The Point System and Conventional Bag

When hunters go afield, they are restricted to how many birds they can shoot in a day by the "daily bag limit (DBL)." Between about 1970 and 1987, states in the Central Flyway had the option of choosing the Point System (PS) or the Conventional Bag (CB) to establish the DBL for ducks. The PS again became an option in 1989 but the rules had been changed that would make it less attractive to states.

Under the PS, duck species and sometimes sexes are assigned a point value between 10 and 100. For each duck shot, the hunter would add the point value for that species to the point values of other ducks taken and when the total equals or exceeds 100 points, the hunter has a DBL and quits hunting for the day. For example, if drake mallards are assigned a point value of 25 and hen mallards 70 and canvasbacks, 100, then a hunter could take four drake mallards or three drake mallards and a hen mallard or canvasback before hitting the DBL. They key is the sequence of the kill. If a hunter shoots a canvasback as his or her first duck, s/he is done for the day. If s/he shoots a hen mallard first, s/he can take another hen, two drakes or a canvasback before hitting the DBL.

Under the CB, a maximum number of ducks in the DBL is established. For the last several decades, a maximum number of ducks that could be taken for some species or sexes of ducks was also set "inside" the total DBL. For example, the total DBL might be set at five ducks but only three of those ducks could be mallards and only one could be a canvasback. If these were the only constraints, in one day, a hunter could take five blue-winged teal (or any other species not listed) or two teal and three mallards or one teal, one canvasback and three mallards. If a hunter had four teal and one mallard in the bag, s/he would have a full DBL and would have to quit hunting for the day.

Hunters have a different set of responsibilities under the two systems. Under the PS, a hunter can identify the duck after it is in hand and determine if the DBL has been reached. Identification of duck species is much easier with the duck in hand. But for the hunter who learns to identify ducks in flight, the reward is the potential to take home more ducks - s/he might avoid shooting a hen mallard in favor taking a drake.

Under the CB, hunters are required to identify ducks in flight under many conditions. If the DBL has the constraint of one hen mallard and the hunter’s first duck is a hen mallard, that hunter can continue to hunt but must be able to identify hen mallards in flight to remain within the DBL. The only reward for being able to identify ducks in flight is not having an illegal bird in the bag. In addition, the hunter in this example can continue to hunt until the total DBL is reached - being very careful about duck identification.

Both data and philosophy show is no question that the PS is a more conservative way than the CB to establish the DBL while still providing adequate hunting opportunity. So why have states quit selecting it?

Between 1972 and 1987, the PS provided a potential larger DBL than the CB. There were 10 point duck species when the DBL under the CB was typically five ducks and 20 point duck species when the DBL was four under the CB. Even though hunters seldom reached the DBL under either system, there was an incentive for states to select the PS thus providing greater hunting opportunity. However, in the mid-1980’s, questions about the effectiveness of the PS were posed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) along with concerns by law enforcement personnel that hunters weren’t abiding by the rules.

The primary concerns were that the PS wasn’t directing the harvest either toward species that could withstand additional harvest nor away from species or sexes that needed additional protection and that hunters were "reordering" their bag to increase their harvest. Remember, under the PS, hunters added the point value of each duck taken to those already taken until the last duck taken put the total points at or over 100. Some in the law enforcement community felt that hunters were shooting a high point duck early in the hunt but kept hunting and reporting that it was taken later in the hunt, thus reordering the bag to make it appear legal.

The Central Flyway felt the data indicated that the PS was working well and reordering was not a large problem. But the FWS eliminated the PS as an option for states to use to establish duck bag limits and required the use of the CB in 1988. In 1989, the FWS again allowed the PS at the urging of the CFC but modified it so that only five states in the CF selected the option. The modification was that the PS could only provide a maximum potential DBL as provided by the CB - there was no longer an incentive for states to choose the more conservative, yet more rewarding PS.

However, the situation in 1988 and 1989 provided an opportunity to analyze the effect of the PS and Jim Ringelman, the Central Flyway Waterfowl Technical Committee member from Colorado, took advantage of it. He published an analysis of harvest data for the two years (Wildlife Society Bulletin 19:258-267 1991) which affirmed that the PS at least partially met its objectives (reduced the harvest of hen mallards). But the FWS did not modify the rules and Nebraska was the last state to use the PS in 1996.