Tennessee’s Reelfoot Duck Zone ushers in the 2018-19 fall duck hunting season on Nov. 10-11 and continues from Dec. 1 to Jan. 27. The Statewide Duck Zone will again have its familiar 60-day split season, opening on Nov. 24-25 (Thanksgiving Day weekend) and continuing Dec. 1 to Jan. 27. The youth waterfowl hunts are Feb. 2 and Feb. 9 for both zones.

The daily bag limit is six ducks, consisting of no more than four mallards (maximum of two females), three wood, three scaup, two redhead, one pintail, two canvasback and two black.

The season for Canada geese in the Northwest Canada Goose Zone continues Nov. 10-11 and Dec. 1 to Feb. 10. The Statewide Canada Goose Zone continues Nov. 24-25 and Dec. 1 to Feb. 10. The daily bag limit is three in all zones. Most of the other goose species are open Nov. 24-25 and Dec. 1 to Feb. 10. For more, see the waterfowl section in the 2018-19 hunting guide, pages 22-27, or see it at www.tnwildlife.org.

Since 2011, waterfowlers have been treated to fall migrations that rank as very good to fantastic. It appears that the 2018 fall migration is going to be another excellent one. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released its report on “2018 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations,” based on surveys conducted in May and early June in the north central U.S. Pothole Region (USFWS) and the Canadian central provinces (Canadian Wildlife Service).

Overall duck numbers in the survey area remain high, but dropped a little from last year. Total populations were estimated at 41.2 million breeding ducks in the traditional survey area, which is down from last year’s estimate of 47.3 million (48.4 million in 2016) and is 17 percent above the 1955 to 2016 long-term average (LTA). The projected mallard fall flight index is 11.4 million birds, compared to the 2017 figure of 12.9 million.

The main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in the key breeding landscapes. Conditions observed across the U.S. and Canadian survey areas during the 2018 breeding population survey generally were similar to last year with a few exceptions. The total pond estimate for the United States and Canada combined was 5.2 million, which is 14 percent below the 2017 estimate of 6.1 million and identical to the LTA of 5.2 million.

Although mallard numbers in the survey declined by 12 percent, overall, the mainstay mallard populations remain in great shape, and the USFWS estimates the mallard fall flight will be similar to last year. However, the survey indicates a continuing concern for pintails and scaup, as both species remain below their LTA.

Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Tom Moorman had these observations: “The dip in the population for prairie-breeding puddle ducks is not unexpected and by no means unprecedented given that conditions on the prairies this spring were drier than last year. As a result, 2018 populations dropped accordingly. However, populations of all key species except northern pintails and scaup remain above long-term averages.

“This year’s breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain the capacity of breeding habitats, particularly in the prairies as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions. Waterfowl populations are adapted well to short-term swings in habitat conditions, but we must continue to guard against the long-term loss of prairie breeding habitat,” he said.

View all the data and get a species-by-species breakdown at the Ducks Unlimited website, www.ducks.org/ducknumbers.

ELk HUNT: The 2018 Tennessee elk hunt is in the books. There were 15 bull permits issued this year. Twelve hunters took animals for an extraordinary success rate of 80 percent, the best since the program began in 2009. In the archery hunt from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, all seven bowhunters filled their tags. The sole young sportsman tagged out and four of seven scored in the Oct. 13-19 rifle season (gun, muzzleloader or archery). Participants could hunt on North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and surrounding private lands.

Three bowhunters took 6x6 bulls on opening day: Darrell Clark (Corryton) in Elk Zone 2; Adam A. Miller (Jamestown) in Zone 5; and Marcus B. Tilson (Oakdale) in Zone 7S. On Oct. 1, Charlie A. Hall (Chattanooga) took a 7x6 bull in Zone 1, and Hunter Munck (Cleveland) harvested a 9x7 from Zone 1. On Oct. 4, Mason King (Harriman) killed a 4x7 in Zone 3; and on Oct. 5 Luke Dunham (Cookeville) took a 6x5 bull in Zone 4.

In the Young Sportsman Elk Hunt from Oct. 6-12, Porter Neubauer (Belvidere) won the permit this year and killed a 6x6 on Oct. 11 in Zone 4.

In the rifle elk season from Oct. 13-19, Scott Thomas (Cleveland) took an 8x6 bull on the first day in Zone 1. Thomas was the lucky winner of the 2018 Tennessee Elk Raffle, which sold 22,484 tickets at $10 per. Also filling tags on the first day were Henry Cothron (Bethpage) with a 3x4 in Zone 4, and Denise Porter (Maryville) with a 4x4 in Zone 7N. Finally, David Pruitt (Jackson) took a 6x4 bull in Zone 7S. Since the first hunt in 2009, there have been 53 elk harvested.

Email wiest.tom@gmail.com to share with your news and comments with Tom Wiest.

Tom Wiest is a long time columnist on all matters outdoors. He welcomes news, questions and comments from readers.

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