- Associated Press - Friday, September 22, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Ducks Unlimited are optimistic about the waterfowl season in Minnesota, which starts a half-hour before sunrise Saturday.

The DNR estimates that about 50,000 duck and goose hunters will be out for opening weekend. However, the National Weather Service forecasts rain and thunderstorms for much of the state.

The DNR’s first waterfowl migration report of the season , released Thursday, said duck hunters should expect fair to good numbers in most areas on opening weekend, based on reports from wildlife managers across the state. The number of breeding ducks in Minnesota is good, and there was a big wild rice crop in northern Minnesota that will provide food to encourage ducks to stick around.

Jon Schneider, manager of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited in Minnesota, said his group is optimistic because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s spring breeding pairs survey found that waterfowl populations across the continent were robust. But the weather will determine when and where those birds migrate, he said.

“If hunters are fortunate enough to have the flexibility to be out in the field in the right places, they should see good numbers of ducks,” he said.

And Schneider said they should see more ducks over their decoys than they saw last year, when the migration of mallards was delayed by unusually warm fall weather that lasted late into the year. Many mallards stayed north of the Canadian border until Thanksgiving, he said.

But Schneider and Ducks Unlimited remain concerned about the future because the state continues to lose wetlands and prairie. Much of the duck habitat of the prairie pothole region of western and southern Minnesota has been lost, he said, and the wetlands that remain there are in poor shape.

Minnesota’s duck season will be open for 60 days, but closure and reopening dates vary by region.

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