There’s something unusual about West Virginia’s hunting season for migratory ducks and geese.
“Not many of the birds being hunted are migrating,” said Mike Peters, game bird biologist for the state Division of Natural Resources. “Most of the birds killed during the first segment of the waterfowl season are resident birds.”
During that first segment, hunters usually focus on resident wood ducks, mallards and Canada geese. Peters expects them to do that again during this year’s edition of that first segment, scheduled for Oct. 1–14.
“We’re fortunate that we have good populations of those species, because we don’t get many birds migrating through the state that early in the fall,” he said.
Blue-winged teal, the species that migrates earliest, sometimes pass through the state during the season’s first segment, but Peters said it’s a hit-or-miss proposition.
“Hunters will probably get more consistent results if they concentrate on what we have here,” he added, “but this time of year you can expect to see few blue-wings.”
It might also be a good idea for them to concentrate on wood ducks rather than mallards. The bag limit for woodies is three a day; the bag limit for mallards, which used to be three a day, has been reduced to two.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the change effective for this season. Peters said the decision sprang from the agency’s duck-population surveys.
“Their surveys showed that mallards in the eastern part of the country aren’t doing so well,” he explained. “There’s no guarantee the regulation change is going to recover the population, but we hope it does.”
This year’s early-October segment will be a day longer than usual.
“In the past, we set the segment so it would include two Saturdays,” Peters said. “Now that we have statewide Sunday hunting, it made sense to include another Sunday as well.”
Hunters usually approach the season in one of two ways. Some prefer hunting over decoys, while others prefer “jump-shooting” — prowling small creeks and shooting birds that flush. Peters said this year’s water conditions favor the decoy approach.
“With the drought we’ve been having, a lot of creeks are just about dried up,” he continued. “Decoy shooting usually takes place in larger bodies of water, which are in relatively better shape.”
Larger creeks or small rivers might still provide jump-shooting opportunities, either for hunters on foot or in small boats. Peters said hunters who choose that tactic should be on the lookout for oak trees that overhang the water.
“Wood ducks love acorns,” he explained. “If you find an overhanging oak that’s bearing a lot of acorns, you have a good chance of finding wood ducks nearby.”
The license requirements for waterfowl hunting are a bit more extensive than for other small-game species. Hunters must have a current West Virginia hunting license, a federal waterfowl stamp, and a federal Harvest Information Program permit. The waterfowl stamp costs $25. The HIP permit is free, but mandatory.