Annual Hunting Regulations
The purpose of annual hunting regulations is to keep harvests at levels
compatible with a population's ability to maintain itself. The regulatory
tools that exist to do this are framework regulations and special
regulations. Framework regulations are the foundation of annual
regulations and consist of the outside dates for opening and closing
seasons, season length, daily bag and possession limits, and shooting
hours. Although the earliest and latest dates within which states may hold
hunting seasons are set by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, in practice most
frameworks dates have been more restrictive; historically, dates close to
October 1 through January 20. Under the Act, season lengths may not exceed
107 days. In practice, season lengths have fluctuated with bird abundance.
Traditionally, season lengths have varied by Flyway, with seasons being
the longest in the Pacific Flyway and the shortest in the Atlantic Flyway,
reflecting differences in the abundance of birds, number of hunters, and
other factors. The number of birds of a species or group that can be
harvested in a day is defined as the daily bag limit. Traditionally, bag
limits have been large for birds that are highly productive, very
abundant, short-lived, or lightly hunted. Flyway differences exist, with
daily bag limit being most liberal in the Pacific Flyway and most
restrictive in the Atlantic Flyway, for the same reasons that the season
lengths differ. Shooting hours limit the time of day when migratory birds
may be harvested, and have rarely been changed except when hunting seasons
have become very restrictive. Since 1918, one-half hour before sunrise to
sunset has been the traditional shooting hours.
Special regulations consist of framework regulations that are applied on
a small scale. These consist of split seasons, zones, and special seasons.
States have been allowed to divide their hunting period for most species
and groups of birds into 2 or sometimes 3 nonconsecutive segments in order
to take advantage of species-specific peaks of abundance. Zoning is the
establishment of independent seasons in 2 or more areas (zones) within a
state for the purpose of providing more equitable distribution of harvest
opportunity for hunters throughout the state. Generally, special seasons
focus on those species considered to be more lightly utilized than others.
Special seasons are usually, but not always, in addition to the regular
season. Special seasons currently exist for some teal, wood duck, sea
duck, and resident Canada goose populations.
There are a number of other regulatory tools. Closed seasons occur when
a species' abundance is insufficient to withstand harvest. For example,
canvasback seasons, which currently are open, have been closed in the
recent past. Permits are effective regulatory mechanisms that allow
hunters to take a limited number of birds of a certain species. Recent
examples of the use of permits have been with some Canada goose
populations and with tundra swans. Quotas are defined as predetermined
apportionments of a limited resource. Recent examples of quotas have been
with some Canada goose and sandhill crane populations.
Harvest regulations are published annually in the Federal Register;
opportunity for public comment is part of the regulatory process.
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