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New Jersey's 2010-2011 Waterfowl Season Dates
How They're Selected

by Ted Nichols, Principal Biologist
Waterfowl Ecology and Management Program
August 6, 2010


Selecting hunting seasons for migratory game birds is a balance between science and social factors. Hunting season packages, including season length and bag limits, are based on scientific assessments of a species' ability to withstand harvest and yet remain at a desired population level.

In general, decisions for season date selections for migratory birds are set when the birds are most abundant within a state or zone within a state. This decision requires empirical data on abundance as well as general observations of migration chronology in order to select the best dates. In addition, managers must also account for social factors including hunter preferences, traditions and holiday periods.

Following the completion of numerous, continent-wide, population monitoring surveys and after consultation with the four Flyway Councils, hunting season packages for migratory birds are annually promulgated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. States then select their hunting seasons within the federal frameworks. States may choose to be more restrictive than federal regulations but states cannot be more liberal than what is allowed in federal frameworks.

Goose hunters in field
Canada season hunters
Click to enlarge
In New Jersey, the process of setting the annual waterfowl hunting season begins in spring when the Division of Fish and Wildlife (Division) presents recommended dates for the upcoming hunting seasons to the NJ Fish and Game Council (Council). The Division considers traditional patterns of hunter participation and harvest, population status of various species, migration chronology, as well as input received from sportsmen while arriving at a season selection recommendation. Council considers the Division's recommended season dates as well as input from various constituents before making the final decision for migratory bird season dates.

Atlantic Flyway states have had 60-day duck seasons since 1997. Per "Grandfathered" federal regulations, New Jersey has three zones (North, South, and Coastal) where two season segments are permitted within each zone. Since the 2000-01 season, the Coastal Zone (CZ) duck season has generally had a 7-10 day first segment in early November with the second segment opening on Thanksgiving Day and closing in late January, generally 4 days prior to the end of the federal duck season framework (last Saturday in January).

Several years ago, the Division and Council received requests from some waterfowl hunters to extend the CZ duck season later into January at the expense of season dates in early November. New Jersey followed this suggested format during 2004-05 (Nov. 11-13 and Nov. 25-Jan. 29; Table 1). However, the 2004-05 season structure resulted in a significant number of complaints from different hunters who voiced opposition to losing the November days in the season. As a result, the Division and Council reinstated a full week in November in the CZ during the following year (Table 1). Clearly, not all waterfowl hunters are in agreement as to their preferred season date options for the CZ.

More recently, the Division again received comments from sportsmen to extend the CZ season later into January at the expense of the early November dates. Since there is contention in selecting the CZ season dates, data was analyzed to compare hunter activity and harvest between the first season segment in early November with the mid-January portions of the CZ to help inform a decision on this issue.


The data, which was analyzed, was harvest and hunter activity data obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Harvest Surveys Section (HSS). The HSS collects harvest and activity data by county (but not zone) and 5-day period for each year. County harvest and/or activity data are less useful than 5-day harvest data because many counties fall in more than one zone and seasons in different zones can run concurrently. For example, if a hunter records hunter activity or harvest data for Cape May County, it is unclear if the activity occurred in the South Zone (SZ) or CZ portion of the county.
Mixed flock of wintering ducks
Mixed flock of wintering ducks
Click to enlarge
In order to determine the most suitable years for comparison, season date selections were examined since the 2000-01 season when NJ began extending the CZ duck season into late January. Years were chosen where there was minimal overlap in duck season dates in early November between the SZ and CZ since comparisons are confounded when seasons are open concurrently in more than one zone.

Although about 95% of the brant harvest occurs in the CZ, brant seasons coincide with duck seasons such that minimizing overlap of duck season dates between zones by default also minimizes brant season overlap between zones. Since there is considerable annual variation in harvest and activity data, it is most useful when means from multiple years of data are examined for both ducks and brant.


Five years (2000 and 2005-08) had minimal overlap between early November season dates between the SZ and CZ (Table 1); these years were used in the analyses. During four of the five years examined (all but 2005), the closing day of the first segment of the SZ coincided with the opening day of the first segment of the CZ (Table 1, yellow cells). Although not displayed in Table 1, the North Zone (NZ) duck season was closed Nov. 4-14 and after January 2 during all years examined so the NZ dates did not confound the analysis.

The first segment of the CZ opened Nov. 1-5 in all years examined. Managers have long recognized that hunting activity and harvest are very high on opening days. As such, when characterizing early November harvest and hunting data for the CZ it is most reasonable to use data from the Nov. 6-10 period as this period is comprised exclusively of CZ harvest, and it dampens the "opening day effect" of the first several days of the CZ season. Characterization of hunting activity and harvest for the November period is best represented by excluding the "opening day effect" because one could make a valid argument that the "opening day effect" would still occur with a change in season structure where there are fewer hunting days in early November.

Although it may be desirable and/or intuitive to examine the latest 5-day period (Jan. 21-25) to estimate harvest and activity to evaluate a season extension, the data for the years examined are incomplete for this period. Although duck seasons were also open during a portion of the Jan. 21-25 period in 4 of the 5 years examined, and the data could be adjusted (i.e.: "scaled-up") to compensate for this period, casual observation of the data in Table 2 suggests that duck harvest and hunting activity during Jan. 21-25 was not substantially different than the Jan. 11-15 and Jan. 16-20 periods when the season was open for the full 5 days within those periods.

Given the above considerations, the most reasonable comparison to inform the question at hand is to compare duck harvest and hunting activity during the Nov. 6-10 period with Jan. 11-15 and Jan. 16-20. These comparisons are displayed as yellow cells in Table 2.

Brant seasons are frequently shorter than duck seasons; when this is the case, brant seasons usually close earlier in January (Table 1; turquoise column). As such, the most reasonable comparisons for brant harvest and hunter activity is between Nov. 6-10 and Jan. 6-10 (turquoise cells, Table 2) because CZ brant seasons have frequently been closed after January 10 but prior to the end of the duck season (Table 1).

Table 2 contains mean annual harvest and hunter activity data by 5-day period. In the CZ, total duck harvest and hunting activity were similar between early November and mid-January while black duck harvest was considerably higher during the November period. Brant hunting activity (turquoise cells) was only about 15% higher in November than January but brant harvest and hunter success (measured as harvest/hunter day) in November are about double that which occurs in January. In addition, brant harvest and hunter success were higher during Nov. 6-10 than during any other 5-day period examined in New Jersey.


Unless particular species are well below population objectives or there are other biological considerations, selection of migratory bird season dates is primarily a social decision. In the New Jersey Coastal Zone, contemporary duck harvest and hunting activity has been similar when comparing early November to mid-(and presumably late) January. However, brant harvest and hunter success during early November are about double that observed in January. Clearly, brant hunting is popular during November and hunters are markedly more successful in early November than they are in January.

Many hunters also contend that brant, which are somewhat renowned for their poor table quality, are most palatable early in the fall when they first arrive after migration. One possibility for solving the issue at hand would be to hold brant seasons during November independent of duck seasons (i.e.: the brant season would be open but the duck season closed); however, this would complicate regulations. In addition, hunters have consistently voiced an opinion to hold brant and duck seasons concurrently whenever possible in order to keep regulations simple.

As a result of this analysis, the Division recommended, and the Council adopted, no change to the CZ season structure for the 2010-11 hunting season. Sportsmen's groups were provided a copy of this report through the NJ Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs prior to Council arriving at their final decision for the 2010-11 season dates. An analysis such as this allows resource managers to make data-informed decisions concerning social issues where two opposing viewpoints are under consideration. Reporting on these analyses helps to keep hunters informed of the data and decisions that comprise the regulation setting process.


Table 1. Duck and brant hunting season selections in New Jersey by zone, 2000-08
Year Duck Season Length Brant Season Length Ducks Ducks Ducks Ducks Ducks Ducks Ducks Ducks Brant Brant Brant Brant
Open 1 Close 1 Open 2 Close 2 Open 1 Close 1 Open 2 Close 2 Open 1 Close 1 Open 2 Close 2
2000 60 50 21-Oct 4-Nov 10-Nov 1-Jan 4-Nov 14-Nov 23-Nov 20-Jan 4-Nov 14-Nov 23-Nov 9-Jan
2001 60 50 20-Oct 1-Dec 14-Dec 9-Jan 3-Nov 13-Nov 22-Nov 19-Jan 3-Nov 13-Nov 22-Nov 8-Jan
2002 60 60 19-Oct 30-Nov 13-Dec 8-Jan 2-Nov 12-Nov 28-Nov 25-Jan 2-Nov 12-Nov 28-Nov 25-Jan
2003 60 60 18-Oct 29-Nov 16-Dec 10-Jan 1-Nov 11-Nov 27-Nov 24-Jan 1-Nov 11-Nov 27-Nov 24-Jan
2004 60 50 16-Oct 27-Nov 14-Dec 8-Jan 11-Nov 13-Nov 25-Nov 29-Jan 11-Nov 13-Nov 25-Nov 18-Jan
2005 60 30 15-Oct 29-Oct 15-Nov 7-Jan 5-Nov 12-Nov 24-Nov 24-Jan 5-Nov 12-Nov 21-Dec 16-Jan
2006 60 30 21-Oct 4-Nov 14-Nov 6-Jan 4-Nov 11-Nov 23-Nov 23-Jan 4-Nov 11-Nov 20-Dec 15-Jan
2007 60 50 20-Oct 3-Nov 13-Nov 5-Jan 3-Nov 10-Nov 22-Nov 22-Jan 3-Nov 10-Nov 22-Nov 10-Jan
2008 60 60 18-Oct 1-Nov 15-Nov 8-Jan 1-Nov 11-Nov 27-Nov 24-Jan 1-Nov 11-Nov 27-Nov 24-Jan


Table 2. Mean annual harvest and hunter activity data by 5-day period in New Jersey, 2000, 2005-08
Period Harvest Hunter-days Harvest Per Hunter-day
Total ducks Black ducks Brant Ducks Brant Ducks Brant
Oct. 6-10 1,134 16 0 550 9 2.06 0.00
Oct. 11-15 2,494 193 20 1,712 39 1.46 0.51
Oct. 16-20 3,494 301 8 1,941 38 1.80 0.21
Oct. 21-25 4,625 343 8 2,621 6 1.76 1.33
Oct. 26-31 3,141 308 20 2,141 47 1.47 0.43
Nov. 1-5 3,372 688 700 2,060 395 1.64 1.77
Nov. 6-10 1,435 479 1,221 1,189 464 1.21 2.63
Nov. 11-15 2,023 284 337 1,478 313 1.37 1.08
Nov. 16-20 2,744 469 0 1,741 49 1.58 0.00
Nov. 21-25 6,489 1,153 303 3,353 374 1.94 0.81
Nov. 26-30 3,117 581 155 1,635 161 1.91 0.96
Dec. 01-05 3,491 709 149 1,815 207 1.92 0.72
Dec. 06-10 3,568 780 155 1,670 225 2.14 0.69
Dec. 11-15 3,256 573 166 1,683 199 1.93 0.83
Dec. 16-20 3,719 628 233 2,283 329 1.63 0.71
Dec. 21-25 3,334 641 495 2,549 505 1.31 0.98
Dec. 26-31 4,796 974 1,065 3,775 911 1.27 1.17
Jan. 01-05 3,285 839 569 1,995 409 1.65 1.39
Jan. 06-10 1,510 332 570 1,445 393 1.04 1.45
Jan. 11-15 1,665 237 384 1,087 323 1.53 1.19
Jan. 16-20 1,277 389 153 1,044 178 1.22 0.86
Jan. 21-25 1,195 199 202 668 133 1.79 1.52


NJ Waterfowl Information
2010-2011 Migratory Bird Season Information and Population Status

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Last Updated: August 17, 2010