September 21, 2023
This weekend marks the first official weekend of the fall season as the 2023 autumnal equinox arrives in the overnight hours of Saturday morning, Sept. 23, 2023, and early hunting seasons are certainly capturing the thoughts of many. With autumn color beginning to spread up north, here’s this week’s Game & Fish Digest.
Alaska Crash Claims Life of Congresswoman’s Husband
News reports around the country recently delivered the sad news that Eugene "Buzzy" Peltola, Jr., husband of Rep. Mary Peltola, D-Alaska, died in an airplane crash in Alaska on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. Peltola, Jr.’s Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub aircraft apparently crashed under unknown circumstances shortly after he took off on a hunting-related flight, approximately 65 miles northeast of St. Mary’s. That’s according to an Associated Press report on a statement given during a news conference by National Transportation Safety Board chairperson Jennifer Homendy.
Rep. Peltola’s office confirmed the news: "We are devastated to share that Mary’s husband, Eugene Peltola Jr. — ′Buzzy’ to all of us who knew and loved him — passed away earlier this morning following a plane accident in Alaska," said Peltola’s chief of staff, Anton McParland.
Various reports indicate that the late Peltola, Jr., reportedly a commercial pilot since 2004, had just picked up a second load of moose meat from a remote hunting camp in the Alaskan bush. Peltola, Jr., 57, was the only person aboard the aircraft and medical aid was reportedly given by two hunters in the camp.
Rep. Peltola, a Yup’ik who became the first Alaska Native elected to Congress last year, defeating former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, asked that the family be allowed to grieve in privacy. The tragic death came one year to the date that former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had sworn in Peltola to her office.
While it remains to be seen what the official report from the NTSB eventually lists as the cause of this tragic crash, the vast tundra, sweeping coastal reaches and rugged mountain ranges found across the nation's 49th state are no stranger to tragic news of fatal small aircraft crashes, some involving hunters and anglers heading into the outback for the trip of a lifetime.
In fact, in an August 2021 story carried by Alaska Public Media, it was stated that Alaska "is home to a growing share of the country’s crashes involving small commercial aircraft.
Over the past two decades, the number of deaths in crashes involving these operators has plummeted nationwide, while in Alaska deaths have held relatively steady. As a result, Alaska’s share of fatalities in such crashes has increased from 26% in the early 2000s to 42% since 2016."
Pintail Will Adorn 2024-25 Federal Duck Stamp
Chuck Black's oil painting of a northern pintail duck was chosen last week as the winner of the 2023 Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. According to a Delta Waterfowl news release, Black's painting was declared the winner after two days of judging from Sept. 15-16, 2023 at the Olmstead Center at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
One of 199 entries, the painting from the Montana artist will be featured next year on the 2024-25 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, or the Federal Duck Stamp, when it goes on sale for $25 in June 2024. Judges for this year’s Duck Stamp contest included Gail Anderson, MJ Davis, Rebecca Humphries, Rue Mapp, Dr. Karen Waldrop, and alternate judge Jennifer Scully.
Federal Duck Stamps are required for waterfowl hunters ages 16 and older and are available at U.S. post office locations, many National Wildlife Refuge offices, numerous sporting goods retail locations, and online.
Since the Federal Duck Stamp's establishment in 1934, sales of the stamp have generated more than $1.2 billion and been used to conserve over six million acres of habitat for waterfowl, upland game birds, big game and other types of wildlife.
Bayou Blues as Louisiana Teal Hunters Look at Empty Skies
Early teal season is underway in many places, including the normally red-hot state of Louisiana, where swarms of early migrating blue-winged teal usually are a given each September. But this year, the rice rockets are a bit more scarce and easy limits won't necessarily be the case this fall following the Sept. 15 beginning of the early teal hunt. The reason? Blame an overall reduction in teal breeding numbers up north this spring and this summer's furnace in Louisiana—high temps hit meteorological records, while summer rainfall hit record lows--in the normally dependable Cajun Country. The result has been a wilting of both habitat and early teal hunting hopes, according to a recent report from Ducks Unlimited.
"'Dry and desolate' sums up many of the areas we surveyed," said Jason Olszak, waterfowl program manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "Some marsh areas in southwest Louisiana look like a desert."
The bluewings have noticed, with the numbers from a recent aerial survey in Louisiana painting a gloomier story than most years. "“The 2023 estimate of blue-winged teal in coastal Louisiana and Little River Basin (148,000) was 44 percent lower than the 2022 estimate of 264,000," said Olszak in the DU news release. "It was 30 percent lower than the most recent five-year average and 24 percent lower than the most recent 10-year average. No green-winged teal were observed.”
DU notes that as is typical, the majority of teal were located in the southwest part of the state. But even there, the news is causing frowns as hunters swat mosquitoes in blinds and wonder where the early-birds are.
"The teal estimate for southwest Louisiana decreased 50 percent from 2022 (257,000 to 129,000)," said Olszak. "However, southeast Louisiana experienced a 143 percent increase in teal numbers (7,000 to 17,000), and 2,000 teal were observed on Little River Basin (Catahoula Lake), where none were counted in 2022. Eighty-seven percent of the teal estimate was in southwest Louisiana."
With the two-week season running from Sept. 15-30, there's still hope for some good early teal shooting as autumn fronts spice things up a bit. And with a lack of water across the landscape, if you've got a supply of H2O in Louisiana, it's probably going to have a few flocks of early bluewings trying to blow on by. Or is that blue bayou, pun intended?
Wisconsin Waterfowlers Asked to Play It Safe
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources notes that so far in 2023, there have been 18 boating accident deaths in the Badger State. And with more than 74,000 waterfowl hunters expected to take to Wisconsin waterways this year, the DNR is reminding waterfowl hunters to follow boating safety practices as they hit the water to chase a limit of ducks and geese.
- Wear a life jacket and not just pack it.
- Remember that an accidental dunking in the fall can lead to potentially deadly hypothermia.
- Protect retrievers with canine flotation devices.
- Never overload a duck boat.
- Balance the load in a duck boat evenly for stability.
- Leave LED lights off on a running craft so that red, green and white navigation lights aren't obscured.
- Remain vigilant for obstructions, floating and submerged debris, and changeable weather.
- Have a safe fire zone in a boat or blind.
- Keep a cell phone available for emergency communication.
"Hunters should also be aware of the danger of waders on the water," said Lt. Darren Kuhn, Boating Safety Administrator for Wisconsin DNR. “If a boat capsizes and the hunter is ejected, waders can fill with water, creating suction around the hunter’s legs and feet, making it difficult to remove the waders. This added water weight greatly increases the risk of drowning. Wearing a life jacket can help keep hunters afloat.”
While these duck-hunting safety ideas come from the Wisconsin DNR, they are certainly applicable elsewhere as fall and winter duck and goose hunting seasons approach across the Lower 48.
While the number of annual deaths involving waterfowlers is hard to pin down, several stories surface each year of hunters who perish in the elements of fall and winter as the north wind blows and waves of ducks migrate. Some years, however, there's an infamous story that surfaces like the Armistice Day blizzard on Nov. 6, 1940, when a ferocious blizzard, extreme winds and plummeting temperatures led to dozens of deaths, many of them duck hunters, across the Midwest.
The bottom line here for duck hunters is to play it safe and follow safety rules this fall, even if the weather seems tranquil at the boat launch.
Maven Optics Celebrates a Decade With a Deal
If there’s one thing that western big-game hunters and whitetail hunters back east rely on every single day they are in the field, it’s a pair of high quality optics like those made by Maven Optics. With Maven celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Lander, Wy., company that builds their optics in a direct-to-consumer model, is throwing a birthday party for customers through the end of September. That celebration gives Maven consumers free custom upgrades or engraving on the company’s B, S, RS, and RF series of optics. Available exclusively at mavenbuilt.com, the birthday promotion runs through Sept. 30, 2023.
Earlier this month, Texas game wardens were out patrolling the Lone Star State’s waterways over Labor Day weekend, and unfortunately, there was an increase in water- and boating-related accidents and fatalities as compared to 2022. For the Sept. 2-4, 2023 holiday weekend, wardens reported five boating accidents, two boating-related fatalities, and two open-water drownings. Five individuals were also arrested and charged with BWI (boating while intoxicated), according to TPWD. A year ago over the Labor Day holiday, TPWD noted there were only three boating accidents, one open-water drowning, and no boating related fatalities. … The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 5 to 1 abstention this week to prohibit "contests for the taking of coyotes and other unprotected mammals." The rules that were adopted on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, came after the Commission heard testimony from more than 40 people at their meeting in Bend, Ore., according to an ODFW news release. The agency noted that the newly adopted rule is "in line with the Commission’s regulatory authority. They establish a definition for contests and make it unlawful to organize, sponsor, conduct, or participate in a contest that has the objective of killing unprotected mammals native to Oregon.”