Gather your gear and get the decoys ready: Waterfowl hunting at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge is back on this season.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a reversal of its June 6 decision to close waterfowl hunting for the 2023-2024 season at the 10,795-acre refuge near Sumner, Missouri. Instead of complete closure of the refuge to waterfowling this fall, about 85% of the units where duck and goose hunting occurred in previous seasons will be open to hunters. Swan Lake is estimated to host 1,500 hunter days each season.
“We always wanted to have waterfowl hunting this season at Swan Lake if at all possible,” said Jason Wilson, project leader for the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Swan Lake NWR. “It’s a big win for everybody, and we’re glad to be able to make it happen.”
Three of the refuges 20 units—S2, S4, and T1—will remain closed this season for rehabilitation work, including tree and brush removal. In addition, the refuge will no longer backfill units for no-show hunters, and the check-in/check-out, as well as the hunt draws, will be done online.
Delta Waterfowl works tirelessly to maintain and enhance opportunities for duck and goose hunters throughout North America. Swan Lake is an excellent example of Delta’s impact for hunters, said Cyrus Baird, senior director of government affairs.
Through the Defending the Hunt Program, local chapter members can alert Delta staff of any threats to hunting access and opportunities. Baird said at least 15 people notified Delta about the USFWS June 6 notification to suspend waterfowl hunting at Swan Lake because of “staffing shortages and workload demands.”
Baird and Delta regional director Garrett Trentham immediately went to work on preserving the hunt for this season. Delta contacted refuge managers, USFWS directors, and Missouri Dept. of Conservation staff to propose solutions to allow hunting to continue at Swan Lake.
In a June 22 letter to Chuck Traxler, USFWS acting regional director, Delta Waterfowl stated, “We recognize and appreciate the staffing shortages that face the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as a whole, and the National Wildlife Refuge System in particular. This is an issue that Delta Waterfowl and a number of our partners have been working to address. Ensuring the Service has the capacity it needs to not only carry out their habitat management objectives, but to ensure situations like this don’t happen in other places is a top priority.”
Delta pitched practical solutions to allow waterfowl hunting access this season and beyond at Swan Lake while reducing the strain on USFWS staff.
“Delta presented a strong case to keep the refuge open for hunting,” Baird said. “Now instead of closing everything, the USFWS is just closing the units that need repairs and construction. Absent of us getting involved, there would be no waterfowl hunting at Swan Lake this season.”