Like rabbits, ducks ruled by nature

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Biologists have long known that it’s impossible to stockpile rabbits in the wild. Everything from foxes to hawks, coyotes to humans eats rabbits, and each year somewhere around 80 percent of the furballs die whether they’re shot by us Elmer Fudds or not. The cold, lean conditions of winter alone take a tremendous toll on rabbit populations.

So that’s why state managers have always been liberal with rabbit seasons and limits. The hunting season this year numbers 150 days, and the possession limit per hunter per day is a generous eight.

We can hit rabbits so hard without any guilt or regret because no matter how much we hunt, within season limits, at least one wily male and one wily female will make it through the season, and for rabbits, that’s all it takes.

To the surviving Mr. and Mrs. Thumper, good springtime habitat is like a Johnny Mathis record and cold bottle of chardonnay. In just a matter of weeks, Mr. Thumper is wondering how he’s going to put such a brood through college. And incest be damned, those youngsters are making Mr. Thumper a grandfather and great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather before he’s even started shaving.

But Mother Nature won’t allow such rapid propogation to go unchecked, so either we hunt the bunnies in the fall and winter, or she’ll whack them for us. She has to make room for next year’s crop.

This isn’t news to biologists. They’ve allowed liberal limits on rabbits for decades now, and the populations have not been hurt one iota. Granted, there are years that are leaner than others for rabbit hunters, but that’s almost always attributable to habitat. A dry spring or flooding rains in the summer will knock populations back enough that hunters will notice a difference when fall rolls around, but in such a case, the hunting wouldn’t have been any better if the population had gone totally untouched by humans the year before.

What biologists are discovering more and more, however, is that many of the same rules apply to ducks. Hunters who build blinds and put out decoys in the fall and winter have some impact on populations, certainly, but nowhere near that which nature has by the level of fertility of the habitat she provides.

“We’re discovering that you can’t really stockpile the ducks,” said Robert Helm, waterfowl study leader for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “Nature will determine how big the population is.”

Because of that, waterfowl managers have stopped erring on the side of caution, and are opting for the liberal limits recommended by a scientific formula called Adaptive Harvest Management.

For this season, that means 60 days to harvest six ducks per day.

“When the formula shows that 60 and six won’t hurt the population at all, how can you turn it down?” Helm rightly pointed out in the September issue’s 2004 Duck Forecast.

The only problem I see is with public perception. Hunters hear that the limits will again be liberal this year, and it makes them anticipate a great season.

But as the last several seasons have shown, that isn’t necessarily the case. Though the limits are the same, duck populations aren’t as high as they were five years ago, and this year may prove to be one of the leanest in recent history.

As always, time, weather and habitat will tell.

But hunters shouldn’t let the liberal limits of the 2004-05 season raise their expectations.

About Todd Masson 732 Articles
Todd Masson has covered outdoors in Louisiana for a quarter century, and is host of the Marsh Man Masson channel on YouTube.