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REDUCING WOUNDING LOSSES

This message was written by Game, Fish and Parks head waterfowl biologist Spencer Vaa to members of Ducks Unlimited to inform waterfowl hunters about wound losses to waterfowl and encourage them to be active in reducing such losses:

At a past Central Flyway summer meeting in New Mexico, the Central Flyway Council passed a very important Waterfowl Wounding Losses Problem Statement. This statement recognizes that wounding and unretrieved harvest of waterfowl is a long-standing and serious problem. It goes on to state that since the wounding loss rate has remained relatively constant over time, regardless of changes in shotshell technology, these losses are most closely related to hunter behavior and hunter shooting skills.

So, what is the magnitude of struck-but-unretrieved waterfowl in the U.S. and Canada? U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) harvest survey results show that hunters reported an average annual wounding loss rate of 18 percent from the 1930's to the present time. However, hunters do not see all the birds that they wound. Numerous U.S. and Canada research studies have been published involving trained observers that record the harvest efficiency of thousands of duck hunters in the field. These studies document wounding rates of more than 30 percent. Therefore, if you reconcile hunter and trained observer reports, the wounding rate on ducks is at least 25 percent. Wounding losses on geese are similar. This means that approximately 3.4 to 3.7 million ducks and geese go unretrieved each year in the U.S. and Canada combined. To put this into perspective, in South Dakota, during a good year, we will harvest about 300,000 ducks and 140,000 geese. The switch to non-toxic (steel) shot was put in effect because of the losses of about 2-million waterfowl annually, due to lead poisoning. It is time for hunters to get serious about reducing wounding losses.

The good news is that with the proper training and education, hunters can reduce their individual wounding losses. Your South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks, with assistance from the FWS, has been one of the most proactive at utilizing the services of the Cooperative North American Shotgunning Education Program (CONSEP). Many of the hunters reading this have taken a shooting skills and reducing wounding loss clinic hosted by GFP and CONSEP consultant Tom Roster over the past 10 years. In 2003, clinics were held in Rosholt and New Effington as well as Chamberlain. These clinics emphasize improving hunter shooting skills, estimating distance, and learning how to properly pattern various shotshell loads. The main causes of wounding losses are poor shooting skills, shooting at waterfowl that are out of range (sky busting), and using improper loads and chokes. Another important cause is dropping birds in heavy cover where retrieval is very difficult. All of these can be rectified with knowledge and training.

I urge waterfowl hunters to work on their shooting skills during the off season and to limit their shots to ranges for which they are proficient. For the vast majority of us, this means limiting shots to less than 40 yards. Pattern your shotgun with the loads you want to use for hunting and study the CONSEP Steel Shot Lethality Table printed in the South Dakota Hunting Handbook. This is a scientific database that tells you the proper shotshell loads and chokes to use at various distances for the various waterfowl species, as well as for pheasants and turkeys. For example, scientific tests have shown that steel number 3 has exhibited the best all-around performance for taking ducks and steel BBB for geese. For pheasant, steel number 2 have proven significantly better than steel 4's or 6's.

Hunters have been at the forefront of waterfowl conservation for years. Let's continue that trend by each of us pledging to do all we can to reduce our own wounding loss rate. We will never get the number to zero, but with education and training, we can reduce it to 10 percent or less.

Spencer Vaa
State Waterfowl Biologist
South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, & Parks