New Jersey Fish and Wildlife (NJFW) finalized 2023-24 migratory bird hunting seasons.
Below are changes from last year and other highlights:
- The Canada goose season length was increased from 30 to 45 days and the bag limit was increased to 3 birds in the North and South Zones. The bag limit remains at 2 Canada geese in the Coastal Zone.
- The mallard bag limit was increased to 4 birds (no more than 2 hens).
- The brant season was reduced to 30 days and bag limit reduced to 1 bird.
- Sea ducks can only be hunted when the regular duck season is open in each zone and are included as part of the bag limit of 6 ducks.
Each year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) develops migratory bird hunting regulations with input and consultation with the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyway Councils and the Canadian Wildlife Service. The Flyway Councils are comprised of representatives from state and provincial wildlife agencies that work with the Service to cooperatively manage North America’s migratory birds.
Since 2016, the Service and Flyway Councils have used a different schedule resulting in season dates and bag limits that are set much earlier than the process used prior to 2016. This new process makes hunting season planning more convenient for migratory bird hunters.
The Fish and Game Council promulgated 2023-24 season dates at their April meeting based on recommendations from NJFW. NJFW received input for season dates from a 6-member committee of sportsmen formed by the NJ Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. Each zone includes 11 different Saturdays during the hunting season. Given New Jersey’s zoning alignment, duck hunters who are willing to travel across zone boundaries can hunt 82 different days, including 15 different Saturdays, during the 60-day duck season (see Table 1).
Population modeling predictions for ducks indicated that the liberal alternative of a 60-day season with a 6-duck bag limit was the optimal choice for Atlantic Flyway states. New Jersey has had a 60-day duck seasons since 1997. This year, the daily duck bag limit will be 6 ducks in aggregate and may not include more than: 4 mallards (including no more than 2 hens), 3 wood ducks, 2 black ducks, 1 pintail, 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks, 4 sea ducks in aggregate but not more than 3 scoters, 3 long-tailed ducks, or 3 eiders (including not more than 1 hen eider), as well as 1 black-bellied or fulvous whistling duck. The scaup bag limit will remain at 1 bird during the first 40 days, and 2 birds during the last 20 days, of the duck season in each zone. The bag limit is 6 ducks for all other “regular” duck species. Merganser bag limits will be 5 mergansers (common, red-breasted, and hooded, either singly, or in aggregate) per day and are in addition to regular duck bag limits.
After 2 years without surveys due to COVID-19 restrictions, the mallard breeding population estimate increased to 1.2 million mallards in 2022. Further, with the adoption of a new model-driven harvest strategy for mallards in the Atlantic Flyway in 2023, the bag limit for mallards returned to a liberal regulation of 4 mallards (2 hens). Additional information on the new Atlantic Flyway mallard harvest strategy can be found below.
Atlantic Flyway Mallard Harvest Strategy
Sea ducks collectively include scoters (black, surf, and white-winged scoters), long-tailed ducks, and eiders. A Special Sea Duck Season was initiated during the 1960s when sea ducks were viewed as lightly harvested and underutilized species. Biologists have much less data to base harvest management decisions for sea ducks relative to other waterfowl. Sea ducks are not well measured in any long-term survey, banding data is scant, and sea ducks are long-lived species with low reproductive capacity. Assessments completed circa 2010 suggested that harvest levels for sea ducks were likely exceeding allowable harvest. In response, the Atlantic Flyway Council (AFC) reduced the Special Sea Duck Season from 107 to 60 days from 2016-2021. However, this season reduction failed to reduce sea duck harvest.
As such, sea ducks no longer fit the definition of being lightly harvested or underutilized, criteria reserved for Special Seasons. In response, the AFC discontinued the Special Sea Duck Season beginning in 2022. Sea ducks can now only be hunted when the regular duck season is open in each zone and are included with the bag limit of 6 ducks. The total sea duck bag limit is 4 sea ducks in aggregate but may not include more than 3 scoters, 3 long-tailed ducks, or 3 eiders (including not more than 1 hen eider). In the portion of the Coastal Zone that includes the Sea Duck Area (i.e. the Atlantic Ocean outside of inlets) crippled birds may still be shot from watercraft under power. This special provision is provided to enhance hunter safety and to minimize loss of crippled birds. Hunters should note that this special provision is only allowed in the Sea Duck Area. Additional information on this topic can be found in a NJFW video below.
Waterfowl Hunters: The Special Sea Duck Season Has Been Discontinued
Canada goose hunting zones in the Atlantic Flyway are established based on the most abundant population occurring in that zone during the hunting season. The zone designations, including Resident, Atlantic, and North Atlantic, are based on band recovery data. The “regular” Canada goose seasons in New Jersey’s North and South Zones are based on the status of Atlantic Population (AP) Canada geese. AP Canada geese nest on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec and are New Jersey’s primary migrant Canada goose population. After a period of population stability dating back to the early-2000s, the population has declined since about 2010 due to poor gosling production resulting from chronically late arctic springs for the past decade. Although climate data indicate a rapid warming trend through most of the Canadian arctic, particularly during winter and fall, the spring season in the eastern Canadian arctic, where AP geese breed, has experienced chronically cold conditions for the past several years (
https://changingclimate.ca/CCCR2019/). Further, AP Canada goose management has been hampered during recent years due to surveys and banding programs being cancelled due to COVID-19.
In 2021, the Atlantic Flyway Council adopted an Integrated Population Model (IPM) for managing AP geese. The IPM uses banding data to measure survival and harvest rates, survey data to measure population size, and weather data from northern Quebec to predict young production. The IPM synthesizes these data streams to predict population size for the following year. Further, the IPM compares predicted measures of young production and population size to the actual measurements and scales itself to ensure more accurate future model predictions. The IPM predicts 180,500 pairs for the 2023 breeding season which is in line with a liberal season of 45 days with a 3-bird bag limit in AP Zones of New England and Mid-Atlantic states. For New Jersey, AP Zones include the North and South Zones. These regulations are liberalized when compared to last year’s 30 day and 1-bird bag season.
Because the Coastal Zone has relatively few band recoveries from AP Canada geese, it was designated as a North Atlantic Population (NAP) in 2019. NAP geese nest in low density throughout the boreal forest of Labrador and Newfoundland and winter primarily along the Atlantic Coast from the Canadian Maritimes to North Carolina. The NAP harvest strategy calls for a 60-day, 2-bird bag limit in areas including New Jersey, so the Regular Canada goose season in the Coastal Zone will occur concurrent with the duck season.
Resident Population (RP) Canada geese are overabundant throughout most of the United States and cause significant damage problems. As a result, additional hunting methods including the use of electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, extended hunting hours, and liberal bag limits are allowed during September hunting seasons. September seasons target RP geese since very few Atlantic Population or migrant geese arrive in New Jersey prior to October. Hunters need to remember that these special regulations only apply to the September Canada goose season (September 1-30, 2023).
The Atlantic Flyway Council uses an Integrated Population Model (IPM) to synergistically link various types of brant population monitoring data into mathematical models to predict future population size. The brant IPM uses estimates of population size from the Mid-Winter Survey, the annual fall age ratio from field surveys, as well as survival and harvest rates from banding data. The IPM ‘smoothes’ or stabilizes brant population estimates and the expectation is that brant harvest regulations will change less frequently from year to year using the IPM.
The 2023 IPM prediction was 107,000 brant in the Mid-Winter Survey. This is the lowest IPM estimate in over 30 years resulting in a restrictive 30-day season and 1-bird bag limit. Hunters are reminded to carefully check brant season dates while going afield in the Coastal Zone for duck hunting to ensure the brant season is open if they wish to take brant as part of their bag.
Greater and lesser snow geese as well as Ross’s geese are collectively referred to as “light” geese. Light goose populations in the Atlantic Flyway have been high for over 25 years and biologists remain concerned about the impacts light geese can have on nesting, staging and wintering habitats. Serious damage to agriculture also occurs in migration and wintering areas. Due to the population size being over the population objective (500,000-750,000 light geese), hunting regulations allow the maximum days permitted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (107 days) with a liberal bag limit of 25 light geese per day with no possession limit. In addition, states will be permitted to implement a Conservation Order (CO). A CO is a special management action, authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, that is needed to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in preventing overabundance of that population. The CO allows an extended time period outside of traditional hunting seasons as well as additional methods for taking light geese without bag limits. The intent of the CO is to reduce and/or stabilize North American light goose populations that are above population objectives. During the CO, special regulations will be allowed including the use of electronic calls, shotguns capable of holding up to 7 shells, extended shooting hours, and no bag limits. Those wishing to participate in the CO can obtain a 2024 Light Goose Conservation Order permit through NJFW’s license page.
YOUTH & VETERANS/ACTIVE MILITARY WATERFOWL HUNTING DAYS
Since 1997, the Service has allowed states to hold Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days on non-school days, when youths have an opportunity to participate, and are closed to the general hunting public. The objective of Youth Days is to introduce young hunters to ethical use and stewardship of waterfowl, encourage youngsters and adults to experience the outdoors together, and to contribute to the long-term conservation of migratory birds. Youth Days are a unique educational opportunity, above and beyond the regular season, that helps ensure high-quality learning experiences for youth interested in hunting. One Youth Waterfowl Hunting Day will be held on the Saturday prior to the duck season opener in each of NJ’s three zones.
Beginning in 2019, the Service allowed states to hold special hunting days outside the regular hunting season for Veterans and Active Military personnel to recognize their service to our country. These days allow a unique opportunity for Veterans and Active Military personnel to share hunting experiences together in a less-crowded hunting environment. On Saturday, November 4, a statewide Veterans/Active Military Hunting Day will be held.
Finally, on Saturday, February 3, a “joint” Youth and Veterans/Military Hunting Day will be held statewide. This day will give Youth and Veteran/Military hunters the opportunity to share a unique hunting experience either independently or together.
Bag limits for these special opportunity days will include ducks, geese, brant, mergansers, coots, and gallinules and are the same as bag limits allowed in the regular season in each zone although the scaup bag limit on these days which will be 2 scaup per day and count towards the bag limit of 6 ducks.
New Jersey has always been an important migration area for rails and woodcock. Some of the highest concentrations of sora in the US occur in New Jersey’s tidal freshwater marshes that are dominated by wild rice. Woodcock migrate through and winter in New Jersey. Woodcock occur across the state although 50% of the state’s harvest occurs in Sussex County with 25% in Cape May County. Although not nearly as popular as in the past, New Jersey still has a tradition of “mud hen” or clapper rail hunting in early September along the Atlantic Coast. Ample hunting opportunities and public land access abound for all these species.
All hunters pursuing migratory birds including ducks, geese, brant, coot, woodcock, rails, snipe or gallinules, are reminded to obtain a Harvest Information Program (HIP) certification. Migratory bird hunters can get their HIP certification online by visiting NJFW’s license sales web site or at any license agent.
The 2023-24 New Jersey migratory bird hunting season dates follow. Migratory bird regulations will be included in the New Jersey Hunting and Trapping Digest that will be available online and at license agents in August.
FINAL NEW JERSEY 2023-24 MIGRATORY BIRD SEASONS
April 11, 2023
NOTE: Although the following selections are within the frameworks proposed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, they will not be formally finalized through the Federal Register process until the conclusion of the federal public comment period.
PRIMARY WATERFOWL SEASONS
|Ducks:||Oct. 14 – Oct. 21||Nov. 11 – Jan. 11|
|Scaup:||Oct. 14 – Oct. 21||Nov. 11 – Dec. 19 (1 bird)|
Dec. 20 – Jan. 11 (2 birds)
|Brant:||Nov. 11 – Nov. 25||Dec. 23 – Jan. 11|
|Canada Goose:||Nov. 18 – Nov. 25||Dec. 16 – Jan. 29|
|Ducks:||Oct. 21 – Oct. 28||Nov. 18 – Jan. 18|
|Scaup:||Oct. 21 – Oct. 28||Nov. 18 – Dec. 26 (1 bird)|
Dec. 27 – Jan. 18 (2 birds)
|Brant:||Oct. 21 – Oct. 28||Nov. 18 – Dec. 14|
|Canada Goose:||Nov. 18 – Nov. 25||Dec. 16 – Jan. 29|
|Ducks and Canada goose:||Nov. 9 – Nov. 11||Nov. 23 – Jan. 27|
|Scaup:||Nov. 9 – Nov. 11||Nov. 23 – Jan. 4 (1 bird)|
Jan. 5 – Jan. 27 (2 birds)
|Brant:||Nov. 23 – Dec. 2||Dec. 14 – Jan. 6|
SPECIAL WATERFOWL SEASONS
|North Zone:||Oct. 7|
|South Zone:||Oct. 14|
|Coastal Zone:||Oct. 28|
Statewide Veterans & Active Military Day: Nov. 4
Statewide Joint Youth and Veterans & Active Military Day: Feb. 3
DAILY BAG LIMITS
Ducks: 6 ducks which may NOT include more than: 4 mallards (not more than 2 hen mallards), 2 black ducks, 3 wood ducks, 1 pintail, 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks, 4 total sea ducks (no more than 3 scoters, 3 eiders [1 hen], or 3 long-tailed ducks), 1 black-bellied or fulvous whistling duck in aggregate, scaup: 1 scaup/day for first 40 days in each zone; 2 scaup/day for last 20 days.
Mergansers: 5. Merganser limits are in addition to regular ducks.
Canada geese (Regular season): 3, North and South Zones; 2, Coastal Zone
Canada goose bag limits include cackling geese and white-fronted geese singly or in aggregate.
Youth and Veterans & Active Military Days: To include ducks, geese, brant, mergansers, coots, and gallinules. Bag limits are the same as those allowed in the regular season in each zone except for scaup which is 2 scaup per day.
September Season (Statewide)
Sept. 1 – Sept. 30
Daily bag limit: 15 Canada geese
NOTE: SPECIAL REGULATIONS ONLY APPLY TO THE SEPTEMBER CANADA GOOSE SEASON
Special Winter Season (Two Distinct Zones)
Jan. 30 – Feb. 15
Daily bag limit: 5 singly or in aggregate including cackling and white-fronted geese.
Statewide: Oct. 17 – Feb. 15
Daily bag limit: 25, singly or in aggregate to include greater and lesser snow geese and Ross’s geese.
Statewide: Feb. 16 – Apr. 6
Daily bag limit: None; includes greater and lesser snow geese and Ross’s geese
|North Zone:||Oct. 14 – Oct. 28|
Oct. 31 – Nov. 25
|South Zone:||Nov. 11 – Dec. 2|
Dec. 14 – Jan. 2
Daily bag limit: 3
RAILS AND GALLINULE
Sept. 1 – Nov. 21
Daily bag limits: Sora and Virginia rails: 25 total or in aggregate;
Clapper rail: 10
Sept. 9 – Jan. 11
Daily bag limit: 8
CROWS (Mon., Thur., Fri., & Sat.)
Aug. 14 – Dec. 2
Dec. 11 – Mar. 16
Daily bag limit: None