The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited are all predicting another stellar waterfowl hunting season for 2016-17. This year the USFWS has the estimated fall flight to be 48.36 million ducks, 38 percent above the Long-Term Average. This will be almost as big as last year’s all-time record of 49.52 million ducks, due to less-than-ideal breeding conditions in the vital Prairie Pothole Region of north-central United States and central Canada. For more details see this blog’s report on 8-21-16.
The duck season opener is the weekend of Nov. 12-13. What do the waterfowlers have to look forward to this year? The near-record populations of ducks for the past five years had good but reduced breeding conditions this year; so, the fall flight will have fewer young and gullible ducks, and a higher proportion of savvy, mature ducks. Better practice your calling and perfect your camouflage.
Tennessee’s Reelfoot Duck Zone ushers in the 2016-17 fall duck hunting on Nov. 12-13 and continues on Dec. 3 – Jan. 29. The Statewide Duck Zone will again have its familiar 60-day split season, opening on Nov. 26-27 (Thanksgiving Day weekend) and continuing Dec. 3 – Jan. 29. The Youth Waterfowl Hunts are Feb. 4 and Feb. 11 for both zones.
The daily bag limit is six ducks, consisting of no more than four mallards (maximum of two females), three wood, three scaup, two redhead, two pintail, one canvasback, and one black.
The season for Canada geese in the Northwest Canada Goose Zone continues Nov. 12-13 and Dec. 3 – Feb. 11. The Statewide Canada Goose Zone continues Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3 – Jan. 29. The daily bag limit is three in all zones. Most of the other goose species are open Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3 – Feb. 11. For more details go to www.tn.gov/twra/article/waterfowl-seasons-and-bag-limits.
Looking at the early bear season, September and October, the black bear harvest for this year is shaping up to be about average, in the 300-400 range. While the general population of bears in Tennessee is still high, between 5,000 and 6,000, this year there is a good mast production in the higher elevations; so, bears do not have to range far and wide to forage before winter hibernation and are not exposed to many hunters.
As of late October 2016 there have been 160 bruins taken, 86 boars and 74 sows. In the last half of the season an even larger proportion of males will be taken since the females go to den earlier – mid-November – and the males wait until mid-December. Last year at this time the early-season harvest figure was 364 bears and the final take was 550, the third highest on record. The largest bear harvest for Tennessee was 581 in 2011 (major mast failure), followed by 573 in 2009.
Late bear hunting continues in Bear Hunt Zones BHZ-1, BHZ-2 and BHZ-3 on Oct. 31 – Nov. 4 with dogs and all weapons (guns, muzzleloaders and archery); it reopens on Nov. 28 for those three zones but the closing dates vary: BHZ-1 closes Dec. 17, BHZ-2 closes Dec. 22, and BHZ-3 closes Dec. 11. Hunting with all weapons but without dogs continues in all three zones on Nov. 19-22. The final bear hunt is in BHZ-3, with dogs, on Dec. 29 – Jan. 1.
The counties in BHZ-1 include Carter, Cocke (north of I-40), Greene, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington. BHZ-2 counties include Blount, Cocke (south of I-40), Jefferson (east of Hwy 411), and Sevier. BHZ-3 counties are McMinn (east of Hwy 411), Monroe and northeastern Polk. For more information go to page 28 of the 2016-17 hunting guide, also online at www.tnwildlife.org.
The muzzleloading deer season runs Nov. 5-18 for all the big game units. The limit on bucks is the same for all units, 2, which happens to be the annual maximum for the state. The antlerless limit depends on the unit: Units A and B are 2 each; Units C and D are 1 each; Unit L is 3 per day. Note that the antlerless bag limits are per unit; a limit may be taken in each unit.
Rabbit and quail seasons open Nov. 5 and Wilson snipe opens Nov. 14 to complete the small game menu for this year. All three of these seasons close on Feb. 28. The daily bag limits are 5 for rabbit, 6 for quail and 8 for snipe. Dove’s second segment closes on Oct. 30, but will reopen Dec. 8 – Jan. 15, limit of 15 per day.
The opening weekend harvest for archery deer on Sept. 24-25 was 1,794; this was 730 fewer deer than the first weekend last year, a big drop. In fact the opening weekend harvest has decreased by a few hundred every year for four years. Some people try to use this figure as a harbinger of the coming deer season. Is it?
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has stated that the annual deer harvest for Tennessee has stabilized in the 160,000 to 180,000 range and will not continue to increase. Here is a comparison of opening weekend harvests to the final season harvest for recent years:
2015-16 was 2,524 and 167,234
2014-15 was 2,764 and 162,570
2013-14 was 3,076 and 168,517
2012-13 was 1,146 and 176,102
Note that in the 2012-13 season the first weekend was by far the lowest in five years but the final harvest was the second highest on record. The myth is busted. Actually, the weather in September – heat or rain – has more influence on opening weekend, not to mention the home football schedule for the University of Tennessee. Most likely this year’s opening weekend was down because the weather was very hot and UT played at home.
[Following is an Oct. 20 TWRA press release with slight editing]
LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. --- A hunter who was successfully drawn to participate in this year’s elk hunt [Oct. 17-21] on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area has been charged with several violations related to illegally killing a bull elk.
Timothy C. Copeland, 56 of Crossville, was one of the few privileged hunters drawn to participate in Tennessee’s eighth annual elk hunt. He is the first-ever permitted hunter to be charged with violations in relation to the elk hunt.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officials report that on Tuesday evening [Oct. 18] around 6:30 p.m., Copeland spotted a bull elk while driving a truck in the Adkins Mountain area of the North Cumberland WMA in Campbell County. He allegedly exited the truck and shot the elk from the roadway. Copeland was drawn to hunt in Elk Zone 5, but harvested the animal in Elk Zone 2. The permit requires a hunter to stay within his/her drawn zone.
Copeland and two companions brought the elk to the North Cumberland WMA headquarters for analysis by TWRA staff. Biologists became concerned when Copeland could not produce accurate GPS coordinates for the location of the kill. Wednesday morning, TWRA wildlife officers were contacted and an investigation ensued. By then, the 5x6 bull weighing 580 pounds had been transported to a meat processor in Crossville.
The elk carcass and a Browning 30-06 rifle have been seized and Copeland has been charged with four violations. The charges include shooting from a public road, hunting from a motor vehicle, hunting in a closed area, and possession of illegally killed big game. Copeland is scheduled to appear in Campbell County General Sessions Court on Nov. 15 at 9 a.m. The two accompanying persons were not charged.
The early Young Sportsman hunts for deer and bear are Oct. 29-30. Hunters ages six through 16 are eligible, and they must have a non-hunting adult at least 21 years old with them close enough to control the hunting weapon. Both need to wear the required fluorescent orange, but the adult does not have to have a license. Any legal weapon may be used: Gun, muzzleloader, bow, and crossbow.
Hunters ages six through 12 do not need a hunting license; hunters ages 13 through 15 must have the junior license; those age 16 (when the license is purchased) must have an adult license. Young hunters ages 10 to 16 must have their hunter education certificate or the Apprentice License.
For deer: The early season bag limit for bucks allows one antlered deer per day up to the state maximum of two bucks per year. The antlerless bag limit for this youth hunt is two for all of the big game units (L, A, B, C, and D). Some of the TWRA wildlife management areas will also be open for this hunt. See the WMA list online or in the 2016 Hunting and Trapping Guide (a WMA permit may be required).
For bear: Young hunters will have exclusive use of these Bear Hunt Zones: BHZ-1, BHZ-2 and BHZ-3 (The adult archery bear season ends on Oct. 21). Dogs are not allowed but all weapons are (gun, muzzleloader and archery). The season limit is one bear (without cubs) per person.
The brief American woodcock season is almost here, Oct. 29 – Dec. 12. The “timberdoodle” summers in the northeastern U.S. and Canada and migrates about now to winter on the Gulf Coast. The daily bag limit is three; remember that the small game license and the Tennessee Migratory Bird Permit are required. Primary habitat is second growth woodlands where the ground has good moisture.
Try tracking the woodcock’s southerly movements online with the Woodcock Migration Mapping System, courtesy of the Ruffed Grouse Society. Users can go to www.ruffedgrousesociety.org/migration-map to see where the most sightings were on the previous day, previous week or month. As of mid-October reports showed heavy bird activity in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maine, moderate activity in Michigan, New York and New England; light activity has been reported in most of the other states, including Middle Tennessee. They’re coming south right on schedule.
Iowa offers a double treat for upland hunters. In my Oct. 7 report on another excellent season for Midwestern pheasant hunts, I mistakenly ignored the Hawkeye State. While most of the states in the Midwest offer pheasant hunting worthy of the long drive, Iowa equals their ringnecks and serves up a bonus: Quail.
The Iowa bobwhite population this year is the highest in 27 years. In 1989 Iowa’s quail harvest was 400,000 for 80,000 hunters (5.0 birds per hunter). Last year the numbers were 28,000 and 10,000 (2.8 average). So, what do you do after you have taken your daily limit of 3 rooster pheasants? Keep shooting for a limit of 8 bobwhites. That should make the trip worthwhile. Iowa quail season is Oct. 29 – Jan. 31; pheasant season is Oct. 29 – Jan. 10. For more information go to www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting.
Ducks Unlimited is a big help for waterfowlers. With their free DU Mobile App for your smart phone you can track the fall migration of waterfowl so you know ahead of time where to go and when to go. There is a useful waterfowl identification gallery, plus breaking news, hunting reports, season and bag limit details, special DU events, videos, and hunting tips. Of course the website www.ducks.org has all that and more. Consider joining this fine waterfowl conservation organization.
You never forget your first … duck. And Delta Waterfowl will help to memorialize the moment with a “First-Duck Pin”. Hunters young and old can earn their pins and other prizes by sending DW an email or letter detailing the experience, along with a high quality photo. Emails go to email@example.com and postal mail goes to Worth Mathewson, P.O. Box 130, Amity, OR 97101. Membership is not required to receive the first-duck pin and more information is available on the pin and this fine conservation organization at www.deltawaterfowl.org.
The year 2016 is the centennial of the first international Migratory Bird Treaty, an agreement between the U.S. and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada). Three other treaties followed that included Mexico, and these agreements form the cornerstone of the efforts to conserve birds that migrate across international borders. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants you to join in celebrating 100 years of bird conservation. There are many ways to get involved and most will cost you little or nothing.
Pledge to take action for migratory birds and get a special prize from the USFWS. The U.S. is in a friendly competition with our Canadian partners to see who gets the most pledges. Share your love of birds by posting photos on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and tag them with #birdyearpics; send some photos to the USFWS FaceBook page, also Instagram and Snapchat.
More possible pledges: Help reduce bird collisions on your home’s windows (decals, screens, removing inside houseplants, and more); take a friend bird watching; create some bird-friendly landscaping; participate in a citizen science project; or buy a federal Duck Stamp. Go to www.fws.gov/birds/MBTreaty100/ for more information.
The public comment period for changes in the 2017-18 waterfowl and migratory bird regulations is Oct. 15 – Nov. 15. Since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service now determines its waterfowl guidelines in the fall of the previous year, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency now sets its waterfowl seasons in the preceding winter months. This is a boon for sportsmen for planning their fall hunting trips. The TWRA is ready for your ideas and suggestions on duck, goose, dove, woodcock, snipe, and sandhill crane seasons for 2017-18.
Comments can be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org; include “Waterfowl Season Comments” on the subject line. Submissions by mail can be addressed to: 2017-18 Waterfowl Season Comments, TWRA, Wildlife and Forestry Division, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204. The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission will receive the TWRA season proposals in January and will set the 2017-18 seasons at its February meeting.
How many species of ducks can you identify? How about in the predawn light or nasty weather? There is a new waterfowl identification guide that can make you the guru of your duck blinds. The North American Waterfowl Identification Guide is a joint effort of Delta Waterfowl and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The compact guide is presented in full color with detailed photos of males and females, tops and bottoms of wings, as well as images of bills and feet. It is printed on waterproof, tear-proof paper and illustrates 47 species of ducks, geese and swans. The booklet uses the system that USFWS agents have relied upon for years. For more information or to order a copy, go to www.waterfowlid.com or visit www.deltawaterfowl.org.
This will be another great year to plan a Midwestern bird hunt. Although pheasant are the main attraction, other game birds include quail, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chickens. Last year saw a good recovery of pheasant populations from the 2012-2013 drought in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Minnesota. Predictions for 2016 indicate sustained or slightly decreased populations – in other words, good hunting again this season. Following are some of the state forecasts from Pheasants Forever.
South Dakota: Here in the pheasant Mecca of America, there will be plenty of birds, although a 20 percent decrease compared to last year’s superlative numbers, which were 42 percent over 2014. Nebraska: A repeat of last year’s high populations of ringnecks, quail and other upland birds, due to good overwinter survival rates and excellent spring breeding conditions. Kansas: As good as last year, which was 51 percent improved over 2014. Pheasant numbers for 2016 are better than the 10-year and 20-year averages. Minnesota: Better hunting than even last season, which was 33 percent improved over 2014. Ringneck numbers are up 29 percent statewide and much higher in certain areas.
Midwestern pheasant seasons usually begin in mid-October or soon after and continue through December. For more information go to www.pheasantsforever.org. PF is the parent organization for Quail Forever, which is making impressive habitat improvements in Tennessee. Consider joining their 140,000 wildlife conservationists.
The Beyond BOW takes on muzzleloader hunting. The 2016 Beyond Becoming an Outdoors Woman Muzzleloader Workshop will be held on Nov. 11-13 on private property in Humphreys County. Women age 18 and older are eligible and the sponsor is the TWRA.
The private farm for the event has more than 2,000 acres of prime deer habitat with a variety of wildlife management projects. Besides actual hunting time, a variety of clinics are scheduled including, deer biology, deer management and hunting ethics.
Registration for the workshop is on a first-come basis; however, two weeks priority will be given to first-time participants. The workshop fee is $200, which includes meals and campsites, if participants wish to camp. Participants must have the appropriate licenses and hunter education cards. Some treestands will be available.
For more information and a registration application, contact Donald Hosse at Don.Hosse@tn.gov or phone 615-781-6541. Applications are also available on the TWRA website, www.tnwildlife.org.
Attention: The printed version of the 2016-17 Tennessee Waterfowl Hunting Guide has an incorrect date listed for the early Canada goose seasons. The first segment in the Statewide Canada Goose Zone will run Oct. 8-25 (not Oct. 8-12) while the Northwest Canada Goose Zone dates are Oct. 8-12. Following the opening segment, other Statewide Zone dates are Nov. 26-27 and Dec. 3 – Jan. 29, 2017. The Northwest Zone dates are Nov. 12-13 and Dec. 3 – Feb. 11, 2017. The online information is correct at www.tnwildlife.org.
After many months of negotiations, the sporting goods purchase of the century has been consummated: Bass Pro Shops is acquiring Cabela’s for the tidy sum of $5.5 billion. Described more like a merger, the two giant retailers of the hunting, fishing and outdoors supplies will be maintaining their names and personalities.
Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, had these comments: "Today's (Oct. 3) announcement marks an exceptional opportunity to bring together three special companies with an abiding love for the outdoors and a passion for serving sportsmen and sportswomen. The story of each of these companies could only have happened in America, made possible by our uniquely American free enterprise system. We have enormous admiration for Cabela’s, its founders and outfitters, and its loyal base of customers. We look forward to continuing to celebrate and grow the Cabela’s brand alongside Bass Pro Shops and White River as one unified outdoor family.”
"Cabela’s is pleased to have found the ideal partner in Bass Pro Shops," said Tommy Millner, Cabela’s Chief Executive Officer. "Having undertaken a thorough strategic review, during which we assessed a wide variety of options to maximize value, the Board unanimously concluded that this combination with Bass Pro Shops is the best path forward for Cabela’s, its shareholders, outfitters and customers. In addition to providing significant immediate value to our shareholders, this partnership provides a unique platform from which our brand will be extremely well positioned to continue to serve outdoor enthusiasts worldwide for generations to come."
Both companies are highly respected marketers of hunting, fishing, camping, shooting sports, and related outdoor merchandise. Cabela’s, founded in 1961 by Dick, Mary and Jim Cabela, operates a lucrative mail order business and 85 specialty retail stores, primarily in the western U.S. and Canada. Bass Pro Shops, founded in 1972, also has a large mail order presence and has 99 stores and Tracker Marine Centers located primarily in the eastern U.S. and Canada.
Johnny Morris will continue as CEO and majority shareholder of the new entity, which will remain a private company with a continuing long-term view of supporting the industry and conservation. The merger will be finalized in the spring of 2017. Read more at www.basspro.com and www.cabelas.com.