MITCHELL, S.D. -- If you’re looking for a pandemic pastime, South Dakota puddle ducks are open for hunting.
Much of eastern South Dakota’s duck season opened Saturday, Sept. 26 and prospects for 2020 are very good, according to one official.
Rocco Murano, South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department waterfowl biologist, said there was “banner production” for all of the normal puddle ducks in South Dakota.
Typically, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts an annual aerial flight to count waterfowl in the Prairie Pothole Region, which includes eastern South Dakota, eastern North Dakota, western Minnesota and large areas of Canada. Due to COVID-19, the flight had its first year off since 1955.
“Anecdotally, though, we had phenomenal production conditions,” Murano said.
Murano said officials banded just shy of 3,000 ducks this year in South Dakota, with about 90% being hatch-year birds.
Here are some facts about South Dakota’s duck hunting season:
Shooting hours: One-half hour before sunrise to sunset.
Season dates: The Low Plains North and Low Plains Middle both opened Saturday, Sept. 26 and run through Dec. 8. The High Plains Zone, which is West River South Dakota, runs Oct. 10-Jan. 14. The Low Plains South, which is the southern border of the state, runs Oct. 24-Jan. 5. See the GF&P website for specific information.
Limits: Six ducks and comprised of no more than five mallards, which may include no more than two hens; one scaup (bluebill); three wood ducks; two redheads; one pintail; two canvasbacks; and hunters get two bonus blue-winged teal for the first 16 days of season only.
Dropping numbers: Duck hunter numbers are dropping significantly nationwide and in South Dakota. In 1999, South Dakota estimated there were 26,172 duck hunters in the state. Last year, that number was at 11,295, a drop of about 15,000 in two decades. To help reactivate and recruit hunters in the future, South Dakota and Nebraska will be conducting a new option beginning in 2021 called the three-splash rule.
The change is for people who may otherwise be hesitant to try waterfowl hunting due to worry of identifying ducks and staying within harvest limits. They will be able to harvest three ducks of any species or sex as their limit.
The three-splash rule is not mandated for everyone, and those people who do not want to participate can stick with the regular limit (this year it’s six ducks) with specific species limitations.