Duck Numbers – Fact or Fiction??

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Have you ever picked up a Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl or Wildfowl magazine and see articles that talk about duck and goose numbers?  They may talk about the 48 million bird projected flight or the number of birds harvested last year.  Ok, what do these numbers really mean, how reliable are they and how is this data obtained?

I called and spoke to a Ducks Unlimited biologist in Memphis, TN regarding this matter, because I myself had quite a few questions.  The answers I got were what I expected in some cases and way out in left field in others.

For the past 10 years or so, Louisiana has been listed to have the highest total duck harvest, with Arkansas 2nd and Texas 3rd.  These are total duck harvest numbers from last season.

Louisiana- 2,563,857

Arkansas- 1,883,650

Texas- 1,323,766

As you can see these numbers are down to the EXACT # harvested and not rounded at all.  Have you ever been asked how many ducks you killed?  I certainly never have been asked or polled.  I have kept detailed records of my duck harvests in a journal since the 1999 duck season.  Not once have I given my harvest information to any Federal, State or private waterfowl organization to add my numbers to this tally.  I can imagine most of you haven’t either.   So…..what does this mean and how did they come to this exact number?  Are they getting these numbers strictly from HIP?  Yes and No.

Basically they will have a small set of hunters that are surveyed and will crunch those numbers and plug them in based on the amount of hunters that register in the HIP program and buy licenses.  Crazy…right…

I mean here is how detailed they have the bird harvest for Arkansas.

Mallard- 541,431

Gadwall- 220,253

Green Winged Teal- 140,527

And the list goes on and on…..

As I said earlier, these numbers are down tenth place and how accurate can these numbers really be?  I know guide services that kill over 3,000 birds a year that have never plugged their numbers in these charts and have done so for decades.

When you see online articles stating a certain rest or refuge is holding 25,000 ducks, you can rest assured they don’t have a clicker in their hand counting every winged bird out there.  They usually fly over, or look from a tower and give it a good estimate and go with it.

Some of my best seasons were when the magazines said duck numbers were at an all time low and flights were going to be smaller than previous years.

The bottom line is don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see when it comes to duck numbers and data.  Don’t let the numbers and data sway you one way or another from hunting.  It seems as though every couple of years the headlines will read “The skies are black, the ducks are back!!”.  You need to know that most of these organizations want and need the money generated from waterfowl hunters and revenue from them to be profitable.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to discredit or belittle these biologists and what they do.  I am just trying to be as real as possible about numbers and statistics we read in every waterfowl magazine out there.

You have to spend time in the woods and on the water to figure out bird numbers in your area.  I will let them count the ducks, I will be busy trying to kill them.  G’ Luck…

Story by Shane Smith

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