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A fierce storm of protest has been raised by gunners on all flyways against the 1959 waterfowl regulations—the most sweeping changes in the past decade, mostly the result of the Canadian drought. Season-length cutbacks of 20 days on the Atlantic and Central flyways and 30 days on the Mississippi flyway have disgruntled waterfowlers; and Pacific Coast flyway gunners, although they lose but one shooting day, are outraged by any restrictions. The severity of this national discord was expressed last week by Parker Smith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife official in Atlanta. "I guess we are the nerve center of the biggest outdoor bellyache in the history of the Atlantic seaboard," Smith said. "From the tremendous and continuous clamor of complaints that have poured in from hunters, I believe we would have been far better off to discontinue the 1959 season altogether, rather than to reduce the bag limits and shooting days so drastically."
Ducks Unlimited officials estimate that the national waterfowl average will be down 20% over-all. For your chances of killing a duck this year, see the flyway breakdown below.
West Coast gunners are making the loudest protest against the new limitations. They contend that any regulation that goes beyond those in effect for the past decade is unfair. Surveys held by the federal government and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as our own, do not bear this out 100%.
Birds feeding the Pacific flyway hail from regions generally not affected by the drought which has blighted the breeding areas for waterfowl across much of Canada. A major portion of their birds come from Alaska, western Alberta, and the Northwest Territory—areas which stayed wet during the nesting season. However, the all-important factor of bonus birds for hunters in that region is being overlooked. The bonus bird for the Pacific flyway, is the sprig, or pintail, a species whose nesting grounds were in good part devastated. Their numbers will be sharply down this season as opposed to last. Both federal and state officials feel that heavy shooting pressure on these birds could do immeasurable harm to the future supply.
As of October 1, Tule Lake and Lower Klamath refuges, two of the major stopover points for southbound birds on the Pacific flyway, were indicated by aerial survey to hold 3,919,000 birds. Although this figure may seem impressive, it is still approximately one and a half million birds less than these same areas held last year.
The Pacific coast situation, with the sprig down while other birds have held static, is by no means as desperate as that of other regions, with shooting outlook good.
OVER-ALL TOTAL: DOWN: 5%
The Central faces what may be its slowest season in many years. Two of its major birds, the mallard and pintail, were drastically reduced by the drought in the Canadian breeding grounds. Returning birds, heading up from the southern wintering grounds to the prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, ran into barren mud flats and dust bowls where potholes had once held promise of food and cover. Moving farther north, these early arrivals established a breeding claim to the restricted wet land of the upper sections, leaving latecomers with no alternative but to remigrate to the deep-water lake country to the south—a shift never before recorded in waterfowl conservation history. There they took up residence through the months of May and June, until a lifesaving rain filled the potholes again. The end result was a late hatch and a small one. Had the rains not come in June there would have been no hatch at all. In New Mexico the count of birds was higher than that of last year, but officials feel, perhaps correctly, that these birds did not migrate.