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It was a conversation that began last fall with a randomly selected group of duck hunters meeting in Ames. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was looking for their thoughts on the waterfowl seasons and zones before hosting six meetings that would help formulate waterfowl hunting seasons in Iowa from 2017-2021.
Every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) allow states, within certain parameters, to change their hunting zones for a five year period.
The current season and zone structure will end after the 2016 waterfowl season.
In preparation for this new season setting schedule, the DNR compiled data on how the birds moved through the state and where and when they were here, harvest data and information on hunter preferences through a mail survey.
This new information was discussed during the waterfowl meetings along with waterfowl biology, results of the hunter survey on when and how they preferred to hunt ducks, and hunters provided their input on waterfowl hunting seasons.
“We learned their perspective on the seasons and how they like to hunt and they learned our science,” said Orrin Jones, state waterfowl biologist for the DNR. “It was maybe a little different approach as we’ve done in the past and every state does it differently, but we are looking for, what is the best way to do this for Iowa.”
In 2013 the FWS decided to shift away from the traditional schedule that uses current year biological data and towards using the previous year biological data to inform annual waterfowl hunting regulations. This new schedule has been implemented for the 2016 hunting season.
“What this new schedule does is, it allows our seasons to be set further in advance and that benefits hunters who want that information and it allows us to produce the regulations and other materials for the hunters ahead of the season,” Jones said.
Under the old schedule, the FWS provided season and bag limit framework to Iowa in late July, which had to be approved in August for seasons opening September 1.
Jones took the comments and suggestions from hunters and distilled it to a proposal given to the Natural Resource Commission of the DNR during its January 20 meeting. That proposal is now available for public comment through March 8. The commission will likely have a final proposal on its April 14 meeting agenda. The DNR must submit its final version of the seasons and zones to the FWS by May 1.
The season and zone proposals and survey data is available at https://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/Migratory-Game-Birds