MADISON – An update to Wisconsin’s open water hunting rule on concealment requirements that apply to waterfowl hunters who use boats or blinds on waters of the state, goes into effect Oct. 1. Duck hunting in the southern duck management zone runs from 9 a.m. Oct. 3 through Oct. 11 and 9 a.m. Oct.17 through Dec. 6. Northern duck zone hunting starts Sept. 26 and runs through Nov. 24.
The old rule required that hunters remain within natural emergent vegetation rooted to the bottom that provided whole or partial concealment of the hunter, boat and blind. While conservation wardens have long subscribed to a rule-of-thumb that partial meant at least 50 percent, the new rule formally establishes that 50 percent concealment is required. The new rule also clarifies that the hunter, boat and blind only need to be concealed when viewed horizontally from at least one direction.
The rule update does not change the preexisting rules that allowed hunting waterfowl from open water on portions of the Mississippi River, Big Green Lake, Lakes Michigan, Superior, Winnebago, Petenwell Flowage or Green Bay.
On all other waters, just as in the past, hunter’s boats and blinds still need to be concealed by emergent vegetation that is rooted to the bottom. Under the new rule, the amount of concealment that is required is 50 percent and the vegetation needs to rise to the gunwales of a boat used as a blind or to hunt waterfowl from. Also under the new rule, hunters do not need to be within the vegetation they are using for concealment, they only need to be within 3 feet of the cattails, bulrushes, rice, or other emergent natural vegetation.
Hunters will not find this information in a regulations pamphlet because the migratory bird hunting regulations were printed prior to knowing the outcome of the rule making process.
Wisconsin’s open water hunting rule dates back many years and was designed to keep hunters out of open water habitat that is used for staging and resting by migrating ducks or geese.
Providing these areas where there is no hunting pressure encourages birds to spend time feeding and resting during migration, says Kent Van Horn, Department of Natural Resources waterfowl ecologist. Hunters have supported the rule because it increases hunting opportunity by encouraging birds to remain in an area for longer periods of time.
When deciding if you have enough concealment to hunt from a boat or blind, imagine that you are viewing your hunting set-up from a height of 3 feet, said Conservation Warden Todd Schaller. You can be looking at it from any direction, even from behind. If the vegetation rises at least to the top of the gunwales or sides of your boat and the boat and a blind are at least half concealed, then you are ok to hunt that way.
According to Schaller, a blind that is not part of a boat also needs to be 50 percent concealed. This does not mean that the entire blind needs to be concealed. It could be just that the bottom half of the blind is fully concealed by emergent vegetation and the top half would require no concealment. The less dense the vegetation is, the taller it may need to be to achieve the required 50 percent concealment.
The new rule also eases requirements for waterfowl hunters while still preventing hunting in open water areas. It does this by no longer requiring that boats and blinds be concealed within the emergent vegetation. Hunters’ boats and blinds can now be located beyond the vegetation provided part of the boat or blind is within 3 feet of vegetation that is providing the concealment. Even if the vegetation is behind the hunter, as long as it is emergent vegetation that is rooted to the bottom and it provides 50 percent concealment, then the hunting situation is not considered to be open water hunting.
Hunters hunting on the water with the aid of a boat or blind who are in compliance with all three of the following conditions, will not be considered hunting in open water:
1. Any part of the boat or blind is within 3 feet of naturally occurring vegetation rooted to the bottom
2. This vegetation provides at least 50-percent concealment of the hunter, boat and blind when viewed from at least one direction horizontally.
3. Some of this vegetation extends above the water’s surface to a height at or above the sides of any boat, if a boat is used.
Dead stumps and dead trees in the water do not constitute a natural growth of vegetation for the purpose of this rule.
Though not a new law, hunters are reminded that if hunting on public waters and within 100 yards of a building devoted to human occupancy, the hunters must first have permission of the owner of the building before they may legally discharge a firearm.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Kent Van Horn (608) 266-8841 or Bob Manwell (608) 264-9248
Preliminary research results from Delta Waterfowl indicates managing predators can be an effective tool in significantly increasing nest success in landscapes with limited grass nesting cover and those suffering from chronically low duck production.
Delta researchers recently finished work on eight low-grass sites located in North Dakota and Manitoba, and the results were encouraging: nest success on two predator-controlled blocks near Minnedosa, Manitoba averaged 43.3 percent, while nest success on similar sites that weren’t trapped was three percent.
Delta started trapping low-grass sites after research showed that ducks nesting in areas with an abundance of grass–like Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields in the U.S.–often produce at population-expanding levels without the help of predator management. But Canada has no CRP-type program, and with CRP acres being broken on the U.S. side of the breeding grounds, finding ways to increase nest-success on low-grass areas became a priority.
The results are very encouraging, says Delta Scientific Director Dr. Frank Rohwer, especially in light of the chronic low duck production that is all too common across large expanses of the Canadian prairies. The Canadian duck factory’ is broken. Nest success of three percent is well below what’s needed just to maintain populations. We’re exploring all possible solutions to increase duck production and we’re hopeful predator management is one of them.
One significant change at the Canadian sites this year was reducing the size of the test areas from 36 square miles to either 25 or 16 square miles. The goal was to increase trapping intensity by focusing trapping efforts on smaller parcels of land. Researchers believe the more intense trapping activity for raccoons, skunks and fox contributed to the high nest success.
The Canadian sites are located in the parkland region of western Manitoba. This area, with relatively stable water conditions and a high density of breeding ducks, is a priority area for waterfowl conservation.
Nesting ducks need relief from the growing number of small predators, says Dr. Rohwer. This is a system out of balance. We created it and it’s likely going to take human intervention to bring the balance back between predator and prey species.
In North Dakota, researchers focused their efforts on sites with relatively little grass cover, less than 10 percent. Biologists have already confirmed that ducks struggle to reproduce in areas with scarce nesting cover.
Results from these areas also suggest predator management is an effective method of increasing nest success. The two-year average for nest success on North Dakota trapped blocks was 28.1 percent, compared to a success rate of 6.4 percent on the non-trapped, control sites.
Delta Waterfowl has been conducting research on predator management since 1994.
After 17 years of research, we’re learning where and when and how it’s best to trap to increase duck production, says Delta President Rob Olson. While these results are preliminary and while it will take more time and evaluation to confirm that predator management will work in the parklands and areas of the Dakotas where nesting cover is scarce, we’re pleased by the results.
Delta Waterfowl plans to continue its predator management research next year in both low-grass and parkland regions.