The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 3, 2012

Southeast Kansas duck hunters adjusting to new season dates

ST. PAUL, Kan. — After Labor Day, hunters in Southeast Kansas typically begin gearing up for duck season: They touch up the paint on decoys, repair their blinds, haul their waders out of storage.

But recent studies by biologists indicate some species of waterfowl that use the Central Flyway are arriving in this area later than in decades past — meaning hunters have to wait a little longer to harvest them. The state’s southernmost hunters noticed the trend, prompting them to petition for a change in the decades-old hunting season that traditionally opened the last weekend in October.

Last year, they lobbied for — and were granted — pushing the opening date to Nov. 5. This year, at its August meeting, the Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission opted to make this year’s season even later. It opens Nov. 15 and closes Jan. 27.

“For several years, we have had requests from folks in Southeast Kansas for a later season, mostly from those who hunt mallards,” said Mike Miller, a spokesman for the state wildlife department and editor of Kansas Wildlife & Parks Magazine.

Mallards are later migrators, following early-season waterfowl like teal and gadwall that don’t respond as well to hunters’ calls.

But it’s not just about bagging a particular species of duck for the dinner table. Whether hunters are successful also has significant economic ramifications.

Hunting pumps an estimated $270 million into the Kansas economy from an estimated 78,500 hunters. A study by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies shows that Kansas waterfowl hunters alone account for $30.5 million in retail sales, for a total multiplier effect of $62 million. They pay for $15.5 million in salaries and wages of the 5,408 hunting jobs in the state, 763 of which are specific to waterfowl. They pay $1.7 million in sales and motor fuel taxes.

Many come from out of state — waterfowl hunters alone account for 103,667 visits and 644,668 days of hunting. Those hunters won’t come, owners of hunting clubs say, if the season doesn’t allow for the optimum harvest of ducks.

Roy Carter, whose family has had waterfowl leases along the Neosho River since 1886, said the shift in the duck season will “help us a lot, not only for our benefit but the whole area and the state as a whole.”

“If there’s no ducks, I can’t sell any hunts, and if I can’t sell hunts, the tire shop down the road’s not selling tires, the gas station isn’t selling gas, the state isn’t selling out-of-state stamps,” he said. “If our dates aren’t when the ducks are here, there’s no opportunity for the sportsman. And there’s no sense in having a 74-day season if there’s no opportunity for the sportsman.”

Since it opened a guide service in 1986, it’s been rare for Carters Big Island Duck Club to book hunters before about Nov. 20. Carter lobbied last year to push the season later so that the federally allotted 74 days would stretch through January.

“We just don’t have our ducks yet,” Carter said of the early weeks in previous seasons. “With our weather getting warmer, it’s slower for these ducks to get down here. Last year in January, there were still mallards in North Dakota on Devils Lake.

“Opening it any earlier than that can waste two or three weeks of a season, because you lose about 21 days if they’re not here yet.”

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