Iowa’s 60-day waterfowl seasons released

Sunday, August 12, 2018
Teal are early migrants and move on the slightest cool weather.
Photo by Lowell Washburn

As we hit the month of August, it becomes time for waterfowl hunters to begin looking at the fall waterfowl hunting seasons. This year’s wet weather has given hunters plenty of water in northwest Iowa sloughs. Now it’s only a matter of scouting and watching for the fall migration. Here is a summary of the 2018 waterfowl seasons.

The 2018 waterfowl includes a special September teal season from Sept. 1-16, a one-week duck season opening in the North Zone on Sept. 29, Oct. 6 in the South Zone and Oct. 13 in the Missouri River Zone. Each zone will then continue with the rest of the 60-day regular season commencing in the North Zone on Oct. 13, the South Zone on Oct. 20 and on Oct. 27 in the Missouri River Zone.

The 2018-framework is based on the results of the 2014-17 experimental early September teal season. The purpose of this experimental season was to give duck hunters more days to hunt that did not count against the 60-day waterfowl season allowed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to Orrin Jones, Iowa DNR waterfowl biologist, “Iowa’s waterfowl hunters are a very diverse group. Some really like the early teal season, others like a season that includes an early duck opener that gives them the chance to catch the local ducks and some of the early migrators, while the others like to hunt the late season and try to catch the late migration. There is just no way we can please all groups, and we just can’t fit everybody’s wishes into a 60-day season. This year’s framework gives us the best chance to do that.”

Part of the issue is that Iowa is a mid latitude state. States such as Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin are adjacent to Canada, so they are more able to match their season with the weather changes and the resulting migrations. However, as a midlatitude state, Iowa is more of a hostage to lack of weather changes. For the most part, the waterfowl are not going to migrate until things ice up and snow covers the food up north. Some years that can be early or like 2017, the fall weather can linger on and on and waterfowlers look to the skies and see no migrants.

Here is the rationale for each of the 2018 seasons (see illustration for complete waterfowl dates, shooting times and bag/possession limits):

A 16-day September teal season beginning Sept. 1. Blue-winged teal are

abundant and begin migrating through Iowa in late August and peak in mid-September. Beginning on Sept. 1 allows the use of all days available, which increases the likelihood of teal migrations occurring during the season, while also providing the longest rest period possible before the opening of the regular duck season. Jones adds that even the early teal season depends on weather. During 2014 and 2015, little cold fronts would move teal through Iowa throughout the early season. However, the weather didn’t cooperate as well in 2016 and 2017, and the number of teal bagged dropped significantly.

Data collected from the four-year experiment indicates there has not been a negative impact on teal, wood duck and local mallard populations. Iowa’s previous five-day September season is no longer a benefit because the regular duck season can open on the same weekend in five out of 10 years. With a teal season, Iowa can utilize additional days and a more flexible season structure. A bonus — these 16 days do not count against the regular duck season.

A seven-day early duck season staggered between zones will begin in the North

Zone on the last weekend in September, then the South Zone a week later and the Missouri River Zone a week after that. This segment is intended to target wood ducks and other early season migrants.

A 53-day duck season again staggered between zones will begin after a seven-day rest period following the seven-day early duck season, providing hunters opportunity in October, November and December.

The light and dark goose seasons will run concurrently and be broken into four segments: a nine-day urban season for the three special zones (Des Moines, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City and Waterloo/Cedar Falls), a 16-day early season that will open one week before the seven-day early duck season, a 53-day midseason that will follow the duck season and a 29-day late season that will run into January.

Youth waterfowl season will occur the weekend before the regular duck season. The regular goose season will be open during the youth waterfowl season to allow adults and youth to harvest geese.

The hunt

One possibility of this early season is the opportunity to hunt both teal and mourning doves. Teal and doves often frequent the same shallow water/mud flat areas, so chances are you will get a shot at both. That will definitely be a fun mixed bag. As acrobatic as teal and doves are, I am sure that lots of holes will be shot in the air. That’s what will make this season so interesting. If you have ever had a flock of 50 teal dive bomb through your decoy spread and be gone before you can get nothing more than a “passing Hail Mary shot” off, then you know what I mean. Plus, they will come screaming in from the back, or the side, or the corner or right from the front. Each flock will most likely do something just a little bit different.

Scouting will be important for this early teal season. Most of the migrating blue-winged teal relate to shallow water, mud flats and smaller wetlands, especially those with heavy vegetation. They love the seeds and gorge on them to prepare for their next push south. As for equipment, it will be relatively simple with only a few decoys needed. Most hunters will likely use some of their mallard decoys. Best bet is to go with mostly hen decoys, because the blue-winged teal drakes will not be in full plumage yet. Of course, some hunters will use teal decoys to make the spread as realistic as possible.

Since the best action will be on those shallow water areas, hunters will not be hitting the larger marshes, small lakes and rivers, so that will help them avoid other ducks: wood ducks, mallards, gadwall and shovelers.

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