Does Oklahoma open duck hunting season too early?
David Robertson of Poteau thinks duck season in Oklahoma should start later and run uninterrupted without a split.
A biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation whose primary focus was waterfowl management, Robertson never could get his supervisors to agree with him before his retirement in 2014.
He still hasn't changed his mind. Ducks are arriving in Oklahoma later and later each year, Robertson contends, often in the first week of December when the hunting season is closed.
“I don't like to see us lose (good duck hunting) days,” said Robertson, who spent the majority of his 41 years working for the Wildlife Department at the Wister Wildlife Management Area.
“Duck hunting is very expensive. I don't feel like we are maximizing our days. At Wister, for example, we start getting ducks in reasonable numbers right before Thanksgiving. We will have ducks the first of December most of the time.
“We will have ducks a whole lot more the first week of December during the split than we will the first two or three weeks of November.”
Oklahoma is allowed 74 days of duck hunting by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Wildlife Department chooses when those will be.
Oklahoma has different season dates for different parts of the state: In the Panhandle; duck hunting zone one (northwest and north-central Oklahoma); and duck hunting zone two (eastern and southern Oklahoma), which is the largest zone in the state.
For more than 20 years, the Wildlife Department has opted to open the duck season in early November in duck hunting zone two, then close it for nearly two weeks before reopening it in December.
This year, duck season opens in zone one on Oct. 28 and in zone two on Nov. 4. The seasons run uninterrupted in both zones through Nov. 26 before closing and reopening Dec. 9.
Robertson is not the only Oklahoma duck hunter who questions such an early start to the waterfowl season when the weather often is still warm and few ducks have migrated this far south.
“The first two weeks to three weeks (of the duck season) are just a waste,” said Jeff Puckett, an avid duck hunter from Norman. “There are no ducks here. It's hot. There are hardly any geese here until Thanksgiving. I would rather have no split and start it later.”
Josh Richardson, migratory bird biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said while it does seem like most mallards are arriving in Oklahoma later each year, there is no unbiased documented proof of it.
“There has not been what I consider a good scientific study to say or demonstrate that,” he said.
Richardson concedes that mallards are king when it comes to Oklahoma duck hunting. But even so, there are Oklahomans who enjoy waterfowl hunting in November and getting the chance to shoot ducks other than greenheads.
Gadwalls, shovelers, pintails and redheads are ducks that migrate south based more on the time of year than on weather, he said.
“They are basing (migration) more off of daylight length which coincides more with the calendar,” Richardson said. “These calendar birds generally come through the last week of October.
“There are a lot of duck hunters out there who are really not any flavor of duck hunter. They just want to get out there and shoot some ducks. That late October early November time period is a good chance for them to get out and be able to start shooting some birds. We want to make sure to have the season open early enough to catch those birds.”
Also, the Wildlife Department likes having a split season to have a second opening day.
“By having a split, you basically get two opening day experiences,” Richardson said. “It gets people excited.”
Having a break during the hunting season also gives the birds a respite and allows them to feed and refuel, he said.
Richardson said ducks do arrive in southeast Oklahoma later than anywhere else in the state. The Wildlife Department would start the duck season later in southern Oklahoma “if we could put together three or four or five different (hunting) zones and try to make a perfect match for everybody.”
But the agency is trying to keep the duck hunting regulations as simple as possible, and adding another duck hunting zone would “just double your complaints again,” he said. “We just try to walk a tightrope in the middle and mitigate the complaints as we go along.”
Robertson, however, thinks there is a trend in migration patterns that warrants the agency to re-examine its waterfowl seasons. Other wildlife biologists in the Central Flyway have noticed it as well, he said.
Starting the waterfowl season later in Oklahoma would give hunters more opportunity for success, he said.
“There are just too many signals that things are changing,” he said.
OKLAHOMA 2017-18 WATERFOWL SEASONS
Duck Season Dates
Panhandle Counties: Oct. 14-Jan. 10
Zone One: Oct. 28-Nov. 26, Dec. 9-Jan. 21
Zone Two: Nov. 4-Nov. 26, Dec. 9-Jan. 28
Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days: Sept. 30, Feb. 3
Goose Season Dates
Dark Geese (includes Canada geese and all other geese except white-fronted geese and light geese): Nov. 4-Nov. 26, Dec. 9-Feb. 18
White-fronted geese: Nov. 4-26, Dec. 9-Feb. 11
Light Geese (Snow, Blue & Ross’): Nov. 4-Nov 26, Dec. 9-Feb. 18
Conservation Order Light Goose Season: Feb. 19-March 30
Sandhill Crane (hunting allowed west of I-35 only): Oct. 21-Jan. 21