What are the current season dates and what are the proposed dates for the 2023-2024 season?
For the 2023-2024 hunting season, CPW is proposing to start the first season segment a week later, and start the second season segment a week earlier:
2022-2023 season dates:
First segment: Oct 8-Nov 27 (51 days)
Second segment: Dec 18-Jan 31 (45 days)
Season split = 21 days
Proposed 2023-2024 season dates:
Oct 14-Nov 26 (44 days)
Dec 11-Jan 31 (52 days)
Season split = 15 days
Why is CPW proposing changes to the Northeast Duck Zone season dates now?
The Northeast Duck Zone receives the most duck hunter activity and the highest duck harvest in Colorado. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service annually sets the earliest opening date, latest closing date, and the maximum number of days permitted in duck seasons. Since 2001, the regular duck season in the Northeast Zone has been 96 days, and those days must occur between the Saturday closest to September 24 and the end of January. Federal rules allow the season days to be consecutive, or the season can be split into 2 or 3 segments, with a closed period between each season segment.
In order to spread out duck hunting opportunity throughout the season, CPW has historically split the season into 2 or 3 segments in the Northeast Zone. In recent years, the first season segment has started in early October and extended until after Thanksgiving weekend, then there has been a closed period of about 3 weeks until the week before Christmas, and then the second season segment starts and extends through the end of January.
CPW frequently hears requests from some Northeast Duck Zone hunters to add more late-season hunting opportunity.
How have past duck seasons been split in the Northeast?
The length of the regular duck season allowed under federal regulations has been the same in the Northeast Zone since 2001. Since that year, several approaches have been used to set the season.
During 2001 – 2005, there were two splits during the season, one in late October/early November and one in late November/early December. These splits ranged from 5-13 days in length.
During 2006 – 2010, there was one split during the season, occurring in late October/early November; the split length ranged from 18-21 days.
During 2011 – 2018, the split was moved to late November/early December, and the season ended on the last Sunday in January. During this period, the split ranged from 11-18 days.
During 2019 – 2022, the split remained in late November/early December, and the season ending date was moved to January 31. Ending the season as late as possible resulted in a slightly longer split (on average); during this period, the split ranged from 16-21 days.
How have past season splits affected the success of duck harvests?
Daily harvest estimates are available for the Northeast Zone for 2001 – 2020. This period can be divided into 4, 5-year periods: 2001 – 2005 (2 relatively short splits), 2006 – 2010 (1 longer split during late October/early November), 2011 – 2015 (1 longer split during late November/early December), and 2016 – 2020 (1 longer split during late November/early December, while moving to a January 31 closing date).
We looked at average daily duck harvest during each month of the season (October, November, December, and January) during each of these 5-year periods – we averaged the harvest only across days when the season was open (e.g., if the season was closed during 10 of the 31 days in October in a particular year, we calculated the average daily harvest in October for that year only for the 21 days when the season was open). Comparing average daily harvests among months of the season can be useful, because it could be argued that we should avoid having splits in the season during months when daily harvest is relatively high, and we should try to place splits during months when average daily duck harvest is relatively low.
The graph below shows the estimated harvests. Although there are some differences among the 5-year periods, average daily duck harvest is consistently relatively high in October and (except in the last 5- year period) November, with relatively low average daily harvest in January.
How would season dates affect my duck hunting opportunities?
Early in the season, most ducks use shallow ponds, marshes, and flooded impoundments (many located on State Wildlife Areas) that eventually freeze or dry out and are no longer available by mid-November. Later in the season, ducks tend to use large reservoirs and the South Platte River and adjacent sloughs, and some duck species fly out to agricultural fields to feed. Different duck hunting opportunities are available throughout late September through January in the Northeast Zone, and different hunters prefer to hunt at different times and habitats, as well as on public versus private lands.
When are the best harvest days for mallard vs. non-mallard ducks?
The graph below divides the average daily duck harvest into mallards and non-mallards. This shows that non-mallards dominate the harvest in October, and by December and January mallards dominate the harvest. This makes sense, because many non-mallard ducks have migrated from the Northeast Zone by December, and mallards tend to arrive in large numbers in the Northeast Zone after mid-November.
Thus, hunters who want to harvest any ducks may prefer to hunt in October and November when average daily duck harvest tends to be higher, whereas hunters who like to target mallards may prefer to hunt starting in late November, when mallards are more abundant and more likely to be harvested.
Each of these types of hunters may have different opinions about when during the season they would find splits acceptable.
Which duck species are available to hunt in the Northeast?
Five species of ducks comprise almost 90% of the annual duck harvest in the Northeast Zone: mallard (51%), gadwall (13%), green-winged teal (11%), wigeon (8%), and blue-winged teal (6%). Most of these species are present in the Northeast Zone throughout the period when the duck season can occur, although few blue-winged teal occur after October; peak numbers of these ducks occur in late November, and the mallard is the most common species by mid-November (see figure below).