Considering a Coastal Trip for Sea Ducks? Here's Where Hunters Score Big
This might be one best-of duck hunting list that won't feature Arkansas.
That's nothing against the South, Great Plains and other waterfowling hotspots, of course. I just thought it would be fun to examine U.S. Fish and Wildlife data from the 2016 season to see which states harvested the most sea ducks and mergansers. (OK, I didn't initially plan to include mergies, but the FWS lumps sea duck harvest into three categories ‚ scoters, eiders and longtails ‚ and I needed more than three entries for this blog. And yes, as you've noticed, I have a somewhat perverse curiosity about mergies.)
Explanations aside, here are your top states for sea ducks and sawbills.
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Maryland reigns as the undisputed king of the scoter world, as hunters there shot a whopping 11,372 scoters in 2016 and 13,891 in 2015. (Again, the feds don't list separate harvest totals for surf, common and white-winged scoters.) Not surprisingly, Maryland's neighbor Virginia took second-place scoter honors in 2016 with 7,427 birds.
Interesting note: Two Great Lakes states made some noise in this category. Michigan hunters took 2,822 scoters in 2016, and Wisconsin waterfowlers killed 2,352. That seems surprising, but as we'll note later, it probably shouldn't be.
Photo ¬© Roman Khomlyak/Shutterstock
No stunners here. Massachusetts smoked the competition in 2016, when hunters there shot about 4,034 eiders (almost all of which, of course, were common eiders). Maine, a famous eider hunting state, took the second spot with 1,822 eiders.
I thought Alaska might have ranked a bit higher, but the FWS estimated that hunters there shot about 985 eiders in 2016. (Of course, the service also estimated that Alaskan hunters took about 985 longtails and 985 scoters that season, so I'm not sure what to infer from that number.)
Photo ¬© Mateusz Sciborski/Shutterstock
To me, this is the most fascinating category. New York hunters led the league in 2016 by taking about 10,083 long-tailed ducks. That probably stuns a few folks, but it shouldn't. The mouth of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario feature some of the best longtail (and scoter) gunning in the country. It's a major wintering area for both species.
But here's the true shocker. The No. 2 longtail state? Wisconsin. Yes, cheesehead fowlers shot an astounding 9,703 longtails in 2016. How is that possible? Lake Michigan is a major wintering area for longtails. That used to be a little-known secret, but word has gotten outand many Wisconsinites now take advantage of this resource. In fact, some insiders worry that hunting pressure on longtails has become too extreme.
Photo ¬© Wang Liqiang/Shutterstock
Caveat: We're not judging anyone here. And honestly, a drake hooded merganser is one of the world's most beautiful birds. I have a gorgeous specimen in my trophy room and treasure it.
For the record, North Carolina hunters whipped everyone in this category, shooting about 16,749 hoodies in 2016. No one else came close, but Minnesota hunters took No. 2 honors by shooting about 8,571 hoodeds. At least that gives me some ammo to good-naturedly kid my waterfowling neighbors to the west (on topics other than the Vikings).
Photo ¬© Tim Zurowski/Shutterstock
Other mergansers, of course, refer to common and red-breasted mergies (also known as sawbills, dragons, lawn darts and many unprintable terms).
Again, we're not judging, but Ohio hunters led the league with about 6,083 other mergansers. Apparently, folks there are becoming more selective, as that number is down substantially from the 2015 mergie total of 18,368. New York hunters shot the second-most sawbills, with 4,526.
Thankfully, my home state of Wisconsin was far down the list, with only 882 lawn darts in 2016. I attribute much of that to the fact that I've sworn off mergies for many years. (Or maybe it was a down year for fish. Either way, I'm just glad we avoided the notoriety.)
Photo ¬© Wildlife World/Shutterstock