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Drought could make bagging a duck or goose more challenging

The idea of waterfowl hunting on Saturday's opening day for duck and goose season might float the boats of many area sportsmen.

In practical terms, this year's drought will make that a trying endeavor, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"One of the drought's most significant impacts will be to hunters who usually access the marshes by boat," according to a DEC statement. "The low waters may make it impossible to float a boat and will require wading to access the more remove locations."

It added: "The increased vegetation may also make it more difficult to find downed birds."

In addition, migrating waterfowl may have also sought water somewhere else this year - possibly further south where habitat conditions were better, officials said.

Those factors are forecast to increase the level of difficulty for hunters hoping to come home with a goose or duck this season, the DEC reported.

The severe or extreme drought that's gripped many areas of upstate New York this year includes areas like the state-managed marshes at the Iroquois and Montezuma National Wildlife Refuges and Northern Montezuma, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas, the DEC reported.

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Drought warnings remain in place for the western half of upstate New York. (NYS DEC)

Water levels in these areas have dropped considerably or dried up completely in some spots. Thick vegetation has also grown in some of those areas.

As the result, the DEC limited the number of hunting permits it issued for opening weekend this year, which starts Saturday.

Only 60 permits were issued by lottery for Saturday and 60 more for Sunday at the Tonawanda and Oak Orchard areas, DEC officials said.

That's a reduction from the normal issuance of 100 permits for the first two days at the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area and 50 permits each day at Oak Orchard, officials said.

Permits are only required for the first two days of waterfowl season.

Waterfowl season runs from Saturday until Dec. 4 and from Dec. 31 to Jan. 15, 2017.

The DEC's guidebook for the 2016-17 waterfowl season details all of the requirements for hunters including hours, locations, bag limits and ammunition regulations.

It's still unclear how the drought and restricted permits will affect this year's harvest. Those numbers won't be known until next year.

Overall, DEC data shows local waterfowl harvests have been down over the last decade since peaking between 2002 and 2004.

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