By Brian Broom/The Clarion-Ledger
JACKSON — If the weather cooperates, Mississippi duck hunters could be on track for a season that leaves them talking for years to come.
According to the recently released Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Canadian Wildlife Service, the North American breeding duck population is at a record high with 48.6 million birds.
This represents an increase of 7 percent over the 2011 estimate.
The number that will most likely have Mississippi duck hunters quacking is the 15 percent increase in the mallard population.
“For hunters, I think it’s great,” said Ken Carroll of Ducks Unlimited. “It’s the first time since 1999 that the mallard population has exceeded 10 million and that’s the duck everyone is after.”
Carroll, a Brandon resident and Capital District D.U. Chairman, is encouraged by the numbers and said, “I think we’ll see another full 60-day season.”
He also said it reflects the work done by the organization.
“In Mississippi alone, D.U. has conserved over 289,000 acres,” said Carroll.
According to Carroll, most of the work in Mississippi has centered around impoundments and water control structures.
Across North America, Carroll said D.U. has conserved 12,693,635 acres for the benefit of waterfowl.
Conservation efforts seem to have paid off for gadwall as well with a population increase of 10 percent over 2011.
While shovelers only saw an 8 percent increase since last year, this places them 111 percent above the long-term average according to the annual survey, which has been conducted since 1955.
For early season teal hunters, the numbers are just as significant.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated green-winged teal have increased by 20 percent over 2011 and 3 percent for blue-winged teal.
This places the two 74 percent and 94 percent above their long-term averages, respectively.
Even though the overall numbers look good, it’s not all blue skies.
Northern pintails are down by an estimated 22 percent and redheads are down by 6 percent from last year.
The 2012 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey also indicated ponds declined by 49 percent compared to last year due to below-average moisture.
Avid waterfowl hunter Don Bates of Canton is cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season.
“It starts with good numbers, but we need cold weather and not a lot of rain to have a banner year,” said Bates.
According to Bates, “we’ve had great numbers the last few years, but if we have too much water or warm weather, the numbers are irrelevant.”
Bates, who hunts in the Mississippi Delta, said last winter’s warm weather seriously dampened his season, “but, like all idiot duck hunters, it does not matter what the prognosis is, we’re going to hunt anyway.”