High Plains Mallard Management Unit and the Point System

In the mid-1960's, duck populations were low and hunting seasons were very restrictive ranging from 24 to 40 days with daily bag limits ranging from two to four ducks. This prompted a group of biologists in the western portion of the Central Flyway in the U.S. to consider the possibility of managing ducks in an area smaller than an entire flyway based on "stocks" or populations of ducks that use those areas.

The approach included the analysis of existing data and beginning new projects to enhance required data sets. The first reports, generated in 1966 and 1967, demonstrated that mallards east and west of the 100th longitude in the U.S. exhibited some different characteristics, most notably the area of origin, the area of harvest, and harvest and survival rates. (The 100th longitude runs north-south about midway through the Flyway.) In 1968, an experimental late-season, mallard drake-only hunting season was held in a portion of the Flyway west of that line. In 1969, a new way of establishing the daily bag limit for ducks, called the Point System, was tested. Historical data and that collected from these experiments culminated in a 1971 report entitled Justification for the Central Flyway High Plains Mallard Management Unit (Funk, H.D. et.al. 1971. Central Flyway Rpt. 48pp). In 1972, use of the Point System was expanded and the High Plains Mallard Management Unit was considered "operational." In addition, the report provided information that justified different hunting regulations between the Central and Mississippi flyways.

Since 1973, there have been between 10 and 23 additional days available to duck hunters in the High Plains than in the Low Plains (or eastern portion) of the Central Flyway. And, until 1987, the Point System was used by all states taking advantage of the High Plains days.

After nearly 20 years of operation, it was jointly determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Central Flyway Council (CFC) that it was appropriate to evaluate the High Plains and determine if it was still justified. A comprehensive evaluation, which, like the original, took several years of work, was completed in 1997. Howard Funk, Waterfowl Technical Committee member from Colorado at the time the evaluation was undertaken, was one of the authors of both the original and updated evaluations. The 1997 evaluation concludes that the analysis "clearly point to an affirmation of the original justifications for establishment of the High Plains Mallard Management Unit." [The Executive Summary of the 1997 evaluation is available for review]

The Point System (PS), a method to set the daily bag limit for ducks, was adopted in all states in the Central Flyway (CF) except North Dakota and in most states of the Mississippi Flyway. It was required to be used in CF states that elected to use the additional days available in the High Plains. In general. the PS was intended to increase hunting opportunity, especially for those hunters who learned to identify ducks in flight, while providing protection to those species and sexes that needed it.

The CFC supported the PS even after the FWS eliminated it in 1988 and the FWS reinstated it in 1989. But the FWS had changed the rules enough that the PS was adopted by only five states in 1989. All states had adopted the Conventional Bag by 1996.