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Published September 16, 2013, 01:23 PM

North Dakota waterfowl hunting season opens this weekend

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — In a year of fewer deer, grouse and pheasants, ducks and geese look to be the bright spot for North Dakota hunters this fall.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — In a year of fewer deer, grouse and pheasants, ducks and geese look to be the bright spot for North Dakota hunters this fall.

Waterfowl hunters in the state can expect this year to be among the top 20 in terms of hunting quality, state Game and Fish Department waterfowl biologist Mike Johnson told the Grand Forks Herald.

"We're certainly well above the long-term average, I think, in terms of duck numbers and the fall flight forecast," he said. "We've been riding this remarkable high for quite a few years. There have been some ups and downs, but we're still way above anything we had before, say, 1993."

That was the first year of a two-decade-long wet cycle that has created excellent conditions for ducks and geese.

"We're in a good time for waterfowl," said Mark Fisher, a biologist with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.

The state's waterfowl season opens Saturday for residents and Sept. 28 for out-of-state hunters.

The outlook might be most favorable in the Devils Lake region, where officials say ample water has helped ducks thrive.

Surveys of duck nests this spring indicated nesting success of 50 percent to 60 percent, when 20 percent is considered the benchmark for sustaining waterfowl populations.

"That's pretty amazing," Fisher said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service this year has changed the rules for waterfowl possession limits — the number of killed birds that hunters are allowed to possess at one time. It used to be twice the number they could kill in one day; now it is three times that number.

"These birds, there's so many of them there's a surplus, and that's what we manage for," Fisher said "The liberal bags, we're encouraging people to take ducks because we can't stockpile them, we can't put them in the bank and grow interest."

Officials also can't predict what impact the weather will have on hunting. An early snowstorm or unexpected cold snap can freeze wetlands and drive birds south overnight.

"The weather's always the big determiner of what the season is going to be," Johnson said.

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