This was one of those press releases where the great news was hidden below the good news.
The good news is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a six-teal bag limit for the early September teal season.
The great news is that it has also approved expanding the possession limit from two to three daily bags — for all migratory species.
That means dove hunters can hunt a three-day weekend and bring home three limits or 45 birds. Previously hunters were restricted to a two-day possession limit meaning if they stayed three days they were required to make a meal of one day’s hunt, give the birds away or of course there were always those who attempted to sneak the extra birds home.
The change was years in the making and corrects a regulation that had no biological basis.
“It started a few years ago,” said Shaun Oldenburger, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s dove program leader. “Canada went to three times the daily possession limit and the flyways started talking about it. It was a throwback to the old days. It was always a law enforcement thing, but didn’t play in to biology.”
Oldenburger said state biologists like the idea because of the increased cost of travel. More hunters today are going on fewer trips, but staying longer periods.
The eased regulation come at a time when biologists are seeing a decline in dove numbers in some portions of the country, but there is debate whether numbers are actually down or the birds have shifted to areas not traditionally surveyed. Either way, Oldenburger said the increased possession limit shouldn’t impact that.
The possession limit only comes into play in the field or on the road. Once hunters reach their home or final destination, they can have all the birds they want.
Oldenburger said he has already gotten some feedback on the change.
“I did have one guide call me who was very happy to have the triple possession limit. He said he has a lot of hunters coming from Dallas and Houston, and he thinks he will have more come to hunt if they can hunt three days,” Oldenburger said.
An increased possession limit might jumpstart interest in dove hunting, but whether hunters take to the field is always dependent first on whether there are plenty of doves.
Texas dove hunters averaged 20 birds for the 2011 season, according to the USFWS. The state’s 253,000 hunters averaged just under four days of hunting.
The move to increase the September teal season limit has also been in the making for several years. It was pushed by state waterfowl biologists, but for a different reason.
“It is something we have been pushing for for years,” said Jared Laing, East Texas region TPWD waterfowl biologist. “I think (the blue-winged teal) population is going to pass mallards this year or be close to it.”
The blue-winged teal population has been on a meteoric rise in recent years. It reached an historical high in 2011 at 8.9 million, and then was up another 3 percent last year to more than 9 million. Although numbers for this year are not expected until later this month, last year’s population was 94 percent above the species’ long-term average. It can be anticipated with the proposed increased bag that numbers will climb even higher this year.
Blue-winged teal are the earliest migrating ducks into Texas on their way to Central America and South America. The 16-day season is designed to coordinate with the peak of the migration.
However, the season isn’t as predictable inland as it is along the coast where most of the state’s estimated 18,000 early-season hunters are located and most of the 180,000 birds killed annually are taken.
Laing said the increase to six ducks may boost hunter interest, but that could be trumped by bird availability.
“Most reservoirs usually hold birds, but they are here today and gone tomorrow,” the biologist said.
The six-teal limit also comes with the maximum early-season length.
This year’s teal season will run from Sept. 14-29. Hunters will again be permitted to take Canada geese in the East Zone as well during the early season.
The dove season will be open Sept. 1-Oct. 23 in the North and Central zones, and from Sept. 20-Oct. 27 in the South Zone.
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