Outdoors With Craig Robbins

The end of June means a lot of things to local sportsmen. For some it means keeping up on household chores, chasing underwater critters about, talking with landowners about the coming hunting season and the release of tentative waterfowl season dates.

Traditional shooting hours will remain the same with 30 minutes before sunrise to sunset during regular and late seasons. During September, shooting hours are extended to 30 minutes after sunset, except during the Youth Waterfowl Hunt Days.

The daily bag limit is the maximum number of birds that any person may take or possess in the field during any one day. The possession limit is three times the daily bag limit for all waterfowl species except snow geese. The possession limit is the maximum number of birds that any person may possess in total in the field, at home, in transit or in storage.

“Each year, DEC announces the tentative schedule so hunters can begin making plans for a safe and successful season,” commissioner Joe Martens said, following along with Governor Cuomo’s New York Open for Fishing and Hunting Initiative. “Still, we always remind hunters to check the final dates, usually issued in late summer, before going afield.”

The final season dates, bag limits and other regulations for 2014-15 migratory game bird hunting seasons in New York will be posted on the DEC’s website and announced by a statewide news release, once they are approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in late summer. Hunters should confirm the final season dates before going afield.

The Special Youth Weekend dates are set for Oct. 4 and 5.

The DEC began the special youth waterfowl days in 1996. This special two-day hunt prior to the regular season in each waterfowl hunting zone provides young waterfowl hunters (ages 12-15) with the opportunity to spend time afield with an experienced adult hunter pursuing ducks, geese and brant. The timing of the Youth Waterfowl Hunt allows for a break in hunting between the youth hunt and the beginning of the regular waterfowl season. Holding the youth waterfowl hunt before the start of the regular season allows participants an increased opportunity to harvest local and early-migrating waterfowl. Preseason youth days also tend to have milder weather and help young hunters develop the skills needed to be successful during the regular season.

Daily bag limits for ducks are the maximum allowed for ducks during the regular season and two for geese. Junior hunters must be fully licensed and registered with HIP. The junior hunter must be accompanied by a licensed adult hunter (including current HIP registration and duck stamp) in accordance with all New York State regulations. Only the junior hunter may take birds on these days, unless the respective regular season is open.

The regular season has been tentatively set for Oct. 18 until Dec. 2, with the late season for ducks running Dec. 27 until Jan. 9 with a six-birds-per-day limit in effect. To check out which species and limits are in season during these dates, log on to the DEC website or search out the 2014-15 New York State DEC Waterfowl Season and Regulations Guide.

Each year I get asked questions about who sets the waterfowl dates and why they are set when they are. After some digging I have found some the answers.

Migratory game bird hunting regulations are set by the federal government in late summer and final waterfowl seasons and bag limits are announced in September.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has management authority on migratory birds, provides a framework for setting the 2014-15 duck season by posting the outside dates for beginning and ending as Sept. 27 and Jan. 25 (128 days). Each state has a task force, which is made up of hunters, biologists and others with an interest in waterfowl population. The task force is charged with setting the 60-day season within the 128-day framework in a manner that provides the best opportunity for hunting waterfowl.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also provides a framework of a maximum of 60 days in the 2014-15 duck season. This is the most liberal season allowed and is based on tentative assessments of waterfowl population status and harvest projections. The framework allows a 60-consecutive-day season or one divided into two blocks of time totaling 60 days.

This year’s 46-14 split season is designed to accommodate avid and occasional waterfowl hunters, and those who hunt marshes and smaller bodies of water as well as those that hunt the big waters in all the regions of the western zone from the Southern Tier to Lake Ontario and from the Niagara River to the Finger Lakes. The season cannot accommodate all those interests for the entirety of the open seasons, but provides the best compromise in giving all types of waterfowl hunters opportunity throughout the zone.

Nine full weekends of hunting opportunity are provided. The first split provides 46 days with seven full weekends and the entire Thanksgiving holiday. The second split provides 14 hunting days and two full weekends.

Opening day is scheduled for a Saturday as surveys have shown a weekend opening date is preferred by a majority of hunters in the Western Zone. The second split also opens on a Saturday, when most hunters will be off from work and school.

The task force did not choose to open the duck season on the same day as the goose season. Although this is generally thought to be preferred by most waterfowl hunters, the task force’s desire to have earlier duck hunting opportunities was stronger this year. Current policy for hunting the migrant Atlantic population of Canada geese requires that the goose season opens no earlier than the fourth Saturday in October (Oct. 25) and that was believed to be too late of an opener for ducks. This was based on comments and requests received for expanded hunting opportunity on locally-produced waterfowl and early migrants. As always, hunters will have to take notice of which species are legal targets. Opportunity to take late migrants in early December was a preference of task force members. This timeframe has a good likelihood of strong migrations and opportunities on smaller lakes that typically freeze over in mid-December.

The 14-day second split, beginning on Dec. 27, will provide the opportunity to hunt waterfowl on the larger waters and rivers that do not freeze over. The January days provide excellent late-season hunting valued by many Finger Lakes hunters. Surveys show that Western Zone duck hunters find late December to mid-January nearly as important as late October to mid-November.

The second split includes two fewer weekend days than last year. Although the task force prefers to offer weekend opportunities when young hunters are off from school and many adults are off from work, a compromise had to be made to provide an earlier start date and some amount of early December opportunities.

The task force believes the Dec. 27 opening is preferable to the weekday after Christmas when many hunters do not have time off or would be involved in other holiday activities.

Youth Days are Oct. 4 and 5 (Sat and Sun) and will provide a break of 12 days before the regular season starts. These dates will precede by one week the youth pheasant and youth deer dates. Avoiding overlap of these youth hunts will provide more opportunity in the field for young hunters and their mentors.