By Dan Armitage, host of Buckeye Sportsman, Ohio’s longest running outdoor radio show
Ohio’s waterfowl hunting seasons are underway, or will be by month’s end, statewide. According to a study last spring, the duck population across North America declined, but most species remain above long-term averages, according to the 2019 Waterfowl Population Status Report released late last month, so biologists are calling for numbers that hunters are likely to see to be similar to the past few seasons across Ohio.
The annual survey, conducted jointly by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service since 1955, puts the breeding duck population at 38.90 million, a 6% decrease from last year’s population of 41.19 million, but still 10% above the long-term average. The 2019 survey marks the first time since 2008 that the estimated breeding duck population has fallen below 40 million.
There is good news to be found in the survey, however: Ohio waterfowl hunters’ most popular targets — mallards — increased 2% to 9.42 million, 19% above the long-term average. (Unfortunately for Atlantic Flyway hunters, mallards decreased by 2% in the Eastern Survey Area to 1.05 million.) Green-winged teal rose 4% to 3.18 million, 47% above the long-term average. American widgeon climbed slightly to 2.83 million, 8% above the long-term average.
Notably, gadwalls climbed 13% to 3.26 million, putting them 61% above the long-term average. Other dabbling ducks decreased, but remain above long-term averages. Shovelers declined 13% to 3.65 million, 39 percent above the long-term average. The largest decrease was observed among blue-winged teal, down 16% to 5.43 million, but still 6% above the long-term average.
The only below-average population estimate among puddle ducks is for pintails, which dropped 4% to 2.27 million, 42% below the long-term average.
All three diving duck species surveyed showed declines in 2019: Redheads fell 27% to 730,000, putting them right at the long-term average. Canvasbacks dropped 5% to 650,000, but remain 10% above the long-term average. And scaup (greaters and lessers combined) declined 10% to 3.59 million, 28% below the long-term average.
Second wave of sturgeon stocked in Maumee River
As part of a two decade commitment, the Toledo Zoo released its second batch of 3,000 advanced fingerling lake sturgeons into the Maumee River earlier this month. In the Great Lakes, there are currently six additional locations with sturgeon-rearing trailers and several other sites where fish raised in hatcheries are released.
In the Maumee River, the goal is to establish a self-sustaining population consisting of about 1,500 mature fish in about 25 years by annually stocking approximately 3,000 fingerlings. Success will not be immediately known, since it takes about 20 years for female lake sturgeons to mature before spawning, with males maturing a few years sooner.
Some 15,000 ring-necked pheasant roosters raised by the Ohio Division of Wildlife at their facility in Urbana will be released at more than two dozen public hunting areas across the state in October and November as part of a seasonal effort by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to enhance hunting opportunities for the popular game bird. The releases take place after legal shooting hours on Oct. 18 and 25 for the two-weekend small game hunting season that is open statewide for youth hunters on October 19-20 and 26-27. Additional pheasant releases will be conducted on select dates in November for the statewide small game hunting season that gets underway Nov. 1 for rabbits, pheasants, chukar and quail. For more information on the youth upland hunting opportunities and the rooster releases visit wildohio.gov.
Fernwood range renovation complete
The Ohio Division of Forestry and the Ohio Division of Wildlife recently completed more than
$545,000 of renovations and upgrades to the Fernwood State Forest Shooting Range and now offers 24 total lanes for shooters, with 12 lanes at both the pistol and rifle
ranges. Each lane has a sturdy table to rest a firearm or supplies on and a long stretch of open grass for setting up targets. The rifle and pistol ranges are covered by a roof, keeping the sun and rain off shooters as they practice their skills.
Additional upgrades include:
- Raising the height of the side berms and backstops for safety.
- Installing ballistic sand backstops that will make lead reclamation more efficient.
- Addressing storm water drainage issues.
- Installing new ADA-compliant sidewalks.
The 100-yard rifle, 25-yard pistol, and trap ranges provide the public with areas to practice marksmanship or sight-in firearms. The ranges are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Fernwood State Forest is in Jefferson County, approximately 10 miles from Steubenville. In addition to the range, the area offers four miles of hiking trails plus a free campground equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, and vault latrines. To learn more, visit forestry.ohiodnr.gov, or follow them on Instagram at @odnrforestry.