan goal through reduced densities in Southeastern and Southwestern Pennsylvania, while maintaining populations in other portions of the Commonwealth.
"Observations during June banding indicated 37 percent below average juvenile recruitment statewide. Hunters should expect a below average fall flight with fewer juveniles, but resident geese will remain plentiful overall. Populations of Arctic-nesting Canada geese and snow geese are generally similar to recent averages."
Jacobs noted that spring population estimates and fall flight forecasts are obtained at large geographic scales, and therefore are not reliable predictors of waterfowl numbers that can be expected during hunting seasons.
"At the local or regional level, hunting pressure, habitat and weather variables most often dictate waterfowl movements, staging and wintering numbers through the hunting seasons."
In the Atlantic Population Goose Zone, the regular snow goose season will be Oct. 27-Jan. 26, with a snow goose conservation season to run from Jan. 28-April 26. In the Southern James Bay Population Goose Zone, the regular snow goose season will be Oct. 27-Jan. 18, with a snow goose conservation season to run from Jan. 19-April 26. The Resident Population Goose Zone regular snow goose season will run Oct. 27-Feb. 28, and the snow goose conservation season will run March 1-April 26.
Young Pennsylvania hunters will have two special days of waterfowl hunting, on Saturday, Sept. 15, and Saturday, Sept. 22. The Junior Waterfowl Days will be open to those 12 to 15 years old who hold a junior hunting license. To participate, a youngster must be accompanied by an adult, who may assist the juniors in calling, duck identification and other aspects of the hunt. During these two special hunts, juniors can harvest Canada geese, ducks, mergansers, coots and moorhens. The daily bag limit for juniors participating in the Junior Waterfowl Days is the same as for the regular season daily limit in the area being hunted. The only exception is when September Canada goose daily bag limits exceed the regular season limit for the area being hunted; juniors then can take the September daily limit.
However, waterfowl hunters should be aware that a new restriction on hunting hours will impact the junior waterfowl hunting days. On Sept. 15 and 22, hunting hours for all waterfowl species will close at sunset. For the remainder of the September 1-25 Canada goose season, hunting hours close at one-half hour after sunset.
"Federal frameworks specify that for most migratory game bird seasons, hunting hours must close at sunset," Jacobs said. "Exceptions currently are in place to allow states to extend hunting hours to one-half hour after sunset for the September Canada goose season and the snow goose conservation season, in an effort to increase harvest pressure on overabundant waterfowl populations. One of the conditions for use of extended hunting hours is that while they are in effect, no other waterfowl seasons may be open.
"By previously allowing extended hunting hours for Canada geese throughout the September season, and also holding our junior waterfowl days within this period, Pennsylvania had inadvertently been in conflict with this provision of federal regulations."
Jacobs noted that the need to resolve this issue was brought to our attention by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service following its review of the Game Commission's 2012-13 early migratory game bird season selections.
"Rather than reschedule the previously announced junior days, limit junior hunters to geese only on those two days, or restrict hunting hours for the entire September goose season, we have chosen to close hunting hours for all waterfowl species and all waterfowl hunters at sunset on the two junior waterfowl days, Sept. 15 and Sept. 22," Jacobs said. "While we recognize this change adds some complexity to regulations, it places our season selections in compliance with federal regulations while minimizing effects on the hunter recruitment and population management goals of the junior waterfowl days and the September goose season."
The Game Commission again will hold a special junior-only waterfowl hunting day at the controlled hunting blinds at both Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area and Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area. The junior day for Middle Creek is Nov. 17; for Pymatuning, Nov. 24. A special drawing of applications submitted by junior license holders will be held immediately before the regular drawing for goose blinds. Interested juniors should use the same application on page 28 of the 2012-13 Digest. Only one application will be accepted per junior hunter.
Additionally, Game Commission officials, in partnership with the state chapters of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), are encouraging hunters to help veterans discover or rediscover the thrills and joys of hunting in Pennsylvania, including the many migratory game bird seasons that will be open, especially on Veterans Day, which will be observed on Monday, Nov. 12.
To recognize those who step up to serve as volunteer guides for a veteran, the Game Commission will conduct a drawing to present six framed fine-art wildlife prints. To be eligible for one of the prints, a participating hunter must submit a brief e-mail that outlines the name and address of the veteran taken afield, type of hunting taken part in, and county where the shared hunt took place. American Legion or VFW members who take another veteran hunting also should include their member number.
All participating hunters, including those not affiliated with the American Legion or VFW must send an e-mail to either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. A drawing will be held to select the six winners from all e-mails received by Dec. 31, 2012.
In addition to a regular Pennsylvania hunting license, persons 16 and older must have a Federal Migratory Bird and Conservation Stamp, commonly referred to as a "Duck Stamp," signed in ink across its face. All waterfowl hunters, regardless of age, must have a Pennsylvania Migratory Game Bird License to hunt waterfowl and other migratory birds, including doves, woodcock, coots, moorhens, rails and snipe. All migratory game bird hunters in the United States are required to complete a Harvest Information Program survey when they purchase a state migratory game bird license. The survey information is then forwarded to the USFWS.
"By answering the questions on the survey card, hunters will improve survey efficiency and the quality of information used to track the harvest of migratory birds for management purposes," Jacobs said.
Also, to participate in the snow goose conservation hunts, hunters will need to obtain a free conservation hunt permit, in addition to their other required licenses, and file a mandatory report of harvest/participation. In late 2012, the Snow Goose Conservation Hunt website will be available on the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) so that hunters can apply for and print out the free conservation permit.
Hunters must use non-toxic shot while hunting ducks, geese or coots in Pennsylvania. The use of decoys powered or operated by batteries or any other source of electricity is unlawful in Pennsylvania, except during the snow goose conservation seasons. Also, the use of any sort of artificial substance or product as bait or an attractant is prohibited.