Bag limits rarely make senseNot long ago I was discussing the puzzling nature of game bird bag limits with a friend who was for three decades a wildlife biologist and manager for a western wildlife agency. I pointed out that during an increase in the Hungarian partridge population more than 25 years ago, the State of Montana increased the daily bag limit from five or six birds to its current eight birds. Yet in spite of the fact that partridge numbers never have been as high as those years in the late ‘80s, the eight-bird-a-day, four-day possession limit of 32 has remained in place all these years.
By: Bernie Kuntz, Outdoors, The Jamestown Sun
Not long ago I was discussing the puzzling nature of game bird bag limits with a friend who was for three decades a wildlife biologist and manager for a western wildlife agency. I pointed out that during an increase in the Hungarian partridge population more than 25 years ago, the State of Montana increased the daily bag limit from five or six birds to its current eight birds. Yet in spite of the fact that partridge numbers never have been as high as those years in the late ‘80s, the eight-bird-a-day, four-day possession limit of 32 has remained in place all these years.
John replied, “I never have been able to see any correlation between game bird numbers and bag limits. In fact, I don’t believe there is any.” He went on to suggest that limits are often psychological rather than biological in nature. For example, he claims the average hunter will believe he had a better experience if he “limits out” on pheasants when the bag limit is three birds, compared to a reduced degree of satisfaction if he had taken those same three pheasants when the limit was, say, five birds. I had never thought of that, but it makes sense.
However, it still doesn’t explain the eight-bird limit on partridges. John couldn’t justify that either.
It reminds me of a time within the last decade when some preservationist groups were clamoring (they still are!) to list the sage grouse as an endangered species. The State of Montana’s response to that pressure was to increase the daily bag limit by one sage grouse! As a public relations guy for the state wildlife agency at the time, I was incredulous!
I have written in the past about the incongruity of seven-drake daily bag limits on mallards with three-month seasons in the Pacific Flyway. Even in the Central Flyway, where many northern potholes are frozen by early or mid-November, and the ducks have flown south, the bag limit on mallard drakes has been five ducks for many years. A duck is a long-lived bird, often reaching seven to 10 years of age. I believe mallard daily bag limits should be lower.
Contrast that with the ring-neck pheasant, where a three-year-old bird is an old-timer. Most game departments set a three-rooster limit and leave it at that, regardless of the pheasant population, and oblivious to the fact that in northern states you are bound to have devastating winter kills (i.e. North Dakota and eastern Montana last winter.)
I had the privilege of hunting pheasants in North Dakota in 2006 and 2008, and I don’t believe I ever have seen so many pheasants in that state. (Consider that I first carried a shotgun while pheasant hunting in North Dakota in 1959 when I was 10 years old!) In spite of high pheasant numbers, the limit remained at three birds per day, 12 in possession. Hunters could have been shooting many more pheasants if the state simply had increased bag limits, but the powers-that-be chose not to. Upwards of half the pheasants in North Dakota perished last winter. Coyotes and other scavengers did well, eating pheasant carcasses, but hunters could have taken many of those otherwise wasted birds.
Similarly, in Montana about a decade ago the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission reduced the possession limit of pheasants from 12 to nine birds. The Commission’s rationale was that the possession limit reduction would also reduce the leasing of hunting grounds, thus keeping more land open to the average hunter. It remains to be seen whether the regulation accomplished that objective (it is still in place), but nowadays hunters who travel 500 or 600 miles to northeastern Montana from other parts of the state to hunt pheasants are still limited to nine birds in possession.
Like my friend John says, little of game bird limits makes any sense.