Feds Look to Bump Northern Pintail Limit

Duck hunters may soon be able to shoot more than one bull sprig each day during waterfowl season. This spring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Regulations Committee (SRC) approved a three-bird daily bag limit as an option for the 2025-2026 season.

On May 17, the SRC consulted with the Flyway Councils to identify and recommend initial regulatory recommendations for the 2025-26 season. The rulemaking council put forward several options for that season, including 0-, 1-, or 3-bird pintail limits. The final regulations have not yet been set and will depend on future waterfowl surveys, as well as a public input process.

The potential for a 3-bird limit is big news for waterfowl hunters, particularly in the Central and Pacific Flyways. Since the 1980s, daily pintail limits have fluctuated between one and four birds, though, in 2017, the limit was cut to one bird in all three flyways due to low estimated numbers. In recent years, some hunters have been frustrated by the restrictive bag limit while encountering numerous pintails in the field.

According to California Waterfowl, which has led the push for liberalizing the sprig limit, hunting pressure is likely not causing low counts for the species. “The last three decades of restrictive regulations on pintail have not resulted in a significant boost in pintail populations, even in years of good precipitation in the U.S. and Canadian prairies,” explained the conservation group. “Rather, changing farming practices, especially in wheat fields favored by nesting pintail, appear to be the main factor limiting pintail populations—not hunter harvest.”

Read Next: Canada’s “Super Pig” Invasion Likely to Spread into Northern U.S.

It remains to be seen whether the SRC’s bird count threshold, which has not yet been publicly released, will be met to greenlight an increased pintail limit in any of the flyways for the 2025-2026 season. In recent years, the estimated population has only narrowly avoided dropping below the 1.75 million bird threshold for closing the take of the species. The SRC will meet again in Fall 2024 to review the latest information and develop final recommendations for the 2025-2026 season. State agencies then use the approved regulatory framework to set their seasons.

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