Hunters who enjoy pursuing waterfowl in Colorado will have plenty of opportunities this year due to diverse season structures and liberal bag limits, but what kind of success they experience is likely to vary depending on what they hunt and when.
A wet spring in North Park and the San Luis Valley–Colorado’s “duck factory”–provided good breeding habitat and helped to sustain healthy populations of native ducks and geese, which should provide good early-season hunting.
However, drought conditions in the High Plains, southern Alberta and Saskatchewan may result in fewer migrant ducks moving through Colorado this season. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the May pond estimates–a strong determining factor for waterfowl populations–fell by 37 percent. As a result, duck populations decreased 9 percent from last year, with a breeding estimate of 37.3 million birds.
While overall duck numbers have decreased in the northern prairie regions and Canada, Colorado hunters could still see a fair number of migratory birds if weather conditions are favorable.
“The biggest question, as in all years, is weather,” said Jim Gammonley, Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) waterfowl biologist. “Hunters need to be looking for cold-weather systems to push birds south from southern Canada, Montana and Wyoming, and plan their hunting trips accordingly. When migrating ducks and geese arrive, habitat conditions in Colorado are likely to be good, with water available in most areas.”
Unlike ducks, migrant populations of Canada geese remain high, and large numbers should arrive in Colorado to provide excellent late-season shooting. Snow geese numbers also are far above population targets, allowing for liberal bag limits and extended seasons.
The DOW encourages hunters to have a safe and successful time in the field and would like to remind waterfowl hunters of some important changes for the 2008-09 seasons.
Regulation and License Changes:
Earlier this year, the Colorado Wildlife Commission changed the calendar-year license structure to a season-year format. This means licenses purchased in 2008 will be valid until March 31, 2009. Beginning April 1, 2009, all annual fishing licenses, senior fishing licenses, small game licenses, furbearer licenses, combination fishing and small game licenses, Colorado waterfowl stamps, habitat stamps and walk-in access permits will be valid from April 1, 2009 through March 31 of the following year.
In an effort to improve the quality of waterfowl hunting along the South Platte River corridor, the Wildlife Commission modified hunting regulations at the Atwood, Bravo, Brush, Jackson Lake, Jean K. Tool, Jumbo Reservoir, Overland Trail and Red Lion State Wildlife Areas (SWAs). The DOW is now operating mandatory check stations at all of these areas. Over the next several years, The DOW will be evaluating the impact of hunting restrictions on local duck numbers, gathering harvest data and surveying hunter satisfaction at these locations.
Waterfowl and small game hunting at Bravo, Jackson Lake and Overland Trail SWAs will be permitted only on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays, and reservations are required. Hunters are required to check out by 2 p.m. to allow waterfowl use of these areas in late afternoon. In addition, waterfowl hunting from floating devices will be allowed with a reservation at Jumbo Reservoir and at Jackson Lake SWAs. Reservations may be made by calling 1-800-846-9453.
A special brochure, “South Platte Waterfowl and Small Game Research SWAs” is now available and provides detailed hunting information for these areas. Hardcopies are available at DOW offices, and an electronic version may be downloaded at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/Waterfowl/
Other changes for the 2008-09 seasons include a closed season on canvasbacks in the Pacific Flyway, and a reduced bag limit/season for scaup.
Licenses and other Requirements:
All waterfowl hunters must purchase and have in their possession a small game license, youth small game or combination fishing/hunting license.
Hunters 16 or older need a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp (duck stamp) and a Colorado Waterfowl Stamp to hunt waterfowl. Federal duck stamps are available at most post offices, DOW offices and online at: www.duckstamp.com. State stamps may be purchased at any DOW office or license agent.
All waterfowl and small game hunters must register with Colorado’s Harvest Information Program (HIP). The HIP is a joint effort between the USFWS and the DOW, designed to improve small game and waterfowl harvest estimates. HIP numbers are available by calling 1-866-COLOHIP (265-6447) or by going to the Colorado HIP Website: www.colohip.com . HIP numbers must be written in the space provided on small game licenses.
A Colorado Wildlife Habitat Stamp is required of people ages 19-64 who buy hunting or fishing licenses. With a license purchase, the stamp is $5 and required on each of the first 2 licenses bought per year ($10 total). The stamp also allows access to state wildlife areas or state trust lands leased by the DOW. Habitat Stamps are available at any DOW office or license agent.
Over 168,000 acres are now available in the DOW Walk-In Access Program (WIA). Some of these properties offer waterfowl hunting opportunities. A WIA permit is required to hunt in these areas and may be purchased at any DOW office or license agent. The 2008 Walk-In Access Program Brochure/Atlas is available at any authorized license agent or DOW office. An electronic version is also available on the DOW Website at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/NR/rdonlyres/4A3346A7-0C2A-41E2-8442-F3E146F9CEF1/0/Atlas2008.pdf
For a complete listing of waterfowl season dates and regulations, the 2008 Colorado Waterfowl Regulations Brochure is available at any DOW office, license agents or on the DOW Web site at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/Waterfowl/ .